Some readers might recall the term “90-pound weakling.” That was little Frederic as a 14-year-old hockey wannabe at the St-Louis Academie in Quebec, Canada. Classmate Louis-Philippe De Courcy sets the record straight. “He came in and was 5-2, 120 pounds,” said De Courcy, “could barely bench [press] the bar, kinda funny.”
Frederic Letourneau’s response to his weight room challenge more than eight years ago is a good starting point to describe the man who has become a catalyst for today’s Bowling Green program, one that stands on the precipice of its first NCAA invite in 29 years.
“I still struggle a little bit with the bench because I focused on my legs so much,” said Letourneau, who now loads the bar with a modest 140 pounds. “My bench has obviously improved over time, but it’s still a weakness of mine that I’m working on constantly.”
After ninth grade, Letourneau and De Courcy took a chance by attending the elite Connecticut prep school Hotchkiss, despite struggling with English. They found themselves taking college-like curriculum while barely speaking a new language.
“We got there and were thrown in, to go to school all the time in English,” said Letourneau. “It was really tough at first.” He was still waiting for his growth spurt when he found himself back in the weight room, surrounded by young men who could bench press three times Freddie’s best. “Yeah, he struggled a bit, a late bloomer,” said Hotchkiss strength coach Mark Knapp. But the veteran coach saw some intangibles in the youngster that left a deep impression. “He has a winner’s mindset,” said Knapp. “Freddie’s a gamer, and will find a way to contribute.”
While De Courcy went directly to Division III Lake Forest College after Hotchkiss, Letourneau took a gap year in the Alberta Junior League to prepare for Division I, finally landing in Northern Ohio. Almost a decade removed from the day he struggled with the weight bar, the 22-year-old wingman known as “Freddie” has willed himself into Bowling Green’s lineup, and he’s no passenger. Despite not getting a sniff of power-play time, Letourneau is now providing much-needed secondary scoring—3-3-6 over last five games played—for a Falcons’ stretch drive colored by desperation.
He spent much of last season watching a lot of BGSU hockey in street clothes, but now shares his hockey “Joie de Vivre” in full uniform inside the glass. Letourneau’s recipe for playing time is uncomplicated: “I made it my motto to be the hardest working guy on the ice.”
The Falcons were desperate for an injection of Letourneau’s energy after a March 1 home loss to WCHA No. 8 seed Alabama-Huntsville, the low point of Bowling Green’s season. “We were extremely frustrated, we knew we shouldn’t lose against Huntsville,” said Letourneau, recalling the team’s come-to-Jesus moment. “I think the next day we just showed up at the rink, no one really said anything. You could feel the vibe that—all right, that’s enough. We’re going to start being great again.”
And great they were. Led by Letourneau’s season-high two points, the Falcons blew out the Chargers and haven’t looked back, reeling off five wins in a row to pull themselves back into NCAA contention, with absolutely no wiggle room. Letourneau chipped in goals in their next two games, a quarterfinal elimination series with Michigan Tech, none bigger than his tying goal in the opener. Coach Bergeron singled him out in the official post-game presser. “He’s one of those guys that works extremely hard every day,” said Bergeron. “It’s nice to see kids like that get rewarded.”
It was Letourneau who dished out rewards in the next series, assisting on a pair of goals in the semifinal opener versus Northern Michigan. Letourneau’s high-energy forecheck, at the end of a shift no less, led to the opening goal of the series. It ignited Bowling Green’s offense, and set the stage for a road sweep that has become the club’s defining statement.
How hustle translates to goals, No. 8 Freddie Letourneau pic.twitter.com/TjyK5OOmvi— Tim Rappleye (@teeraps) March 21, 2019
In a season that could be charted by an undulating line, the resurgent Falcons now roll into the WCHA championship game for the second time in three years. Although he is sandwiched between gutsy seniors and high-scoring sophomores, junior Letourneau senses he is becoming a leader of this club as it stands on the verge of school history.
“I know that it’s hard to lead with having a sophomore class contributing so much, but for sure off the ice, with my work ethic, that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Letourneau. “We call it, ‘The Process.’ We really try and focus on how the little things matter, like drinking a protein shake after the game, or make sure we get enough sleep. I just try and focus on myself, and I think the younger guys can slowly see how it impacts my game, and how it could impact their game, too.”
With a team boasting stars up and down its lineup, from goaltender Ryan Bednard in net to snipers Max Johnson and Brandon Kruse up front, it seems unlikely that Letourneau would be an impact player for Bowling Green. But this season has been a series of unpredictable events for the Falcons, and the guy who helps them finally bust down that NCAA door just might be the hard-working lightweight with a French accent.
Author Tim Rappleye just released his latest book: Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review (Mission Point Press, 2018). He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.