By Cam Tucker, Abbotsford Times
Jon Rheault did two things last season to get the attention of Abbotsford Heat fans, teammates and coaching staff: he provided offence, and he did it while sporting a flow of long, black hair.
And Rheault certainly showed those locks off.
But then, just hours before he and other Calgary Flames prospects took to the ice for their first game at the Vancouver Canucks Young Stars Tournament in Penticton this week, it became quite clear the well-travelled 24-year-old forward had undergone - a hair cut!
A shock, yes. A disappointment it was not. He had been growing it all along with a special purpose in mind. Once it got long enough, he snipped it and sent the long strands to Pantene for wigs for cancer patients.
"I feel a little bit lighter, I miss it a bit," said Rheault on Monday. "Cancer is definitely a topic I feel strongly on and I was like 'you know, I'm going to do it.'"
Cancer affects one in three people in the U.S., where Rheault is originally from, and he too has been influenced by its often tragic clutches. Rheault was in Grade 8 when his grandfather died of cancer in his mid-60s.
"It definitely cut his life short and he was very important in my life both through hockey and with family," said Rheault.
That's also the kind of spirit and generosity that have made Rheault a very popular figure with both teammates and coaches in Abbotsford.
It took all of one meeting with Jim Playfair for the Heat head coach to become a fan.
"I've always got a lot of respect for him," said Playfair. "I've liked him from the very first time I met with him based on his personality and his ability to be a good teammate.
"When I first saw his hair, I enjoyed it actually. I was like 'wow there's a different look,' but I knew [with] the Sutters that it wouldn't be long before they helped him get to a barber shop.
"Once they all figured out what he was doing, they were also supportive of it and they understood what he was about and he's a special player."
And clearly, the decision to go from long hair to short hasn't affected Rheault's ability to play hockey.
He put up five points in five regular season games last year with the Heat after bouncing around with two other AHL clubs and ECHL's Ontario Reign. He followed that up with eight points in 13 post season games with Abbotsford, good enough for third in team scoring.
But what once seemed impossible, a spot in the NHL, got brighter Monday as Rheault scored three times and added one assist as the Flames prospects clobbered the Anaheim Ducks young guns 8-4.
His second goal, a wrap around, was good enough to make the local sports highlight reels.
"There's definitely something to say about confidence," said Rheault, who signed with the Flames in June. "I came into Abbotsford last year, had a good start with them and was able to get some goals under my belt early and confidence carries from there."
His three goals on Monday got the attention of the NHL hockey world, and he's hoping it continues.
"I know I'm not one of the high draft picks in this tournament but I've got a good opportunity . . . and hopefully people starting knowing who I am out there," he said.