The Rebl House creative agency in downtown Montreal is maze of aphorisms. Inside the front door, a white screen with small black script reads, I don’t know where I’m going…but, I’m on my way. Around the corner, leading up to the second floor, is a set of stairs stencilled with Drake’s Started From The Bottom Now We’re Here. Down the hall and to the right, Do What You Love is written in white neon against a black background. And at the back of the studio, past the #BOSSLADY director’s chair to the left, Too Glam To Give A Damn is scrawled on a black wall between the bathrooms.
Phillip Danault has his own mantra, and he repeats if often as he lounges in the studio. It’d fit in well here, and it has served him well over his three years in the madhouse market that is Montreal. “Just go with the flow,” Danault said. “If you’re a nervous person, I don’t think you can play here, that’s for sure. But it’s so much fun.”
That attitude is evident in Danault’s body language as he all but becomes part of a sofa seat in the screening room during a break in a midsummer photo shoot for the clothing brand RW&CO. If he were any more chill, you’d have to check for a pulse. He uses words like “vibe” and “cool,” though he’s so relaxed he’s barely audible. “Nothing really bothers me,” Danault said. “I need something really big to bother me. Life’s cool. Nice and easy. Peaceful.”
It’s easy to see why. For more than a year now, everything has been coming up Danault after years of little going his way. In July 2018, Danault signed a three-year, $9.25-million contract, giving him the financial security that was in doubt just six months earlier. A week later he married Marie-Pierre Fortin, his girlfriend of two years, and this past February he became a father when the couple had their first baby, Phillip-Edouard, named after Danault as well as Fortin’s grandfather.
To top it all off, Danault got to fulfill a childhood dream this summer when he flew a helicopter for the first time. Not a plane, he makes clear using eager hand gestures. A helicopter. “You can float anywhere,” he said. “It’s just different, even if it’s more dangerous. And you can land like this instead of like this. You can land in more tight areas, like a roof or something.”
Danault wants to get his helicopter license one day, but for now he’ll settle for playing on the most famed franchise in hockey. As a Quebec native, Danault is a bit of an oddity. Where many homegrown players have tried and failed with the Canadiens, Danault has not only survived, but thrived. Last season he posted a career-high 53 points, finally realizing the potential that never materialized in Chicago after the Blackhawks drafted him 26th overall in 2011.
In 32 NHL games with the Hawks, wrapped around parts of five seasons with the AHL Rockford IceHogs, Danault had just one goal and six points. In his three seasons in Montreal, since being dealt to the Canadiens midway through 2015-16, his points-per-game average has steadily trended upwards. Now 26, Danault has become a key cog on an up-and-coming Canadiens club. And to think, less than two years ago it looked for a moment like he might never play again.
On Jan. 13, 2018, during a home game against the Boston Bruins, Danault was hit in the side of the head by a slapshot from the point. The shooter was Zdeno Chara, no less, the NHL’s record-holder for the hardest shot (108.8 mph, set at the 2012 All-Star Game). Danault immediately collapsed to the ice and was taken off on a stretcher. It was the kind of freak accident that could end a career, and Fortin was at the Bell Centre when it happened. “When we were going to the hospital, I was like, ‘Oh my god, if he never plays hockey again, what would I tell him?’ You know what I mean? ‘Sorry, it’s a done deal. You can’t play anymore,’ ” she said. “It was so hard.”
Danault was lucky. He spent only one night in hospital and returned to action just over a month later, though he was shut down for the rest of the season shortly thereafter. It was the low point of his NHL career, and no one knew what to expect from him as the 2018-19 season approached. “Last year when he went to training camp I said, ‘Remember, you’re lucky,’ Fortin said. “ ‘A lot of people want your place, want your spot, want your career. But you have it, and you still have it. You’re lucky, so have fun.’ ”
If statistics are any indication, then Danault had the time of his life. He set career highs in assists (41) and points (53) and finished seventh in Selke Trophy voting. The Canadiens just missed the playoffs, but Danault has entrenched himself as the third-line center in Montreal, barely a two-hour drive from where he was born.
Danault hails from Victoriaville, Que., about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, which is his wife’s hometown and the couple’s home during the off-season. Danault played junior with the QMJHL’s Tigres, and the couple met in Victoriaville while living in the same duplex. Until then, Fortin had paid about as much attention to hockey as Danault did to fashion. Now, the two have since adopted each other’s passions. Fortin watches every game and Danault pays close attention to what he wears. “At the beginning it was just like hockey style,” Fortin said. “He had tight pants with white socks and loafers and a hoodie. He had two, three suits at the beginning.”
Danault has upped that total to more than a dozen, and all of them have Fortin’s mark on them. She designs all of his suits, from the tie down to the shoes, and gets them all custom-made. For every home game Fortin chooses Danault’s suit and sets it out for him to wear. Most of the time her designs are a hit in the dressing room. Only one has missed the mark so far, at least in the eyes of Danault’s teammates, who called it “an old couch suit.”
“They didn’t like it, but I thought it was awesome,” Danault said. “They’ve got to open their mind.”
With a contract, a wife, a baby boy and a new off-ice interest, Danault has just about everything he ever wanted. Only one thing’s missing, and he’ll continue to “go with the flow” until he gets it. “I always wanted to have a hockey life and a family, too,” Danault said. “Those were the two big goals I had. Fashion is coming in, too. I’ve got a passion for that now that my wife transferred it to me, like I transferred my hockey passion to her. She wants to win the Cup now.”