Leafs' Goyette helps Villeneuve dial in on details ahead of Memorial Cup
The wait is almost over for William Villeneuve. The right-shot defenceman hasn't played since his Saint John Sea Dogs, who will host the Memorial Cup, lost in the opening round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs way back on May 12.
"It's been pretty hard," the 20-year-old admitted. "That first-round exit, that's not the outcome we were expecting. We took a week away from the rink to kind of get a reset and then we came back and went at it like it was a training camp. We were on the ice for two hours every day and working out and all that. It's been a hell of a grind. We'll be ready to go."
The Sea Dogs will face the Ontario Hockey League champion Hamilton Bulldogs on Monday when the Canadian Hockey League championship tournament opens in New Brunswick.
"A lot of excitement around this game," said Villeneuve, who was picked by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fourth round of the 2020 National Hockey League draft. "We haven't played in so many days, so for us, it's going to be important to win the first five minutes and really come out strong and take advantage right off the bat. That will be our mentality."
Villeneuve is looking to build off a strong regular season. He produced 56 points in 64 games, led the league in plus/minus (plus-60) and was nominated for the QMJHL defenceman of the year award. The native of Sherbrooke, Que. reflected on his growth as a player during a conversation with TSN. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
TSN: Where did you improve the most this year?
Villeneuve: "Being reliable in every aspect of the game. When I first came in [to the QMJHL] at 16, I was very offensive-minded and not good enough in my zone and not physical enough. Trying to defend better and use my body more has been a big focus this year and I've done a good job of that."
TSN: How do you work on that?
Villeneuve: "Sometimes you make mistakes in practice, so I try and challenge myself and implant that in my head. And then it's doing a lot of video work with [Leafs director of player development] Danielle Goyette, especially during the second half, and really trying to cut down on the little mistakes."
TSN: What's it like working with Goyette?
Villeneuve: "It's great. You send her a text and in 10 minutes she answers and the next day you're doing video with her. It's pretty crazy that I have access to NHL people like that. Two years ago, I didn't have that, so it's been great."
TSN: What has been the biggest message from Goyette and the Leafs this season?
Villeneuve: "It's really, 'Dial in on the little details of the game.' I was at Leafs training camp early in the season and the biggest thing I saw there is that every NHL player is good at the simple plays. So, for me, through Danielle, my focus is on being great at little plays and simple plays that in the long run make a big difference."
TSN: What stands out about the resources the Leafs organization can provide you?
Villeneuve: "Ah, it's pretty crazy. There's so many people who want to help you in terms of food and sleep and working out and on-ice stuff, so it's really great to have a lot of people support you. It makes you feel confident."
We get the lead back with Ryan Francis' second of the game and William Villeneuve passes Thomas Chabot for the most assists by a defenseman in Sea Dogs history. What a GOAL! 🚨#CityofChampions @MapleLeafs pic.twitter.com/Neetf9BU34— Saint John Sea Dogs (@SJSeaDogs) March 27, 2022
TSN: Did you watch a lot of Leafs games this year?
Villeneuve: "During the season I tried to catch some games and I was pretty into the series against Tampa. It was a great series with two top teams going at each other over seven games. You couldn't ask for more. I would've liked to see them get the win, but I know they'll be back."
TSN: What stands out about the way the Leafs play?
Villeneuve: "Just so fast and there's lots of movement in every zone, especially the offensive zone. They have two D and three forwards, but everybody's moving around and creating confusion for the other team. That's my biggest take: really fast and lots of movement, so I'll have to work on that."
TSN: Is there an NHL player you watched this season to learn from?
Villeneuve: "[Sea Dogs defence consultant] Paul Boutilier worked closely with Noah Dobson in New York, so he sent a lot of clips of him. I enjoyed watching and learning from him."
TSN: What did you learn?
Villeneuve: "He's really good at simple plays. He was working on the same thing we were working on with our team, which was trying to [manage] the gaps. Seeing him play at the highest level, you see how the little details make such a big difference. We were able to see his evolution and how he got so much better at doing the little things that Paul was teaching us."
TSN: Have you made gains when it comes to your size and strength?
Villeneuve: "Yeah, it's getting better. I came in at 16 at around 150 pounds and now I'm around 180. There's still a lot of growth to do and I will keep on working in the gym this summer and trying to get stronger."
TSN: You were named Saint John's top academic player at the end-of-season banquet. Why is that important to you?
Villeneuve: "You never know what happens, so it's good to stay educated in every aspect of life. I try to have conversations with people who are very intelligent. I think it helps me. And then it's just my background. My parents have always put a lot of emphasis on school. It's important to stay educated even if you can't do five or six classes per semester."
TSN: Do you have a favourite subject?
Villeneuve: "I like French. Writing and reading and stuff like that, I like that."
TSN: Read anything good lately?
Villeneuve: "I read a book about stocks. I know it's not good right now, but just on the psychology of money and trying to learn the little tricks."
TSN: Like what?
Villeneuve: "To not jump on the big opportunity that looks so good and really try to dig down a little bit. There's always a little something that you need to learn more so not being too excited about some things."
TSN: Why do you wear No. 13?
Villeneuve: "When I was younger, we were a billet family for the Sherbrooke Phoenix during their first year. The guy we had was Dominic Talbot-Tassi and we got super close when he was living with us. I took 13 because he [wore 13]."
TSN: Former Leafs goalie Felix Potvin coached you with the Midget AAA Magog Cantonniers. Are you still in touch?
Villeneuve: "Not really. He's a quiet guy, so he's not really easy to reach out to. He's doing his thing and camping and hunting and fishing, so I kind of let him do his thing. But he was a great influence on me. I really liked him as a coach and a person."
TSN: What do you remember most from being around Potvin?
Villeneuve: "Just his love for the game. When it was game time, he was just so passionate about it."
TSN: After winning the final 15 games of the regular season, what went wrong in the playoff series against Rimouski?
Villeneuve: "We felt very strong coming into the playoffs, but Rimouski just played a better series overall. During crunch time we didn't capitalize and get the job done. It's a good opportunity for us to just learn from it and bounce back. There's lots of teams in the CHL that would like a second opportunity and we get it, so we got to take advantage of it."
So much hard work on and off the ice to get the mem cup. Thank you to the organization for making it happen. Time for us, the players, to go out there and bring it home. Lets get it 💙 https://t.co/urntmXU0ul— William Villeneuve (@WilliamVillene9) September 22, 2021