Hard work defining Parent’s career path

Photo: Jeff Pexton

Patrick Williams, TheAHL.com Features Writer

Nothing has come easily in Xavier Parent’s career.

The Utica Comets forward is 5-foot-8, 170 pounds. Undrafted. Never garnered much attention from the draft experts. Never part of the spotlight that the IIHF World Junior Championship draws. Still unsigned after four junior seasons.

But slowly and quietly, Parent continues to climb the ladder, and has himself one step away from the NHL.

Parent returned to Sherbrooke in the QMJHL for his over-age season in 2021-22, racking up 51 goals and 106 points while serving as team captain. He did a lot of learning in Sherbrooke where he got a pro-style education from head coach Stéphane Julien, who is now in his first season as an assistant coach with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

“We practiced hard,” Parent said. “He was trying to make you be ready for the next step in professional hockey. I think it’s really easier to learn from guys that were in your shoes before. He was a really hard coach, I’ll say, but he was really helpful.”

Parent signed a two-year American Hockey League contract with the Comets in July 2022, and spent most of his rookie pro season with Adirondack in the ECHL, scoring 23 goals. And he showed well enough to get a look with the Comets; he established a foothold in the Utica lineup by March, and made himself a regular in head coach Kevin Dineen’s lineup by the time that the Calder Cup Playoffs rolled around.

There is a bit of Dineen’s game that shows with Parent. Dineen, who played 19 NHL seasons, carved out a well-known reputation for hard work, diligence and a willingness to play above his size in a rough-and-tumble era.

Parent does the same. What he lacks in size, he overcomes with an inclination to go to hard areas of the ice and mix it up with opponents in order to do so. That approach will make an impression on any coach, and certainly one like Dineen.

There is Parent’s versatility as well. Dineen can utilize Parent up and down and across his lineup. He can play either wing; he took the left side of a top line with captain Ryan Schmelzer and leading scorer Graeme Clarke in Saturday’s game against Syracuse. Parent also has seen time with two top veterans in Kyle Criscuolo and Justin Dowling, among others.

With seven goals and a club-leading 10 assists, Parent is one point off the team lead this season.

One thing that Dineen has stressed with Parent is to push the pace. Go make a play. Take a chance.

“When he talked to me about that,” Parent said, “it made a difference in the way I played. I think I played way more confident. I feel way better on the ice, too, so that makes a huge difference.”

Utica opens this week sixth in the North Division and just one point below the playoff line. But 10 of their next 12 games are at home, and they will be looking to Parent to continue to help drive the team’s offense.

“In the end it’s always all about work,” Parent said. “If I work every day, every shift, I know some things will happen.”