by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
The 9-to-5 career path was never for Texas Stars forward Francis Wathier. Maybe he’d be a farmer. Or a paramedic. Someone who helped others.
But never someone constrained by the regular routine.
"Don’t put me in four walls. I’ll go crazy," he said. "I appreciate the people who do it. But it’s just not me. In life, it’s important to find who you are."
A few years ago, Wathier would have told you he’d be anything but a pro hockey player. And the NHL? Not a chance. But sometimes punching the clock again and again until your hands are sore pays off, if not necessarily in the traditional sense.
Five years into his tenure with the Dallas Stars, Wathier, 25, has grinded his way into looking like an NHL player. The 6-foot-4, 208-pound power forward earned three separate recalls to the Stars this season, good for his first five NHL games. He also has 10 goals and 14 assists in 55 games with Texas, helping to keep the team in the race for a playoff spot in the West Division.
"They say there’s a time for everything. A guy has to learn the game," Wathier said. "The more you play, the more you listen. And you have to make sure you are mature off the ice."
If love of dirty work was the only prerequisite for making the NHL, Wathier would have reached the top right after the Stars took him in the sixth round of the 2003 Entry Draft. As a youngster growing up in St. Isidore, Ont., Wathier worked on a pig farm, handling such stomach-steeling tasks as pulling the teeth from and cutting the tails off the little critters.
"You know, I was a young kid. We didn’t have much money in my family," he said. "I wanted to have money. If you want something, you work for it. I’d rather learn the hard way. Once you are there, you realize hockey is easy."
Well, yes and no. Wathier was so lightly regarded as a player that he started climbing the ranks via the Junior-C level.
"Hockey was not even in my plans. Playing Junior-C, there were a couple guys drinking beer before the game. It was bush league," he said. "I was finishing high school, going to paramedic college."
Wathier’s life-changing detour was an invitation to try out for Hull of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and he played four seasons with the Olympiques in Hull and Gatineau. That led to his four-year apprenticeship in the Stars system, during which time Dallas assistant GM Scott White said his main assignment was to improve his mobility.
"Now it’s a matter of keeping his game moving forward. He’s done everything we’ve asked here," White said. "He’s what we’re all about. He sticks up for his teammates. He gives us a chance to win. His confidence has grown. He’s been fun to watch."
White’s done the best he could to help Wathier avoid any missteps. The first time he called the player to tell him he was going to the NHL, he instructed him to grab a pen and piece of paper.
"You are so excited," White said, "that you’ll forget what I’m about to tell you." White then detailed Wathier’s flight information, reminded him to bring his passport and gave him the lowdown on packing the proper clothes.
A couple promotions later, Wathier has all the necessary groundwork down cold.
"They don’t give the opportunity to everybody," he said. "When you get the call, it’s a special moment."
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com. Read today’s complete column here.