By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
Copyright (c) The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Sitting on a bench overlooking his place of business, Guy Dupuis gazed across the Centennial Garden ice surface after a recent practice and smiled.
“It’s a lot of fun playing hockey,” he answered when asked why, at age 34 and after 14 years of professional hockey, he keeps lacing up the skates and putting his body through seven months of punishment. “Every day it’s a challenge to try and get better.”
Like most minor leaguers, Dupuis has had his share of offseason jobs to help make ends meet. Those jobs have only convinced him that he should play hockey as long as he’s physically and mentally able to do so.
“There’s nothing like the excitement and challenge I get from playing hockey,” Dupuis said. “I feel pretty fortunate the Good Lord gave me 15 years in my career, and hopefully he will give me a lot more.”
Certainly Dupuis shows no signs of slowing down. He scored a career-high 15 goals last season along with a career-high 43 assists playing for Kalamazoo (Mich.) in the United Hockey League. Through 23 games this season, he ranks second in defenseman scoring with 21 points and is tied for the top spot in assists with 16.
And he’s not shy about putting the puck on net — he leads all ECHL defensemen in shots with 87.
“I think, overall, he’s been our best defenseman since the start of the year and he’s 34 years old,” Condors coach Marty Raymond said. “I’m not saying that to be demeaning to the other Ds, but it’s as simple as that. He’s been our best overall D night in and night out.
“He works hard, stays in shape and is smart. He does all the little things well. He doesn’t get in trouble too many times because he anticipates well. Hockey is a mental game and he’s very strong mentally.”
Those attributes — along with his leadership on and off the ice — are why Dupuis was near the top of Raymond’s wish list when he was going about the business of rebuilding the Condors this past summer.
Dupuis played for the Condors two seasons ago when Raymond served as assistant coach to Paul Kelly.
“It wasn’t an easy decision (to return to Bakersfield),” Dupuis said. “I had so much fun last year in Kalamazoo. After a couple of months of talking with Kalamazoo and Bakersfield, my wife (Nicole) and I decided it was better for us to come back to Bakersfield.”
But Bakersfield is a world away from where Dupuis thought he was headed — the National Hockey League — after being selected in the third round of the 1988 entry draft by the Detroit Red Wings. The closest he ever got was training camp.
“My last training camp I had with Detroit, I thought I had an unbelievable camp, the best I could play, and I got cut at the first cut,” Dupuis said. “The GM told me they had me penciled in for the (American Hockey League) in the summertime.”
It was at that time Dupuis looked to see why others were getting the call and he was not.
“All of my teammates who got called up had at least one skill that was way above average, something to set them apart,” he said. “Either they had great, great vision, were an unbelievable passer, really good speed, (or were) really, really tough or really big.
“I see myself as good in a lot of different aspects, but not above average. I think there’s a lot of little things I do well, but not one thing I do exceptionally well.”
Two steps below the NHL, those qualities make Dupuis a D-man the Condors are fortunate to have.