Chris Ducharme will be playing for the District of Columbia Masters team at the 2016 ISBHF Masters World Ball Hockey Championships in Banff, Alberta, Canada this June. During their last preparation camp in Niagara Falls, Chris was kind enough to sit down for a face to face interview with ASHI and talk about the sport, his passion, and his memories growing up.
Chris Ducharme, Forward
Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in Lowell, MA and grew up there. I still love it there and live there today.
What do you do for a living?
I’m an Imperial Account Manager at Market Basket, a local super market chain in Eastern Mass. Been there for 19 years.
Do you have a family?
Married to my lovely wife Lynn. We have a son Ben and a daughter Madisyn.
The Ducharme Family
When did you first start playing hockey or street hockey? Do you play ice as well? Who introduced you to the game?
My parents got me introduce to ice hockey at 6. I played that for a few years and stopped at 13. I just kind of grew out of my interest for ice. Right around that time though I started playing street hockey in the neighborhood with a bunch of other kids. We basically played at a playground because we didn’t have rinks around. We played anywhere really. We played in a tennis court eventually that had those ankle high boards.
What position did you play back then?
Center/Forward. I really enjoy playing forward. I like it a lot because I can use my speed and I happen to be pretty good at face-offs. Plus who doesn’t like scoring right?
Why do you like ball hockey?
I love the game. So different than ice. I really prefer ball over ice hockey. It’s just so competitive and addicting. It’s a very hard game to walk away from. It’s OUR game. There’s never anything like it. I’ve watched it grow over the years. I’m really proud to be a part of it and to have a chance to compete for my country at a World Championship.
Who do you credit for being a big influence on you growing up playing street hockey?
This kid in our neighborhood named Russell Wilbur. He was just phenomenal. The absolute top dog, a Bobby Housser like player. He just ran circles around everyone. Could almost score at will. Once we started playing in Leominster, I looked up to Chris Housser a lot, along with several players there who really made see what it took to play this game at a top level.
How did you learn to play competitive ball hockey?
Just learned it together with my friends. We played so much we ended up travelling all over the city carrying our nets and gear and just playing kids from other neighborhoods. Then we found a rink in Dracut that got built and that was the first rink we ever played on. I was 16 at the time. Me, Brian Pollinger, Lee Nogler, Ricky L’Heureux… we all grew up playing together and we started playing a lot there in Dracut. There was another guy we played with who happened to be of French origin like me and Ricky. His name was Kenny Dubois. So me, Ricky, and Kenny, we called ourselves the French Connection, after the old Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Rene Robert line that played for the Sabres.
Chris with one of his many championship trophies
How did you end up playing tournament level ball hockey?
I started out playing with the Lowell raiders when I was younger, around 18 I think. Basically just rode the bench for a that first year learning from the older players. Then the next year I got a little bit of playing time and we won the 1994 US Nationals in Leominster when I was 19. It’s funny how life comes full circle. This month our team won the Men’s B Division Nationals in Leominster.
Who has been the biggest influence in ball hockey career?
Probably my circle of friends – Lee Nogler, Ricky L’Heureux, Brian Pollinger. We really pushed ourselves, always tried to get better. We kept each other playing and always committing to do the best we could.
How did you feel after winning your first nationals?
Amazing. That win really got us geared up to play more tourneys. We ended up travelling to a Pennsylvania tournament near Harrisburg where, of all people, Lee Nogler was actually our goalie. We had fun there and everywhere we went. But then after a few years the Raiders broke up and a few of us moved to the Greater Boston Stars team. We played in a lot of tourneys with them, won several titles.
So you’ve played tournament level ball hockey consistently your whole life?
Yes and I only took a year off this whole time. But then the guys from the neighborhood came and dragged me outta my house, told me I had to play again ha ha ha. So I went back to playing and I still love every minute of it.
Chris and his brother enjoying Christmas in their younger years
What is the worst loss you’ve ever had in this sport?
Leominster, the Can-Ams in a quarterfinal one year. We were playing great and just got a bad call from the refs, and it ended up costing us the game. I mean I don’t want to blame the refs when we had our chances to win but it was a really bad call and it just left a very bad feeling for our team. We felt like we were the better team that day.
What did you think when you heard about the Masters USA tryout with ASHI?
Well, Brian Pollinger and Lee Nogler made the 2014 team and they convinced me to come tryout. I don’t know why I didn’t try out for that one but I think when I heard about it I just thought I had no chance. I mean, I know how many really great players there are out there in this sport and just thought a roster spot would be tough for a guy like me. But when Lee and Brian made the DC team in 2014 my wife really bugged me to tryout for the 2016 team along with Lee and Brian and I played well enough to be selected for DC. I’m honored.
When you saw all talented people at tryouts, what did you think?
I thought I had no chance. Then during tryouts Jay Machin (USA Masters Head Coach) stopped our game and moved me to wing because he wanted to see what I could do on the wing. Next thing I know I’m getting a call from Jamie and I was so excited. Couldn’t believe it.
Do you have any personal goals besides winning gold?
I wanna finish in the top 3. Gold is important to me and that’s the goal, but on a personal level I really want to medal. I want to play hard, compete well, and represent my country very well.
With the age limit being lowered to 35 for the next Masters World Championship, a lot of guys in their 40s really feel like this is their last hurrah at this level. Do you feel the same?
Yeah and I think I understand why a lot of guys feel that way. There’s so much talent that will fall between that 35-40 age bracket for 2018 that it’s going to be difficult for us older guys to crack the roster. I mean, you never know but I think at this age a lot of guys are honest with themselves.
I understand you will have quite a contingent with you in Banff?
Oh yeah there’s a lot of us going. My wife, two kids, mother, stepfather, father in law. We rented three apartments. It’s going to be a memorable week for us.
2016 District of Columbia Masters
What are keys for success for the DC Masters team in Banff?
Using our speed and applying a lot of pressure. I watched the games from 2014 on YouTube, and putting pressure on the ball is important. Forcing turnovers is key, making them work. Using our speed as a team, beating guys 1 v 1 with speed at the forward position. Getting to those loose balls before their defensemen do is huge.
I think this team is set up very well for the size of this rink in Banff. I’d love to see both teams finish in the top 3. We certainly have the talent to do it.
Have you ever thought about hanging up the equipment? Just saying “I’ve had a great career, time to do other things.”
No. Never. No matter how many times I lose I’ll keep playing. I love the game too much.