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Feb. 17, 2014

by Alan Cross –

The Grand Rapids Griffins are no strangers to paternal influence.

Most Griffins fans know the lineage of forward Landon Ferraro and his father, Ray Ferraro, whose professional hockey career spanned 18 years and saw 1,258 games on NHL ice. And there’s also the story of Louis-Marc Aubry and the elder Pierre Aubry, who played in the NHL with both the Quebec Nordiques and the Detroit Red Wings. But there’s a more understated tale of frozen genetics on the Griffins, taking shape in the form of first-year defenseman Xavier Ouellet.

Detroit’s second pick, 48th overall, in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Ouellet has taken massive professional strides toward success in a very short amount of time. Before joining the Griffins as a “black ace” during the first three rounds of the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs, Ouellet wrapped up his junior career with the QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. In October, he found himself in a full-time blueliner position with the Griffins. And later that same month, he made his NHL debut with the Wings on October 21.

“It was really exciting,” said Ouellet about his NHL debut. “It was a dream come true for me, and now that I’ve tasted it, all I want is to find a way to get there and stay there. It motivates me and makes me keep going.”

Quite literally, his passion for the sport was born from his father, Robert Ouellet, who was also a professional hockey player. A huge influence on his son’s personal and professional life, Robert laid the groundwork for Xavier’s journey on the ice.

“He played in the QMJHL at first, then he went to Europe to play in France,” Ouellet said. It was in France where Xavier was born on July 29, 1993, but his father was a native of Montreal, Quebec, granting Xavier dual citizenship. “He made the National French team, so he went to a couple of World Championships, and in 1998 he went to the Olympics with Team France.”

In the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, the French team had a relatively average performance, suffering losses to Belarus (4-0) and Germany (2-0) but taking home a dominant 5-2 decision over the host Japan.

Collectively, France’s Preliminary Round group had a rough go at the Olympics compared to the powerhouse nations. However, Belarus managed to make it to the quarterfinals before falling to Russia, the eventual silver medal winner. In the end, the Czech Republic took home the gold by defeating Russia, 1-0, in the gold-medal match.

France ultimately finished 11th place by trouncing Italy, 5-1, in a consolation round.

“I was really young when my dad played in the Olympics, but I remember watching it on TV with my mom,” Ouellet recalled. Xavier was only four and a half years old at the time.

And Ouellet certainly has been paying close attention to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, where his fellow teammate Tomas Jurco has been battling for the Slovakian squad.

Ouellet had his own taste of representing one of his countries on a global level when he competed with Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, which he considers to be his greatest hockey memory. And while France hasn’t qualified for the Winter Games since 2002 and Canada’s roster is one of the most elite in the world, playing at an Olympic level is just something that runs in his blood.

“[My father] then had an opportunity to play in Germany (DEL), so he played three years there and then finished his career in France for around two years. When he was finished, we moved to Canada,” Ouellet said.

It was there that the Ouellet hockey legacy was transferred solely to Xavier.

In time, Ouellet blew the lid off of the QMJHL’s blueline with a four-year junior career similar to that of his father’s in style and points, even considering the fact that his father played center. Robert tallied 72 goals and 113 assists in 220 games with the St. Jean Beavers, while Xavier garnered 41 goals and 119 assists in 223 games between the Montreal Juniors and the Armada.

“He gave me a lot of support, so that helped, and he knew what playing hockey was about. So when I had questions he knew how to answer them,” Ouellet said of his father’s influence throughout his junior career. “Really, the mental part of the game he helped me with a lot, getting ready for my games and being a mentor during my games.”

The end of junior hockey is where the similarities between father and son conclude, as Xavier headed to Grand Rapids to carve out his own destiny.

Since joining the Griffins full-time, Ouellet has appeared in every game of the season, aside from his stint in Detroit. A steady presence among Grand Rapids’ defensemen, he has put away four goals and nine assists, all the while tallying only 20 penalty minutes.

“I play by the rules and play pretty hard. I can finish my checks,” said Ouellet about his ability to stay out of the box. “I fought a little bit in juniors, and I’ll do it if I have to do it. I’m not looking for it, but if there’s a situation where I have to stand up for one of my teammates, I’ll be there for sure.”

By adding a solid first professional season to his résumé, Ouellet has established himself as a unique manifestation of his fathers’ best qualities. But, wisely, his focus is less about trying to step out of his father’s shadow and more about helping the Griffins to another stellar season.

“I want to contribute. I want to win, like everyone in this locker room. I want to be involved in our winning process; that’s my goal,” Ouellet asserted. “I want coach to be able to trust me and put me on the ice and just help this team to win.”

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