For most kids interested in hockey, the first time on the ice comes at the local community rink. Maybe in a group learn-to-skate class or in an individual lesson with a coach. For Rush winger Gabe Chabot, it was a little different.
As the son of a professional goalie, he first got on the ice at the Houston Aeros practice facility, skating alongside another kid whose dad also played for the IHL team.
“We would go out, buzz around with full gear and hit the boards,” Gabe said. “Learn how to stop, that whole thing.”
Gabe’s father, Frederic, is a hockey lifer who he is now the goaltending coach for the Minnesota Wild in the NHL. He played parts of five seasons in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings. His 17-year career included stops in the NHL, AHL, IHL and ECHL, as well as time in the DEL, the top German pro league, and in Austria in the EBEL.
The younger Chabot spent much of his early childhood at the rink, running around pro locker rooms playing mini hockey, and bonding with his father’s teammates.
“I got a couple of my nicknames that I even have today from his teammates back in the day when I was just a little rug rat running around the rink,” Gabe said.
“Gabe actually came up with his own nickname,” Frederic said. “Because the guys were calling me Chaby and Gabe was always trying to compete with me. So he decided that if I was Chaby, he was Big Chaby.”
Some of Gabe’s formative years were spent in Europe, as Frederic played for four seasons in Germany for the Nuremberg Ice Tigers and one in Austria for the Vienna Capitals. Though Gabe hasn’t spoken the language in about 14 years, he was fluent in German as a child and even would translate for his parents.
“If we went to grocery stores or anywhere in public where they had to talk to somebody, for some reason they would just look at me and be like, ‘What did they just say?’” Gabe said with a laugh. “And I would be like, ‘Well, it’s going to be $38.45 for whatever you guys are getting.’”
While Frederic has made his living as a goaltender and a goalie coach, Gabe found his own path as a forward. The second-year pro is currently third on the team with 41 points, having netted 18 goals along with 23 assists while appearing in all 57 of Rapid City’s games to date.
Gabe, who is listed at 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, is the shortest player on the Rush roster. He realized from an early age that his size might make it harder to follow in his father’s footstep as a goaltender.
“His thing was you’re going to learn to skate. So you can be a forward or you can be a D. Until you’re 10, then if you want to transition to goalie,” Gabe said. “At 10, I tried a goalie camp and had a blast, but I was like, ‘I don’t see this working out for me. Mom’s 5-foot, and I’m not looking like I’m gonna be very tall.’”
“When he was young, like all of the kids, he loved the gear, and his dad was a goalie, and they love the mask and the pads. But I had an inclination that he wouldn’t be as tall as me,” said Frederic, who’s 5-foot-11. “So I thought maybe it’s not a good idea to play goalie when you’re 5-foot-7, 5-foot-8.”
Being a goalie’s son ended up working to Gabe’s advantage, as he spent tons of time at the goalie camps and clinics that Frederic ran. Gabe fired countless pucks on net, getting insight into how the guys in the net would try to stop him.
“I got to absorb a lot of knowledge indirectly through his career as a goalie and a goalie coach,” Gabe said. “He would be telling them one thing, and, in my mind, I would hear a completely different opportunity.”
Frederic said that Gabe had a good shot at a very young age, which he used to his advantage at those camps. “As the years went by, he was also coaching goalies and helping teach. And here and there, you pick up tricks of how to score on goalies by shooting in those goalie schools.”
Following the conclusion of his playing career, Frederic entered the coaching ranks, where he quickly rose to the NHL level. He was hired as the goaltending coach for the Edmonton Oilers in 2009 and has been with the Wild, first as a goaltending development coach and now as their NHL goalie coach, since 2015.
“It was pretty cool that he got to see me play until he was about 10 or 11,” Frederic said. “That he had a chance to live that experience. It’s not an easy life because you bounce around, you have to make new friends all the time and [go to] new schools. But at the same time, it’s a great learning experience. You become very good at making friends and adjusting to new environments.”
Despite never having to find a career outside of hockey himself, Frederic always wanted to ensure that his son was prepared to leave the game behind when it was time to hang up the skates.
“[My dad] planted the seed early that he would like for me to play college hockey,” Gabe said. “He had a lot of friends and teammates growing up that went the major junior route who were really good players but never got an education.”
Frederic said he and his wife, Susanne, thought it was important for Gabe to stay in school while he played hockey.
“For some players, the junior route is better,” Frederic said, “but we thought it would be better for him to play in college, give him more of a chance to level up, and maybe have a chance to play pro. I think right now it is paying off. He is playing good hockey, and it is fun for us to watch him.”
Gabe played four seasons of NCAA hockey at Boston University, where he appeared in 134 games and recorded 10 goals and 11 assists. In his four years at BU, he managed to secure not only a bachelor’s degree but a master’s in finance.
“[Finance] was something I thought I liked to read about, and it turned out that it was a subject that interested me,” Gabe said. “I pushed through the bachelor’s degree and had time to do the master’s at the same time. So hopefully that sets me up well for when hockey is over. There’s a lot of different roads that this could go in.”
In his rookie year with the Rush in 2020-21, Gabe recorded seven goals and six assists over 56 games while playing a third-line grinder type role. He has busted out in a big way is his second professional season, getting time on the power play and an expanded role that has him playing with the puck more than away from it.
“It took a little bit to get used to because I had played that grinder role for five years in a row,” Gabe said. “This summer, I was really focused on changing how I thought of the game mentally and what my focus was when I was on the ice.
“Last year I had [teammates] hounding me to take the time, make the play. That kind of clicked over the summer, and I brought it into this season.”
Gabe’s success has made him an invaluable member of a Rush team that appears poised to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season. And for Frederic, the practical and supportive father, it’s been fun to watch from afar as his son forges his own path in the game that has been such a large part of his life.
“Me and Susanne are super proud of everything he does,” Frederic said. “We hope he plays as long as he can, has a good time and makes a good living with it. And one day it will be over, and he’ll do something else. But right now, we are super proud and super happy for him, and hopefully he keeps going and keeps having success.”