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By Neil Hodge - The way Moncton Wildcats head coach Danny Flynn sees it, it was an easy decision to name Simon Jodoin captain this season.
"One of his best strengths is that he's a high character individual," said Flynn. "He has great leadership skills. He's been a captain at virtually every level he's played at over the years. Especially with a team as inexperienced as this on the back end, he's done a great job with providing positive leadership and being a real good role model for the younger players."
Jodoin, a 20-year-old defenceman, has played a prominent role in allowing Moncton to remain in the middle of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League despite the fact it's a rookie-laden rebuilding club this season.
The third-year veteran is eighth in Wildcats scoring with 32 points, including seven goals, in 56 games. He forms a defence pair with Daniel Milan and helps anchor a blueline that includes five rookies. Milan, 18, is the highest scoring rookie defenceman in the QMJHL with 13 goals and 34 points in 63 games. The American standout is quick to give credit to Jodoin for helping him make a smooth transition to the league.
"For sure, I have more of a big brother role this season," said Jodoin. "We have a lot of young defencemen and I try to show the way for them. I tell them if they're not in the lineup some games it's not because they're not playing well. It's just a matter of circumstances and the fact the coaches want to bring the rookies along slowly and let them get adjusted to the league. I talk to them and try to encourage them. I try to set a good example for them to follow."
Jodoin was a forward when Moncton selected him in the eighth round of the 2007 QMJHL draft. He was sent back to Quebec midget AAA for an extra season in 2007-08 and while there he made the permanent switch to defenceman.
Jodoin broke in with Moncton as an 18-year-old rookie in 2008-09. With a deep defence corps and star goaltender Nicola Riopel, the Wildcats established QMJHL records that season for fewest goals allowed (149) and best team goals-against average (2.16).
The native of Otterburn Park, Que. has been a top four defenceman for the Wildcats all three seasons that he's been in the league. That's noteworthy given that the club earned 102 points and allowed the fewest goals against in the league in each of the past two seasons.
"He had an excellent rookie season and he's gotten progressively better," said Flynn. "He missed almost 30 games last season due to an injury, but battled hard to come back for the playoffs and was an important part of our championship team. He plays hard every night and sets a good example for the young guys to follow. He has championship experience, he knows what it takes to win and he's an important guy we'll be counting on to help lead the way for our young team in this year's playoffs."
The Wildcats had a rock solid top four on the blueline the past two seasons with Jodoin, Brandon Gormley, David Savard and Mark Barberio. He formed a pair with Savard, who was named Canadian Hockey League Defenceman of the Year last season.
Jodoin and Gormley are back for a third QMJHL season and they're counted on to carry a heavy workload. Veteran defencemen not back from last season's championship club are Barberio and Savard, who turned pro, along with Alex Wall and Spencer Metcalfe, who were both traded.
"I learned a lot by playing with players the caliber of (2009-10 QMJHL all-stars) Savard and Barberio," said Jodoin. "They talk a lot on the ice and make the simple plays. That's something I picked up from them. It's different this season because we're a lot younger with five rookie defencemen. I'm trying to give the team some stability on the back end. I'm trying to stay positive, especially with the young guys, even when we have a tough game. I think our team is heading in a good direction as we get ready for the playoffs.''
Jodoin points out the Wildcats will enter the playoffs with a feeling of pride as the defending champion.
"We're getting ready for the playoffs with the mentality that the President Cup is our trophy and we don't want to give it up,'' he said. "I think if we play strong defensively and get good goaltending that we can cause some surprises. We have a lot of hard-working guys who are very competitive.''
Moncton was 0-5-2-1 against the Saint John Sea Dogs, who are the QMJHL's top club and No. 1 in the CHL rankings. But there were four games decided by a one goal-margin. The Wildcats split their season series against the Montreal Juniors with one win each and both games were decided by one goal. Montreal is second overall in the QMJHL and No. 3 in the CHL rankings.
"I think we've shown we can play with everyone in the league," said Jodoin. "I know we're not considered among the top contenders, but if we play a disciplined game and everyone does their job I think we have a chance to beat anyone in the playoffs."
Jodoin is a business administration student at the Universite de Moncton and plans to eventually work in accounting or finance. He hopes to play professional hockey next season, but if that doesn't work out he will continue his studies.
"I'm glad I decided to play major junior hockey," he said. "It's an experience that's tough to beat. I got to win the President Cup and play in the Memorial Cup. I made friends for life. It's been an incredible three years in my life and I enjoyed every minute of it. I improved as a player and grew as a person during my time here. Living in a bilingual city like Moncton was ideal because it gave me a chance to learn English. You also have no choice but to become a more organized and more mature person when you're living away from home."
PHOTO CREDIT - Daniel St-Louis
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