Wild winger Brandon Duhaime will always cherish his childhood in South Florida.
He remembers attending Panthers games as a kid at the rink now known as FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Fla. He also remembers seeing various NHL players such as legendary goaltender Roberto Luongo around his neighborhood in Parkland, Fla.
“It was pretty cool,” Duhaime said. “They would always have sticks in their garbage cans. Or I’d see the net in their garage with their kids playing. That type of deal.”
It’s not a surprise that Duhaime gravitated to the sport. His dad, Trevor, had a successful stint in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the early 1990s. His mom, Martine, grew up in Quebec and shared a passion for the sport.
That meant Duhaime was at the rink from an early age. He was on skates by the time he was 2 years old and would regularly watch his dad compete in a local men’s league. The best part? If he behaved himself in the crowd, his mom would let him skate around after the games ended.
“Yeah,” Duhaime said with a laugh. “She said that was the only way they could get me to sit still for more than 10 minutes at a time.”
Eventually, that energetic kid morphed into a talented teenager, and Duhaime left home to attend Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy in Kelowna, B.C. As much as South Florida had started to emerge as a viable option for growth within the sport, there were more opportunities up north.
“I left home at 14 years old,” said Duhaime, whose dad moved with him while his mom and his sister stayed behind. “That was a huge sacrifice for my family, but it was instrumental in my development. Just getting those few years at (Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy) and developing there was really special.”
From there, Duhaime played juniors in the British Columbia Hockey League, then the United States Hockey League before committing to Providence College. Around that same time, the Wild selected Duhaime in the fourth round of the 2016 NHL Draft.
After a productive college career at Providence College, Duhaime signed his entry-level contract on April 18, 2019. He spent the past couple of years with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League before finally cracking the NHL roster.
All the while Duhaime never forgot his South Florida roots. He’s still best friends with Coyotes star defenseman Jakob Chychrun. They grew up playing together in South Florida and both take a lot of pride in reaching the NHL from humble beginnings in a nontraditional market.
For Duhaime, a homecoming more than 20 years in the making will finally come on Saturday night when the Wild take on the Panthers in a 5 p.m. puck drop. He’s expecting anywhere between 25 to 75 people at FLA Live Arena for the game.
“I don’t know if I’ll have enough tickets,” Duhaime said. “Thankfully, the Panthers’ tickets aren’t too expensive.”
Though it will be a special moment for him personally, Duhaime is excited for his parents more than anything else.
“The moment might be a little bigger for them,” Duhaime said. “You’ll probably see my mom crying in the crowd. It gets me emotional thinking about how many sacrifices they made.”
Only recently has Duhaime started to fully grasp the sacrifices his family made so he could live out his lifelong dream.
“You don’t realize it as a kid,” he said. “You’re 14 years old and it’s like ‘Oh yeah. I’ll leave home. No problem.’ You don’t understand your mom is probably crying all the time missing (us). It was really hard on (my parents). But I think they’re really happy that it paid off.”