In the long, storied history of the NHL, only five players in the league have Paris on their birth certificates.
Four – including Hall of Famer Syl Apps and current Carolina Hurricanes prospect Zac Dalpe – have called the bustling city of Paris, Ont., their hometown.
And the other one?
He grew up not all that far from the Eiffel Tower.
Of all the rookies that will play in the NHL this season, Ottawa Senators prospect Stéphane Da Costa’s story is likely the most unique, as he started playing hockey in France’s largest city for the simple reason that his family lived next door to one of the country’s 129 rinks.
His two older brothers, Teddy and Gabriel, are also playing pro. While they’re on teams in Poland and France, the youngest of the crew – who began playing with kids almost twice his age as a three year old – is on the verge of making the NHL full time.
His readiness was on display at Ottawa’s rookie tournament this week, as Da Costa had a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday and added another goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday.
He’s a lock to be at the Sens main camp when it opens Friday and a decent bet to fill one of the team’s holes at centre come opening night next month.
“He’s really taken huge strides,” Senators director of player development Randy Lee said. “I think that what impressed us the most as an organization is that he had the initiative to come over early this summer [in mid-June]to spend a lot of time training with our players. That’s paying huge dividends.”
Da Costa said Tuesday that his journey from Paris to Ottawa hasn’t always been easy.
The lowest point came when, at 17, he joined a junior team called the Texas Tornado in Frisco, Tex., as a way to learn the North American game.
“I had no idea about the leagues in the U.S. or Canada,” Da Costa said. “So they put me up there and I was like, all right, I’ll just try it. After three weeks, I wanted to go back home. I couldn’t speak English, at all. It was really tough, even the first three months. My parents talked me through it.”
But Da Costa survived three years in U.S. junior leagues and began drawing interest from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, eventually signing on with the Merrimack College Warriors and becoming a star in the rebuilding program. (Not surprisingly, he studied foreign languages, including French.)
He then signed as a free agent with the Sens last March and played four NHL games, not looking out of place despite being just the sixth player born in France to skate in the league.
Da Costa said he is relying, in part, on some advice from former Chicago Blackhawks netminder and countryman Cristobal Huet on how to prepare for life in the NHL.
“He didn’t have a job right away, but he worked his ass off,” Da Costa said. “He said I have the talent – I just need to work hard now.”
Da Costa added that he believes France, ranked No. 15 in the world and with 16,026 total players, will continue to improve on the world stage.
“We’ve got a few good young players that are coming up now,” he said. “We’re in the top group at the world championship; we’re playing Canada and all those teams now. It goes on TV. It’s great – and even though it’s tough for us, we’ve had a few good scores.”
In Ottawa, meanwhile, he feels much more comfortable than his time in Frisco, as he can speak his own language and is closer to home. He even attended Bastille Day celebrations at the French embassy this summer.
And after playing in four cities in the past six years, he hopes he’s found a permanent home.
“Now it’s good,” Da Costa said, smiling. “I mean I struggled for four years, so… but now it’s good.”