High expectations have produced run of Memorial Cup champions from Quebec
Val-d'Or Foreurs coach says change in attitude toward national major junior hockey championship fuels pressure to perform — and success
LONDON, Ont. — The semifinal-bound Val-d’Or Foreurs are gunning for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s fourth straight Memorial Cup championship, and by four different teams at that.
The QMJHL’s current run of success began with the Saint John Sea Dogs, who won in 2011, followed by the Shawinigan Cataractes in ‘12 and the Halifax Mooseheads, led by Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, last year.
These things are cyclical for the three constituent circuits in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), but Foreurs head coach Mario Durocher said Wednesday the Quebec league takes particular pride in winning the national championship, something that may have been less true in the past.
Durocher said attitudes changed after the QMJHL slogged through a 15 years drought from 1982 through 1995, and that message is delivered in a variety of ways to the QMJHL champion.
Guy Lafleur’s Quebec Remparts won the Memorial Cup over the Edmonton Oil Kings in 1971 and the Cornwall Royals, an Ontario-based Quebec league team, won the Cup in 1972, ‘80 and ‘81. But from Quebec City’s ‘71 title to Granby’s ‘96 victory is a 25-year slump between Quebec-based teams, which is what Durocher was referring to.
In 1997, the then-Hull (now Gatineau) Olympiques took the title, and since then, the QMJHL has not gone more than five years between titles. Part of that is a change in attitude, Durocher said.
Following is an edited Q & A session, based on a small scrum with the Foreurs coach and former Canadian National Junior Team head coach (2004).
Q: Why has Quebec been so successful in recent years?
A: I think we (have) prepared ourselves, since a few years that the (league) championship is one thing, but the Memorial Cup is the last step and we have to perform there.
For us, this year, we’ve had the pressure that we have won three in a row. Everybody in Quebec hopes that we’re going to bring it (back) so that’s put a little bit of pressure on our team.
Q: Do teams and the league feel a sense of responsibility to the players to push them to be successful at the national level because it can and does help their NHL draft stats and their pre-professional reputations?
A: For sure, that’s going to help. There’s a reason why you’re winning. People in the NHL will look at (Memorial Cup performance), too. Everybody is looking for a champion.
That’s the first thing you look for when you’re in coaching. When we’re drafting our guys, we’re looking at who brought his team to the finals, who brings his team to win.
That’s a learning process. Winning is a thing that you’ve got in your (testicles), you’ve got in your heart, and you remember for the rest of your life. It’s what you’re looking for.
And when you never win anything and you have a bad season, it’s tough to change the mentality of the kids. They get used to it. As a coach and as a coaching staff, you need to be hard on that. That’s why we want to win and learn from that. It’s a process.
And you know, when the (QMJHL) commissioner (Gilles Courteau) gave the Cup to the team, the first thing he said was, ‘It’s not over.’ That’s the first thing he said to us on the ice.
That’s the first thing we have to (remind) all the people around the team. It’s only one step, there’s another one. And then you can go into the party during the summer.
There’s a big step here, we’re representing our league and we need to be proud.
Q: Durocher coached Team Canada to a silver medal at the 2004 World Junior Hockey Championship in Helsinki, Finland, led a team that included Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Dion Phaneuf and Marc-Andre Fleury, among others.
He spoke at length Wednesday about the process of Quebec-born players learning to blend seamlessly with their peers from around the country, not forming a clique of their own on the national team.
A: I went to Team Canada and the English guys were more proud to get the Canadian jersey. When we go to the Under-17 (tournament), we need the Quebecers to be proud to wear the blue jersey, and when you go with Team Canada, everybody forgets. You play for your country.
This is where that mentality of (Quebecers) coming to training camp and sticking together instead of mixing with all the guy (starts).
When I send guys to (Team Canada) training camp, that’s the first thing I tell them, go and mix with the Western guys, with the Ontario guys, with the Maritimers.
The coach will like that. We don’t like to see all the French guys speaking together. And then when they come back (to their club team, complaining) ‘Aw, they don’t like French guys.’ That’s bullshit.
When you’re coaching Team Canada, you want to win. You don’t care about the colour, about the language, you want to get the best players. So, that’s a mentality that we have to change.
And I think at the Memorial Cup, I think the Quebec teams are more prepared, we’re proud to represent our league and we’re proud to win the Canadian championship.
It’s not over (your season) until you win that championship.
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