|(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
First, the left winger found a post-NHL/AHL career in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey, a Quebec-based league often shortened as the LNAH. After his final AHL season in Portland, Maine, Wathier looked to extend his career in Europe, as many players do. He had a deal in Austria but couldn't bring his family. "My family is a package deal, so I decided not to go."
Wathier got a call from the Laval Prédateurs and decided to join up.
"People call it a fighting league, and yes, there are fights, one or two a game. The tough guy goes on the ice and they do their thing but then we play hockey. Very physical, probably one of the most physical leagues I’ve ever played in and that’s very much my game. Unlimited ice time as well and that was the fun part."
The league features seven teams made up of a smattering of former North American pros and major junior players. All must hail from Quebec or have played major junior in Quebec. The league features games exclusively on the weekends and one practice per week. He had a chance to head to England after his first year in Laval but the team matched his English contract and he decided to sign up for a three-year deal.
Wathier makes his home in Ottawa, a two-hour drive from his home rink. When combined with the bus ride to away games, sometimes his transit can be nine hours each way. "It’s two hours on my own and seven hours on the bus. I leave home at 9 AM [Friday] and come back at 6 or 7 AM Saturday and then I’m on the ice with my second son at 8 AM for skating with the mites."
Both of Wathier's sons are in competitive hockey and his daughter does dance. Playing in the league and helping his wife to raise their kids is just part of the schedule for Francis. During the week, he is an assistant coach for the local Junior A team. Unfortunately, he has to miss their games on the weekends to play in his own, but he is part of a group of assistants who all work together to help the team.
Their family also lives in the dorms at a hockey academy, where his wife acts as a bit of a billet mother for the academy's students. She is also going back to school.
Francis headed to school himself as part of setting up his plan B for after hockey. Coaching is something he is passionate about, but he went ahead and took the firefighter's course in Ottawa. He passed and just needs to do a job interview with the department to join up, if that time comes.
Even with all this going on in Ottawa, the Wathier family feels like they "left something in Austin" and it holds a special place for them. "Austin is still part of home for us. That’s why we go back, we want to give back to a community that gave so much to us. We had two of our three kids born there and a house there. We still have a lot of memories and friends."
To that end, he'll be returning this summer again to host a series of camps and clinics with youth hockey players here. From July 17 to 21, he'll be at the Pond Hockey club doing half-day camps with age groups from mini-mite to bantams. The camp will combine off ice and on ice work, including power skating, individual skills and game situation drills. The very next week he'll be assisting the Texas Junior Stars at their training camp. Following that, the ice will melt and he'll go to the roller rink to assist with their hockey camps.
Wathier had been teaching for years in the AHL, so it's just a natural progression to coaching. He is quite proud of anything he might have been able to teach some of the younger kids now enjoying success with the Dallas Stars, including Jamie Benn, Brett Ritchie, Curtis McKenzie and Antoine Roussel.
"You hope you show them something. You don’t teach them it all, but you hope there’s something they can point to and say, ‘I learned that from that old man.’”
For more information about Wathier's camps, check out franciswathier.com.