Bordeleau deals with uncertainty
by Derek O'Brien|20 APR 2020
Thomas Bordeleau skates for Team USA at an U18 tournament in February.
photo: Karel Svec
This week top under-18-agend players would have competed in the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. At USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan, the host Americans were scheduled to take on Russia to begin the tournament that the team had spent nearly two years preparing for. But just over a month ago, everything changed.

“We were in Omaha; we just got off a 12-hour bus ride,” forward Thomas Bordeleau recalled. “When we got to the rink, the coach called for an emergency meeting wanting to talk to us about something. We all kind of knew what was coming. He told us that the U18 Worlds just got cancelled and that our USHL year might be over also. 

“We all broke down and we were all crushed because our dream of winning that tournament was gone. We had worked so hard for it.”
That team closeness stems partly from the fact that the players are together in the National Team Development Program for two full seasons, playing in both a domestic leagues as well as international tournaments, which a big reason that the USA has won 10 goals medals at the U18 World Championships since 2002 and produced five No. 1 overall NHL Draft picks. The program’s success is one of the things that attracted Bordeleau to the program. As a citizen of three different countries, he had options.
I’m American, I’m Canadian, I’m French, and I lived in Switzerland for 10 years.
Thomas Bordeleau
U.S. U18 national team player
“I’ve got a bunch of nationalities and am pretty much international, so I try to take advantage of every opportunity that gives me, and I think I made a good choice by coming here,” he said.

Bordeleau’s multiple passports are a product of his family’s hockey-playing background. Grandfather Paulin Bordeleau played three seasons for the Vancouver Canucks in the 1970s and then played long enough in France to gain citizenship, which allowed him to represent that country at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. As a result, father Sebastien Bordeleau was born in Vancouver, grew up in France and went on to a pro career of his own, which included 251 NHL games, mostly with the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators. He also represented France in World Championship play.

“I was just following my dad everywhere he played hockey,” said Thomas, who was born in Houston, Texas while dad played for the AHL’s Aeros, then grew up in Switzerland while dad played in that country’s top league.

“I lived in Switzerland for 10 years but my dad has his French papers, so I’m French because of him,” Bordeleau explained. 

“The first seven years we were living in Berne, but then my dad played three years in Biel, which is more of a French part so that was easier for us,” said Bordeleau, whose family is fully English-French bilingual. “I used to speak German but I lost it.”

SC Bern consistently draws the highest home attendance in European hockey, and Bordeleau fondly recalls watching games among 17,000-plus fans at PostFinance Arena. 

“It’s awesome! It’s almost like a football crowd. The fans are awesome, they’re loyal and it’s a great place to play.”

After dad retired in 2012, the Bordeleaus settled in Terrebonne, Quebec, where Thomas continued to hone his hockey skills with help from his family.

“My grandpa and my dad gave me a lot of help when I was growing up,” said Bordeleau. “My grandpa was my coach back home in Midget AAA and he’s still coaching. And my dad is a skills coach for Nashville and I think he helps me a lot with my game in general.”

They seem to have done a good job as Thomas led all players on the NTDP’s U18 team this season with 46 points in 47 games, which included 18 points in 19 USHL games. He’s projected to be a late-first-round or early-second-round pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft.

“He’s already a really smart, cerebral offensive player, and he’s starting to develop into a great, complete 200-foot player,” said head coach Seth Appert. “The penalty kill, the defensive-zone faceoffs... all the things that you need to be good at if you want to become an elite-level centreman.” 

“I take pride in my play in the defensive zone,” said Bordeleau. “I think coaches see that and it gives them trust in me.”

A sudden change of plans

“We’ve been working as a team for the past year and a half and it just keeps paying off,” Bordeleau said in February during a U18 international tournament in the Czech Republic. “We’ve got the U18 Worlds coming up and so we’ve just gotta keep working as a team. We don’t have any Jack Hugheses or big superstars, but we’re a close-knit group and I think that’s our team’s strength. It’s gonna be a fun couple of months coming up.”

Before the bus ride to Omaha on 13 March, there were definitely signs that it wouldn’t happen. The Women’s World Championship scheduled for Nova Scotia, Canada had already been cancelled, as were several other high-profile events, and reminders of the coronavirus became increasingly inescapable. 

“I think that when we saw that NBA games were getting cancelled, we had an idea of what was coming next,” he said.
That didn’t make it any easier though for the players who had played and practiced and studied and lived together for the better part of two years. Unlike the successful teams from past years, their run had come to an unceremonious end.

“The last meeting back in Plymouth was just filled with sadness and love,” Bordeleau recalled. “We were all hugging each other and saying goodbye, knowing we would never get the chance to all play together again. We keep in touch a lot with facetime and social platforms.”

Of course, everyone’s life goes on but uncertainty is everywhere. Bordeleau – who graduated from high school last year – has committed to the University of Michigan starting this fall. Hopefully.

“I’ve been in contact with the coaches and we have talked a lot, but right now it really just is a day-to-day thing and we wait to see what will happen,” he said.

And there’s the matter of the NHL Entry Draft. Normally held in a large arena filled with league and team officials, prospects and their families and thousands of fans, nobody knows exactly when the 2020 event will take place or what it will look like.

“That really is out of my control and I can only focus on trying to get better, even though the tough situation we are all in right now,” he said. “I am living day-to-day and I can’t predict what will happen next. 

“Of course it’s a disappointment, but the NHL Draft was just a step towards my dream of playing in the NHL and that dream is still there.”