Like many players on the cusp of regular playing time in the National Hockey League, the lockout couldn’t have come at a worse time for Hamilton Bulldogs defenseman Frederic St. Denis.
The 26-year-old former Cincinnati Cyclones rearguard is in his fifth professional season, one year removed from making his debut at the game’s highest level for the Montreal Canadiens. But in his first season, St. Denis spent the majority of his year in the ECHL, posting 23 points in 41 regular-season games.
"For me, it was awesome. It was the best thing that could have happened to me," St. Denis told ECHL.com earlier this year.
"It showed me how to be a pro. They had a good system there in Cincinnati, and had a good coach, (Chuck) Weber. I had a good time there. It helped me a lot, and it might be why I’m here right now."
St. Denis also gained his first pro playoff experience in the ECHL as well, advancing all the way to the Conference Finals before losing to eventual Kelly Cup champion South Carolina. He registered five points in 15 games with the Cyclones before graduating to the American Hockey League full-time the following season.
"Those were some great series, that was tough," St. Denis recalled of his playoff run.
"I remember we lost in the third round in four games to South Carolina. We did some good things during the playoffs, though. I was pretty excited. The fans there were pretty crazy, too. It was pretty fun to feel that."
The Greenfield Park, Quebec native played exclusively at the AHL level for the next two seasons, and he again led his team, this time the Bulldogs, to the conference finals in both years. But it wasn’t until the 2011-12 season that he’d finally get to make his long-awaited NHL debut.
In the midst of an AHL All-Star year, St. Denis got to see his first NHL action for Montreal at the Bell Center in a Nov. 16, 2011, 4-0 shutout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. He recorded two shots and had a +1 rating on the night.
"It was awesome," St. Denis said. "It was at the Bell Center in front of my family, and all my friends were there. We have a channel, RDS, that showed the game, so everybody watched for me. I received I think something like 200 texts and had a lot of people call me. It was unreal, it was another world. Especially for it to happen in Montreal in front of my family, it was crazy."
He wouldn’t have to wait long for his next milestone to unfold. St.Denis registered his first NHL goal on Dec. 8, 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks and Roberto Luongo.
"My last game there (in my first stint up), we played Vancouver, and I scored on my second shift," he said. "It wasn’t a great shot from the point, but it went in. So it was a good moment for me."
So far this season, St. Denis has enjoyed some good moments as well, posting a 1-2-3 line through his first nine games with Hamilton.