How Dhooghe Does It
Wisconsin Freshman Doesn't Let Size Stand in His Way
If Sean Dhooghe wasn’t 5-foot-3, he may be shuffling around the crease instead of deking past defenders.
When Sean was young, playing goalie was his passion. His parents discouraged it, limiting his goaltending exploits to backyard games or in-house scrimmages. Eventually when Sean became a teenager, he realized that, because of his size, he had to become a forward.
“They were like, 'No, you're not going to become a goalie, we're not going to down that path,'” his older brother, Jason, says.
"It had to have been when he like the teenage years when he realized that even with his size, goalie wasn't going to happen. He realized he was just going to be more of a threat offensively."
And he did become a threat offensively. Now Sean is over midway through his first collegiate season and has 12 points through 23 games.
The 5-foot-3 frame was never limiting for Sean, but he has heard others dismiss him since he was just 10 years old.
There were those who said he would never play midget hockey. Then there were those who told him he would never play junior hockey. Then, when Sean played for the U.S. National Team Development Program, there were those who said he would never play college hockey.
"It’s definitely motivation,” Sean says. “I'm always up for a challenge like that and I think at the end of the day, proving people wrong is going to be the most satisfactory to me so I'm excited to do that."
Now when Sean skates, he has no worries jostling against other players a foot taller or swooping past them to score.
“When he’s on the ice and he’s playing games and he looks at the guy across from him and he doesn’t know that the guy is six inches bigger than him or eight inches bigger than him,” Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato says. “I think he looks at him and stares him down and is ready to compete against him.”
But Sean wasn’t always this self confident, as he used to struggle with the negativity others projected on him.
“There’s constantly, every day, people saying that I'm too small,” Sean says. “There was one time I finally kind of questioned that myself. But my dad was always there to pick me up and tell me that's not true and I could do whatever I set my mind to."
That includes fighting off Penn State’s 6-foot-7 forward Nikita Pavlychev, which Sean accomplished this past weekend. Less than five minutes into the 3-3 tie with Penn State, Pavlychev was kicked out of the faceoff, skated opposite Sean and attempted to push him out of the way. But Sean stood his ground each time, even ignoring one last shove from Pavlychev after the puck was dropped.
“That just fuels him and makes him want to prove people wrong and he's done that,” his older brother, Jason, says.
“He had a buddy who played on another team, and his teammates were like, ‘Is he really that small?’ His old teammate was like, ‘Don't underestimate him because he will make you pay.'"
And while others doubted Sean’s ability because of his size, there were two important people who recognized the talent and drive. One of them was Granato, who identified Sean at a hockey school in Chicago five years ago.
“I said, 'That kid's going to make it, that kid’s got courage.' And you could see the passion of him being out on the ice,” Granato says. “He’s a quick learner.”
The other, however, was a coach at a local rink who saw Sean skating with his cousins as a three-year-old. It was Sean’s first time on ice. But the coach found Sean’s parents and insisted they sign him up to play for the top hockey program.
“He doesn't really play like a 5-3 kid,” Jason says. “People say that he could play like he's six feet. He's not afraid to go in the corners, he's got a lot of skill, he likes to use his speed and protect the puck. He's got some good offensive skill with the puck and he can shoot the puck and score."
Sean says his speed and control of his speed has improved the most over the past few years, but his focus on improvement lies defensively.
“In the D zone, if I could recognize where the play's going, break that up, it would lead to a lot more offense,” Sean says.
Sean’s ability to recognize where the play is going — or brother-to-brother telepathy — helped him score his first collegiate goal Nov. 4. The initial play started when Jason fed Sean for a breakaway. Sean didn’t score but was awarded a penalty shot.
He collected the puck at center ice, faked to the left and brought the puck back around and behind a falling Peter Thome.
"It was kind of like a surreal moment for him scoring his first goal off a penalty shot in front of a huge crowd against North Dakota,” Jason said.