Ian Clark's On Hockey: Rheault finds a home in Texas
New Hampshire native Jon Rheault (26) celebrates a goal by San Antonio Rampage teammate Alex Petrovic during an AHL hockey game against the Oklahoma City Barons last month. (DARREN ABATE PHOTO COURTESY SAN ANTONIO RAMPAGE)
Jon Rheault has found a home in Texas, but the Granite State is never far from his mind.
The Deering native entered the weekend as the leading scorer for the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL. After two seasons with the Manchester Monarchs and two with Abbotsford, Rheault found himself having to adapt to life in the Florida Panthers' organization to start this season.
"It was a little adjustment with a new coaching staff, new guys. I didn't know anyone coming in, so that was weird. I underestimated just what that would entail," Rheault said via telephone interview. "You have to earn the respect of the coaching staff and the organization and the guys on your team. That was a little different and I feel like I had a slow start, but the last month and a half I feel like I've turned it on."
This year. Rheault has six goals and 12 assists for 18 points through 22 games, helping him surpass 100 points in his AHL career. Of those points, 14 came in November alone. His previous career highs are 12-22-34 in 79 games in 2010-11 with Abbotsford.
"I'm happy with the first quarter of the season. I feel comfortable," Rheault said. "I feel like I've earned respect and I'm playing well with a great line right now. We've got a young first-round (draft pick) in Drew Shore and a great left winger who has played some games in the NHL (J.F. Jacques)."
The coaches have liked what they've seen from Rheault, playing him on a top line and also on the power play and penalty kill units.
"He got off to a bit of a slow start for us but he really picked it up for us," Rampage head coach Chuck Weber told theahl.com. "He and Drew Shore have created a nice combination together. He works hard every night and I hope he can continue to build on that."
Rheault credits his time in Manchester under head coach Mark Morris for giving him an opportunity early in his career. Rheault played with Manchester from 2008-2010, scoring 5-6-11 in 59 games.
"I know coach Morris wanted to play me more and I did get a chance there, but in my own mind, I didn't have the confidence there," Rheault said. "I worked hard for it and I feel like I was still building my career in Manchester and trying to earn respect and finally that respect kicked in with Abbotsford when I was able to play on the top two lines and get some power play time."
"Fast forward to now, that success I had with Abbotsford gave me the opportunities here," Rheault continued. "I didn't have to start at square one with these coaches. They knew what I was capable of and that I would be a big-minute player here and have success here."
The transition to the warm weather in Texas hasn't been a tough one for Rheault. Abbotsford may be called the Heat, but the chilly British Columbia weather wasn't always the best for mental health.
"You walk out of the rink after a tough day and it's nice out and you can clear your mind and forget about the hockey side of it," Rheault said. "It makes it easier when you go through tough times when the weather is nice."
One of the hardest parts for Rheault is being away from his family. He will get to come home to New Hampshire for Christmas, however.
"I'm very excited for it. I haven't had the luxury that I did in the first years of playing in my home state. It's made it tough," Rheault said. "I'll be home for about three days. We were in Rochester and Cleveland and my parents came for a stretch of four days. Unfortunately, that's the closest we get to home. I'm lucky to have that family support and see them."
Rheault said he also gets a taste of home from time to time when fans who have followed him from his days with the junior Monarchs or Providence College or the Monarchs correspond with him.
"I miss the fan support in Manchester. A lot of the fans I made there still follow me on Facebook and Twitter and it's great to get messages from them and know that they care," Rheault said. "It means a lot to me. It was fun for me to play in my home state and I wish I at the stage I am now in my career when I was there because I feel like I could show them a lot more. It's awesome to have their support.
"I'm a New Hampshire guy and that will never change."
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After playing at Providence Friday night and hosting Connecticut on Saturday, the Manchester Monarchs close the weekend with a visit from Worcester at 3 p.m. today at Verizon Wireless Arena.
While the brawl-filled games from last year's meetings between these teams have not materialized this season, the games have still be entertaining. Worcester leads the series 2-1 thus far, winning a pair of one-goal games last month.
The Atlantic Division rivals meet four times this month, including a New Year's Eve showdown at the Verizon.
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Thanks to alert reader Sandra "Buzz" Whalen who pointed out that Andrew Bodnarchuk, Manchester Monarchs defenseman and the subject of Wednesday's On Hockey, also played at St. Paul's School in Concord.
His stats there don't show up on hockeydb.com, but sure enough, Bodnarchuk played 36 games at St. Paul's in 2004-05.
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Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.