When someone from the Valley excels, it’s always a celebratory event for the community. Seeing someone achieve their goals is a cause for excitement and celebration. Zachary L’Heureux is an 18-year-old hockey star from Mercier, with family in Huntingdon and Saint-Anicet, who was selected 27th in the first round of the NHL draft by the Nashville Predators on July 27. The following day he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the hockey club.
L’Heureux has been playing hockey since he was a toddler. “I was about three or four when my parents first put me on skates. It was obvious from the get-go that I loved it and I wanted to play hockey. Growing up I played a lot of sports, but hockey was my number one,” he says. Both his grandfather and father were exceptional hockey players as well, and his entire family is very invested in the sport.
According to his grandmother, Heather L’Heureux, he has excelled at it from the very beginning, “I can remember when he was just a little fellow. Back then, there would be 10 little boys huddled around the puck, but it would always come out to Zach and he would take it and score a goal. I felt sorry for the goalkeeper because when this ready little L’Heureux came he knew what he was in for. One game he got 21 goals; I’ll never forget that.”
Heather L’Heureux is the president of the Huntingdon arena and has been for almost 10 years. “I’m a councillor in Saint-Anicet, and the arena in Huntingdon has 11 municipalities involved; it’s inter-municipal. I do an enormous amount of work for hockey and for the children. That’s the reason that’s the part of my political life that I am really involved in, and I give a lot of my time to the Huntingdon arena.” She works hard to create an environment that is accessible to all kids, knowing that not all parents have the same means. “We provide ice hours at the best rates of any area in the province of Quebec. Because we are inter-municipal, we are not in the business of making money.”
Zachary L’Heureux tells of how he was able to once again play in the Huntingdon arena this past winter, and how he still feels a strong connection to it. “I always enjoyed going to play in the ‘barn’, and that cold feeling. This winter I had the opportunity to skate there, and felt some throwback memories, getting to play with my dad who grew up playing hockey there. It’s just cool to feel those memories and flashbacks, even if you can’t feel your toes after you’re done playing; you still enjoy it, and enjoy being there.”
In the 2019-2020 season, L’Heureux played for the Moncton Wildcats. In this past season, the 196-pound 5’11” athlete played for the Halifax Mooseheads. He ended the season with 39 points (19 goals and 20 assists).
L’Heureux plays left wing and says that he’s really leaned into that in the past few years. “Growing up, I always wanted to be a forward; I wanted to put pucks in the net and score goals. That was obvious from the time I was a kid. I played centre, really, everywhere. In the past two years I’ve really found myself to be a winger, not a centre, and it suited me better to play there.”
The news of the NHL draft is especially exciting, since the past year has been more difficult than ever for athletes. L’Heureux was expected to keep up with intense training, and when everything was shut down, this became more challenging. “Last summer it was a lot harder because all the gyms were closed, and all the rinks were closed. It was a lot of self-training in the basement in my house, but I had to do it.”
He kept his spirits up, however, and believes that the work he put in at home will transfer onto the ice next season. “This summer has been a lot better, being able to get in a gym and get on the ice with some guys. I’ve definitely done a lot to try to improve myself, and that’s going to help me a lot next year.”
On the night of the draft, emotions were running high. L’Heureux says that the days before were nerve-wracking. “Leading up to the night was a lot of nerves. Once it started, the nerves amped up even more. When I was drafted, it was definitely a relief and I was just so excited. It’s over, move onto the next step!” He is thrilled with the way things went. “I’m really happy with the way things have turned out … Nashville is a great place for me to be and a great place to start a future.”
Heather L’Heureux says she still has goosebumps, thinking about the draft. “Zack was just so, so happy. It was like a dream. Every little boy puts their skates on the ice and the NHL is their dream. And I asked Zack if he ever thought that that dream would come true for him. There were over 5000 eligible people for that draft and only 284 were chosen.” The entire family is over the moon with pride.
Since the draft, things have been extremely busy in L’Heureux’s life. “It’s been a lot of phone calls. Last week I was skating with Hockey Canada in the under-20 summer program in Calgary. I just got home from that, and it’s been a lot of running around, preparing to go to Nashville in a couple of weeks.”
L’Heureux’s drive and determination have only grown now that he has been drafted. “Having the opportunity to go and fight for a spot in training camp is something that I really look forward to. I still have a lot of work to do,” he says, adding that he is eager for the chance. “I’m just excited to get to Nashville and see the city and meet the people. I think that’s gonna be pretty unreal. But my dream is to play in the NHL. Not just to play one game but to make a career.”