Rochette changes flags
by Derek O'Brien|07 AUG 2019
After participating with Switzerland last year, Theo Rochette represents Canada this year at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
photo: Werner Krainbucher
It’s not often that a team’s 13th forward is one of the most noteworthy players in the game, but that was the case on Tuesday in Breclav, Czech Republic. On the second day of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, despite not registering a point in his team’s 8-0 win, Canada’s Theo Rochette was wanted by both Canadian and Swiss media present. 

Born in Neuchatel, Switzerland to Canadian parents, Rochette is a dual citizen and spent portions of his childhood in both countries. Last year in Alberta, 16-year-old Rochette played for Switzerland at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and recorded two assists in four games. This summer, after a season with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi Sagueneens, the now 17-year-old is playing for Canada. Rochette has not played in an IIHF-sanctioned tournament yet for any of the two countries.

“That was pretty special for me because I know a lot of the guys,” Rochette said after Canada’s 8-0 victory over a Swiss team that includes many ex-teammates. “I mean, [Swiss defenceman] Noah Delemont is one of my best friends, so it was different but I just tried to play my game.” 

That’s not always easy to do as a 13th forward, never mind the distractions that this game could have presented Rochette with. But Canadian head coach Michael Dyck is happy with the job Rochette is doing.

“I think he’s played really well,” said Dyck. “He’s a good character guy, a team guy, and he’s a flex player, so he kills penalties for us, he can play centre, he can play left wing... he’s a jack of all trades.” 

“You have to accept your role, whatever it is,” Rochette reasoned. “It’s such a great team we have here and we have a great opportunity to win, so I’ll do whatever’s asked of me to do that.”

So far, Rochette is doing what’s asked of him. On Tuesday against Switzerland, he had 12 shifts for 11:17 of total ice time, had two shots on goal and was 4-for-7 on faceoffs.  

It helps that Rochette has a long-time friend on this Canadian team in Hendrix Lapierre. The two have known each other for years and played together this past season in Chicoutimi. 

“Me and Theo get along pretty well,” said Lapierre. “He’s a really nice guy. He’s funny. We both live the same thing, you know. We have the draft year coming up, we go to school together, so it really helps me to have a teammate like that, both on and off the ice.”

“I’ve known him for a long time,” Rochette said of Lapierre. “Him and a couple of the other guys on the team I already knew. That made the adjustment [of playing junior hockey in Canada] a little bit easier.”

Rochette lived in Quebec from the age of five to nine, but otherwise lived in Switzerland for most of his childhood. Rochette’s father Stephane was a referee in Switzerland’s National League and still works as a television analyst for Swiss professional hockey. Rochette played for the Lausanne HC club, making it to the country’s top U20 league in 2017/18 as a 15-year-old. Last year, he decided to make the jump to the QMJHL. 

“That was a little bit different, a bit more physical, and the play is faster,” he said of “the Q” compared to junior hockey in Switzerland. “It took me maybe one month to adjust but it wasn’t that bad. I’d played in Quebec before too and I knew a couple of guys on the team.”

Off the ice, Rochette said: “I’d lived a little bit in Canada before for four years. That wasn’t anything new for me, although the temperature was pretty special there,” he chuckled, referring to how bitter this past winter was in Eastern Canada. “But I’ve got family there so it’s not hard for me to live there at all.”

In his rookie QMJHL season, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound [178 cm, 159 kg] Rochette scored 14 goals and added 29 assists for 43 points in 59 regular-season games, then had five points in four playoff games. 

“It was a great experience,” he said. “It was a good season for me. I learned a lot and I can’t wait to go back there for next season.”

Looking ahead to 2019/20 in Chicoutimi, Rochette is interested in “just learning and working hard to get better for the upcoming draft.”

Rochette is currently projected to be a late first-round pick according to some prognosticators. That should mean a greater role on the Sagueneens and possibly playing with Lapierre, who could also go in the first round.

“We were both 16-year-olds and we didn’t play much together last year, but I think maybe next year we’ll play together,” said Lapierre. “We both like to pass the puck and create plays, so I think it could go well. If I got put on a line with him, I would have no problem with it.”

“He’s a good skater, he’s a smart player, he does a lot of things very well,” said coach Dyck.

“I would say I’m a playmaker,” Rochette figures. “I think I’m a good skater and I can see the play pretty well.

“I just want to be better every day, every practice, every game. Then we’ll see what happens.”

Rochette hasn’t thought to much yet about the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Ann Arbor and Plymouth, USA, but if he’s available, don’t be surprised to see him there in the Canada-Switzerland game on one of these teams.