Practically born into the game, Chicago Wolves center Alexandre Bolduc has grown within hockey as a player and a person.
Call it cliché. Call it destiny. But as a kid growing up outside Montreal, Quebec, Chicago Wolves center Alexandre Bolduc knew one thing: he was going to be a hockey player.
“Hockey is just what you do there; everyone plays hockey,” Bolduc said. “It’s almost like a religion in Montreal. My family has had season tickets to the (Montreal) Canadiens since I was about 6, so I used to go to those games a lot with my dad. There was no question of other sports. I played football and I played soccer, but I always knew I was going to be a hockey player. My parents put my first pair of skates on me when I was 2 or 3 and I would just walk around the hallways in them. I was fortunate in that it worked out the way I hoped it would. I have gotten to do it for a long time. It has always been a huge part of my life.”
The game has afforded the 28-year-old Bolduc the chance to travel the world while also staying close to those closest to him. Drafted by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in 2001, Bolduc had a 43-point breakout sophomore season and was selected by the National Hockey League’s St. Louis Blues with the 127th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He stayed on with the Huskies another two seasons and spent a year with the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes before signing with the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors as a free agent in 2005.
“When I got drafted to Major Juniors, I realistically thought maybe I could make a go of hockey as a career,” Bolduc said. “When I was 16 or 17 it really seemed like it could happen. There weren’t any really big moments for me, though. I scored my first goal in my first QMJHL game and that was exciting because Major Junior is a pretty big deal in Quebec and to get to that level and do well, it’s big.”
The town he was living in, though, was small. While Montreal is a major business and economic hub within a primarily French-speaking province, Bolduc was hardly fluent in the language, and found adjusting to being immersed in French Canada more daunting than anything he faced on the ice.
“(Rouyn-Noranda) was pretty tiny, so the upside is you make a lot of friends there,” he said. “I went to high school there, too, in French. That was hard at first. My mom is French so I could always understand the language, but the writing and stuff was difficult. The verbs are hard. I was in an English high school in Montreal and I had always gone to school with students who were English speakers first. Not an easy transition.”
Bolduc persevered, though, making it through his QMJHL years and graduating to the ranks of minor league professional. During his first season with the Condors, Bolduc signed with the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose and, following the team’s 2007-08 campaign, he inked his first NHL deal with the Moose’s NHL affiliate, the Vancouver Canucks. From 2008-11, Bolduc bounced between the Moose and Canucks and appeared in 46 NHL contests.
“It was crazy getting drafted to the NHL and even though I didn’t really know where that was going to take me, it was an exciting time figuring out where I was going to go next,” Bolduc said. “At 20 years old, I was starting my career strong with the Moose. I learned a lot there. Mike Keane was my captain for a couple years and he had played in the NHL forever, it seemed, and I took a lot away from him. I was fortunate to be a captain with the Portland Pirates last year and I took pretty much everything he taught me and showed it to the young guys. I love Manitoba and the time I spent there.”
But while Bolduc was off trying to make something of himself as a hockey player, tragedy struck at home. Bolduc’s father, Orval, was diagnosed with colon cancer in December 2005. He died April 3, 2006.
“I was 21 when my dad passed, and so suddenly,” Bolduc said. “My brother Tyler was just 17 at the time. It was tough because with him being so young, from then on I had to toe that fine line between being his brother and also his father figure. Sometimes you have to tell him the difference between right and wrong. He was just a 17-year-old kid. Obviously it brought us even closer and we have a solid relationship now, and we’re really close with our mom. Overall we are a close family. My dad’s sister is like a second mom to me. She was really strong and she helped my brother and I out with everything. Tyler lives with my mom in Montreal still and I bought a house right near them too.”
While their father’s death strengthened the sibling bond, Tyler says he and his brother weren’t immune to tougher times during their more formative years.
“We didn’t always have the easiest relationship growing up,” he said. “We always had our differences like any siblings. When our father passed away, though, Alex really stepped up and took care of me and we got closer. Before he was so focused on his hockey career and after our father passed, he just stepped up as a brother. I was home alone a lot with our mom and he started checking up on me and making sure I was doing OK.”
As if to underscore how far they’ve come, Tyler, a former junior hockey player who coaches Bantam AA in Montreal, has high praise for his big brother and just how far he has come since the days when he forced his little brother to play goalie.
“I’m not only impressed with him and what he has accomplished, he’s my role model,” Tyler said. “Watching him never give up, fighting through obstacles and just watching him grow through juniors, the ECHL, the American League and the NHL has been pretty special for all of us. Alex is a good guy. He’s a solid leader, has a good head on his shoulders, always works hard and is always doing the right thing and setting the right example.”
Another important figure in Bolduc’s life is his best friend, Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford. The two have been close since their kindergarten days in Montreal. Crawford being in Chicago was a big factor for Bolduc when he was shopping for a new team last offseason.
“First and foremost, coming to Chicago was about winning for me,” he said. “I wanted to go to a team that had a really high standard for winning. I wanted to be with the best team possible and that is Chicago. The Wolves had gone out and gotten a lot of good players this summer and I thought this would be an awesome team to play with where I would be well taken care of. I grew up with Corey and have been best friends with him since I was 5, so it was definitely a great prospect for me to get to live in the same city as my best friend. We live 10 minutes apart in Chicago and 10 minutes apart back home. I see him quite a bit; we have dinners. It’s fun having someone you know so well here and to see how well he’s doing now is great. I’m really happy I’m here.”
They may share dinners during hockey season, but during the summer Bolduc and Crawford share (and indulge in) their passion for speed.
“Corey and I have old muscle cars, so that’s something we do in our downtime back home,” Bolduc said. “I have a ’69 Road Runner and he has a ’69 Chevelle and our other best friend has a ’69 Camaro. We have a lot of fun with those. We trust each other so we’ll hop in and drive the other’s car, but I’d rather drive my own just in case something did happen. It’s nice to see the different styles of car. My dad actually left me my car. They’re pretty cool. It’s a huge bonding thing for us.”
Another recent bonding thing? Traveling to the Spengler Cup with Tyler. When Bolduc received the unexpected call in December inviting him to represent Canada in the invitational tournament, he grabbed his brother and headed for Davos, Switzerland.
“It was an awesome experience and they treated us unbelievable over there,” Bolduc said. “It never really crossed my mind that I would have the option to go. I was pretty surprised and pretty excited at the same time. Where we played was high up in the mountains so the altitude was something I had to adjust to during the first couple practices. But it was so cool.”
“That was by far one of the coolest things we‘ve done together,” Tyler said. “To experience a new country and watch him play some really cool hockey was amazing.”
Beyond just being a great career opportunity, the tournament also gave Bolduc the opportunity to get to know a famous former Chicago Wolves player also representing Canada.
“I sat close to Darren Haydar in the locker room and got to know him better,” Bolduc said. “Everyone told me he was a really great guy and he was. I talked to him a lot and he was asking a lot about how Chicago was and he obviously misses it a lot here. He loves Chicago. He is a really great guy, one of the good ones.”
Bolduc is happy to have plenty of good ones around him with the Wolves as well. Since signing a one-year contract with the Blues in July and participating in their training camp, Bolduc has settled in with Chicago. He’s a veteran anchor on a young team with huge potential.
“I think Manitoba and Chicago have the top two organizations in the American League,” he said. “They are run like NHL teams. It’s a big reason why I wanted to come to the Wolves this season, because I wanted to get back to a really high level of play in a top-notch organization that will do whatever it takes to win. We have so much skill here. I feel like on this team we don’t have those really tough guys, so we all have to get together and have that team toughness together. We all have to stand up for each other. I’ll stand up for any of these guys.”
While Canada’s favorite pastime remains the focal point for Bolduc, he’s recently adopted an American favorite as well; another sign he’s becoming more accustomed to his new surroundings.
“I watch a lot of football,” he said. “I’m a big New Orleans Saints fan. This is just my third year living in the U.S. so I’m getting more into it. When I was living in Manitoba and Vancouver it wasn’t nearly as important. But now that I’m living here, especially in a football city like Chicago, it’s cool. I went to my first Bears game this season and that was really cool. It was something I have always wanted to do. It was cold, but definitely worth it.”
His long-term plan does include a permanent return to the Great White North, with Crawford in tow. The two recently purchased a gym outside Montreal and they plan to make it their new obsession once it’s time to hang up the skates.
“We are getting ready to open our own gym and it’s something I’ve worked on with Corey for a few years,” he said. “It’s going to be an athletes-specific gym. When I’m done training, my focus will be on training kids. It’s kind of staying in hockey, but more in the offseason training kind of way. Our trainer Andrew Levine is the guy who has been training Corey and I for 5-6 years and he’s helping us open it and will be our head guy. I’m excited for that phase next.”
Until then, he’s content to keep chugging as a player and hitting his stride with the Wolves. While he shyly admits to “one day” wanting a son and family of his own, the best thing for Bolduc now is spending time with the boys and striving for the one thing that makes him happiest of all.
“I love being with the guys on this team,” he said. “Being around your buddies every day, that’s what I’ll miss the most when all this is over. You go to war with these guys; you go to battle. That’s my favorite part is just hanging out with them and getting to play a game for a living.
“Winning is the best too. There is no better feeling than driving home after a win. It’s the only time I ever really feel like I’ve accomplished something. Life is always good after a win, and when I enjoy life most.”