MONTREAL – Éric Bouchard met his players at dawn in the parking lot of the Colisée Jean-Béliveau in Longueuil on Tuesday. The door of the bus taking them to Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau Airport closed at 5:30 am and the Napa Cup champions flew to Winnipeg shortly thereafter, where another bus was waiting for them for a 5 1/2-hour trip to Estevan. , Saskatchewan.
“A good little road trip “, summed up the general director and head coach of the Collège Français de Longueuil, upon waking up the next day.
This type of trip, to participate in the Centennial Cup – the national championship reserved for the country’s youth A clubs, formerly known as the RBC Cup – few representatives of the Quebec AAA Junior Hockey League (LHJAAAQ) have made since 2000 The El Collège Français will be the first since the Terrebonne Cobras in 2017 and only the fifth since 2001. In the history of the tournament, which has existed in different forms since 1971, never has a team from Quebec returned home as champions, and only one, the Châteauguay Elites in 1993, reached the final.
“The league is progressing, however, estimated Bouchard, coach par excellence of the Quebec circuit in 2019-2020. I think we are in a better position today than in recent years. We have more parity in the league and we saw it this year in the playoffs. I think teams work much better these days than in the past. Players come in better prepared and we’ve also seen more players come up in the coming years, whether it’s in U Sports, the NCAA, in Europe or in top junior hockey. I believe that what is to come is much more shiny what we’ve been through »
The 31-year-old driver and his squad will soon have a chance to prove it, as they enter the preliminary round against the country’s No. 1 team from 1Ahem November, the Brooks Bandits, tonight. Tournament regulars, the Albertans are the defending champions (2019) and are participating for the fifth time since 2012 after winning 52 of their 60 regular-season games and suffering only one setback in the playoffs.
” We’re helpless In this game, we won’t hide it. We are very realistic”, recognized Bouchard, whose team, however, finished the year second in the national classification.
“A match like this, I like to have it early in the tournament because we are going to have adversity quickly, in the face. We will be able to grow from it and build on it for our next matches. »
Ten teams, one title
Unlike previous editions of the meeting, which were not interrupted by a pandemic and where four regional champions and one host team battled it out for the title, this year ten teams will compete, meaning representatives from each of the nine Canadian leagues (with exception of the BCHL, which has withdrawn from the Canadian circuit), and the Estevan Bruins, who organize the event.
Collège Français is in Group A with the Bandits (AJHL), the Bruins (SJHL), the Pickering Panthers (OJHL) and the Red Lake Miners (SIJHL). Group B consists of the Flin Flon Bombers (SJHL), Soo Thunderbirds (NOJHL), Ottawa Jr. Senators (CCHL), Dauphin Kings (MJHL), and Summerside Western Capitals (MHL).
At the end of the preliminary round, during which each team will play four games, those who finish 2Y and 3Y from their group will meet in the quarterfinals on May 27 to earn a spot in the semifinals the following day against the No. 1 seed. The final, presented on RDS and RDS Direct, will take place on May 29.
“In general, they are all very fast teams with a lot of talent. They are all champion teams within their league, except the Flin Flon Bombers, but they still lost in 7 against Estevan”, observed Bouchard, who for now has concentrated on studying the trends of the clubs in his group in the video tapes prepared by your assistant. coach, Valerie Bois.
“What they really like is the front,” he said. Your zone entries are not complicated. They put pucks deep in the court, continuously check and finish their checks. it’s physical. They force the opponent to generate turnovers, make poor decisions and win back the puck. »
The youngest team in Quebec Tour history to be crowned champions with an average age of under 19 (18.97), Collège Français nonetheless has the skills to deal with the pressure behind its net, Bouchard said.
“One of our strengths is really our game structure, playing in teams of 5. I’m not afraid to say it, defensively, we were the best team in terms of defensive structure in the league. It started from our defensive retreat. “.
The figures do agree with the French College strategist. In 41 games, his squad allowed only 105 goals, 55 less than Panthères de Saint-Jérôme, second in this statistical level in the LHJAAAQ.
In attack, the tenants of the Colisée Jean-Béliveau also battled with the Panthères to rise to the top, scoring 265 times, two fewer than the Laurentians club. With an average of 6.46 goals scored per game, Longueuil outscored each of the other 118 Junior A teams in the country. Author of 40 goals, Maxime Gagné was crowned scoring champion and leader (94) of the LHJAAAQ, in addition to being a finalist for the title of striker of the year in the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL).
Master of the regular calendar with a record of 34-4-3-0, Collège Français first suffered a scare in the first round, losing 1-2 in their series against Inouk de Granby, before recovering to record 11 wins in 13 games, en route to the ninth Napa Cup victory in its history.
“It wasn’t easy, we were losing 1-2, we went into extra time and we almost lost 1-3, but our boys were never afraid. It was pedaling to the ground. When we entered this extension period, we had the knife between our teeth. We tied the streak and turned it around. »
For this, Bouchard relied on his captain Chris Roy: “He is our own Laurent Duvernay-Tardif; he’s 20 years old and already in medicine at McGill University” –, Tommy Bouchard, a versatile forward named playoffs MVP who has 38 games of QMJHL experience with the Blainville-Boisbriand Navy, Won, top scorer in the playoffs, the defender Zachary Racicot and goalkeeper Simon Bérubé.
“We have a good mix of veterans. They will help push us in the right direction and our young people will join them as they have throughout the year,” predicted Bouchard, confident that his group will be able to honor the province of La Belle despite the magnitude of the task. . go ahead.
“It is a privilege to be here. We have earned our place and will be entitled to good visibility. We will represent the league, the organization and the alumni that built the Collège Français de Longueuil. What we have as an opportunity is much greater than the dangers that lie in wait for us. »
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