When Justin LaPlante first stepped on the ice for The Hun School this season he was uncertain about where and how he’d fit in.
“When the first practice (was held) I was wondering,” he said. “I was in doubt, But I figured my role would be pretty big from the start. I took that role and now I’m one of the leaders of the team. I really like that role.”
A junior at Hun School, LaPlante has played in all 20 of the Raiders’ games this season, scoring 15 goals and adding 19 assists.
His coach, Ian McNally, cites his blend of abilities.
“I think Justin is a rare combination of skill, speed and strength,” McNally said. “Whenever he takes off, someone on the bench is inevitably going to yell out “See ya” because he just flies by people, whether he has the puck on his stick already or he’s racing someone to a loose one.
“He exudes power; he can skate, he can shoot and he can hit. He made an immediate impact with us this year because he’s just a great kid. He’s mature and personable and he wants to win. We’re lucky to have him.”
Justin LaPlante (photo: Tamara Gillon Photography)
LaPlante’s arrival at Hun School this past fall was something of a matter of happenstance. A native of Quebec City, where he played football as well as hockey, LaPlante was dealing with an injury when first crossed paths with McNally.
“I had broken my wrist playing football two months prior to meeting Coach McNally,” LaPlante recalled. “I was supposed to be out for another due to my wrist. But I decided to play in a Montreal showcase. I talked to (McNally) and he watched me play and the rest is history.”
LaPlante played football for the Raiders and found himself having to adjust to U.S. rules after learning the game in Canada.
“It was a really big step,” he said. “The Hun football program is simply incredible. I had my role here and I was playing on the special units a lot. I made some big plays throughout the year and it was really fun. I really enjoyed my time playing football.”
For all the adjustments LaPlante has made on the ice and on the football field, his greatest challenges have some in the classroom.
“It’s been a challenge for sure,” he said, “because English is not my first language and English classes here are pretty hard, so I would say that’s my biggest academic challenge. But otherwise, I’ve always been really good in school and I’ve never really struggled with anything, so I’m doing all right.”
While English is not LaPlante’s first language, no one engaging in conversation with him would realize it.
“I adapted to it really well,” he said. “When I speak to my family in English, they tell me that I’ve really improved, that I’ve adapted myself really well.
“I would say the people that spoke just French in my family was the older generation because they never really got English classes, but for the new generation, we got really good English teachers and classes so it’s been easier for me to learn that way.
“Listening to hockey and football in English, and watching the TV too has been really helpful so I think I’ve adapted really well since being here.”
McNally says playing football helped ease LaPlante’s transition to a new setting.
“He fit in seamlessly,” McNally said. “I think by playing football in the fall he was able to come to pre-season before school actually started, move into the dorms early and make friends right away with teammates.
“Hockey is maybe what led him to look at boarding schools, the experience of being away is the real takeaway and I think and so he’s jumped right in. Hun has kids from all over the world, so most of them are initially adapting. It makes it easier when they are all in the same boat.”
Even with the adjustments he’s had to make, in the classroom and as an athlete, LaPlante’s time at The Hun School has been enjoyable and satisfying.
“Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is life on the border here is pretty crazy and insane,” he said, “because on the weekends you get to do a lot of stuff that other schools can’t.
“I went to see a couple of (NCAA D-1) games, either football or basketball and I’m going to watch an NHL game in a few weeks. Those are experiences that I’ve never had in my life.
“As far as hockey goes, I would say that I’ve never been that much of an offensive guy or the star of a team so it feels good to experience that this year and being one of the best players on my team and being able to be a leader.”
Hockey-wise, it’s been an up-and-down season for the Raiders as they approach their APAC regular-season with Malvern Prep on Wednesday. They stand 8-12 overall and 2-5 in conference play as of February 7. But LaPlante says the team has played better than its record indicates.
“It has been up and down,” he said. “But I feel like we should have won five of those losses so it’s still a really good season for us.
“We haven’t played really bad, it’s just that we can’t close out games. But we’ve been holding up against really good teams, so that’s hopeful for us.