Lewiston Maineiacs’ rookie Danick Hudon-Paquette looked down at his hands after his team’s opening-night loss to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

He winced.

He was careful as he slid his hands through the still-buttoned cuffs of his white dress shirt.

“How do they feel, Danick?”

He shrugged, rubbed his left hand over the knuckles on his right and extended his arms, showing the scabs already forming, still covered in sweat and some blood, even after his shower.

He didn’t speak.

Hudon-Paquette is as shy as 16-year-olds come. He speaks little English and is playing hockey in the United States.

But when the gloves came off that night, he was a man.

As he banged around in the crease, looking for a rebound, he was shoved from behind. His face nearly clanged off the left post, and he took repeated jabs to the back of the head. Even at 16 – or perhaps because he is 16 – he sprang to his feet with his fists ready to fly.

Watching it all unfold, and perhaps cheering the loudest, was a group of people from in and around Montreal.

“It’s great for me that my family supports me like they do,” said Hudon-Paquette. “There were about 45 people who came down to that weekend.”

The group came down in a bus, operated by Hudon-Paquette’s father.

“He runs a bus company back home,” said Hudon-Paquette. “They just took one of those.”

They customized it with a Maineiacs’ logo on the front quarter panel, just to the right of the boarding door. Fans who attended the Maineiacs’ tailgate party that night had to do a double take when the bus rolled into the lot. As word of Hudon-Paquette’s family’s journey spread, more and more fans, who had yet to see him play, started nodding in approval of the team’s first-round pick, even before they watched him skate.

Lewiston’s coaches knew who and what the team would get in Hudon-Paquette, thanks to the scouting staff.

“We saw that when we had his interview (before being drafted),” said Jodoin. “We knew he was a good kid. This is the kind of player you want to help build a hockey team for the future.”

The heart bleeds, too

Hudon-Paquette’s knuckles are not the only part of him shedding blood. His heart also bleeds for those less fortunate.

Because his parents – and several family members and friends – are already purchasing their tickets, Hudon-Paquette went to the Maineiacs’ front office with a rare request.

“They give each of us two tickets for every game,” said Hudon-Paquette. “I know my family will be coming down here anyway, so I was hoping I could give the tickets away to sick children who couldn’t come to the game without them.”

Maineiacs’ Vice President and Governor Matt McKnight said he was floored by the request.

“He didn’t want to do it at first,” said Maineiacs’ vice president Matt McKnight. “He felt like he was asking us to do something for him, and he’s not like that. He was shy about it.”

Now, the rookie’s plan is close to coming to fruition.

“I haven’t yet put everything together on that idea,” said Hudon-Paquette, “but it’s getting there. I just want to be able to help those kids who need it.”

And Hudon-Paquette’s reason for doing this?

“It’s just something close to my heart,” he said. “For us, the hockey players, who are in good health, it’s nice to be able to give back to those who aren’t. I like to visit with children, too. It’s nice to see that by my visiting them, they are happier. I know I am lucky to have my own health and the chance to play hockey.”

Promising future

Still only 16, Hudon-Paquette has played in 12 of the team’s 13 games. He’s scored a goal and added two assists while racking up 14 penalty minutes, due mostly to his rough-and-tumble style of play.

“He’s a character player for sure,” said Jodoin. “He has grit, he is intense. We looked at what we needed on this hockey team. He brings what we were looking for.”

Hudon-Paquette, meanwhile, is still trying to get used to the league.

“It’s a bit faster,” said Hudon-Paquette. “That’s how I will learn better, though, to be up here with this team. That’s why I wanted to stay here. The caliber of hockey between the level below this and major junior is so different, so I worked hard to stay here.”

The coaching staff has recognized his work ethic, and continues to give him regular shifts with the Maineiacs’ fourth line. The future, they say, is limitless for Hudon-Paquette.

“He is only 16,” said Jodoin. “He is still learning the league, and we are not going to throw him into the fire all at once. It will take time, but he is showing good things.”

With his turns carving the same ice on which Sidney Crosby and Patrick Roy once plied their trade, Hudon-Paquette truly bleeds the game of hockey.

Just ask to see his knuckles.

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