Adversity is often considered the litmus test of a person’s character. Certainly everyone prospers when times are good, but when fortunes change and the going gets tough, a lot can be learned from watching who steps up to the challenge and who folds under the pressure.
For Eric Gelinas and the Lewiston MAINEiacs, their adversity was the 2008-09 season. It was just two seasons ago when the MAINEiacs were the darling team of the QMJHL, winning the President’s Cup as the league champions and going to the Memorial Cup.
As is often the case in junior hockey, the heights Lewiston achieved soon spiraled downwards as players moved on and the balance of power in the league shifted.
Gelinas, an Ottawa native, joined the club the year after the championship. He met a team reeling from the loss of key players such as David Perron, Marc-Andre Cliche, Sebastien Piche and Chad Denny. Selected 16th overall in the 2007 QMJHL Entry Draft, Gelinas was expected to be a key piece to turning the MAINEiacs around.
Used sparingly in his first season, Gelinas appeared in 54 games for the squad and finished the season with three goals and 19 points. The team itself finished a respectable ninth in the league but bowed out quickly in the first round of the playoffs. Playing in five of the team’s six postseason matches, Gelinas was held without a point.
After being eased into the lineup in his first year, Gelinas found himself thrown into the fire to start his second season with the MAINEiacs. A member of a young blue line to enter the 2008-09 season, Gelinas was surprisingly one of the more experienced defensemen on the team, despite having just a single season under his belt.
This inexperience on the blue line showed in the first half of the season where the team plummeted to 17th in the 18-team league with a record of 14-32-0-0. It was under this cloud that Don MacAdam took over as head coach, replacing Ed Harding. MacAdam set out a few simple goals and got back to basics with the club.
As MacAdam explains, "When I arrived, there were 22 games left, we had 10 on the road and 12 at home. We set some goals, we had individual meetings one-on-one with the players and one of the goals was to win five road games in the last 10. They had only won five in the previous 24 road games, so our goal was to get 10 points in the last 10 road games. We got nine, so we came real close. We’re not satisfied, but we’re okay with that. And then with the home record and the overall record, making the playoffs was our goal."
Lewiston was able to turn their fortunes around to grab the 16th and final playoff spot, finishing the year with a 22-43-1-2 record. Gelinas finished the season with 10 goals and 39 points in 67 games, with seven of the goals coming with the man advantage.
Entering the playoffs, Lewiston was quickly dispatched by the eventual league champion Drummondville Voltigeurs in a four-game sweep with Gelinas registering an assist.
The coaching change wasn’t the only distraction that the MAINEiacs faced as rumors swirled about the team possibly relocating at season’s end. MacAdam made sure to squash to much talk about it before it adversely affected the team.
"We talked about it as soon as the rumors started and it was simply ‘guess what guys? It doesn’t change our role as players or coaches or trainers or scouts’ It’s an ownership issue and we let them take care of that.’"
In the end, Lewiston will continue to host a QMJHL team into the 2009-10 season.
Keeping the dressing room focused was a key part of Lewiston’s rebound and Gelinas’ coach has nothing but praise for his defenseman’s attitude off the ice.
"He’s a real easy-going guy, he plays hard but he has very unique ability that when the shift is over, when the game is over, he goes back to normal," MacAdam said. "That’s something that any pro player will tell you is an absolute must. You can drive yourself crazy. So he really has a nice ability to do that."
MacAdam continues by pointing out how Gelinas’ easy-going nature has helped him deal with balancing the different demands on a young athlete, especially one in his draft year.
"He takes his education very seriously and he comes from a family background where that is very important. He’s doing a really good job of juggling his school, all of the interviews. We haven’t gone to a rink yet since I’ve been here that there hasn’t been a scout waiting to interview him after the game or after a practice or on an off day or so on."
With Gelinas considered to be one of the top prospects from the QMJHL entering into the 2009 draft, MacAdam and his staff made sure that the added pressure did not affect their young blue liner.
"We’ve tried to make it very clear to him that the way to handle it is just by playing and not by worrying about it a whole lot. I really hope that’s the approach he’s taking. It certainly seems like it. The interviews don’t faze him at all, he’s playing better every game," notes MacAdam.
On the ice, Gelinas benefited greatly from the coaching change, with an increased focus on consistent play and making smart decisions with the puck.
"He had a tendency to try to go through a whole bunch of people, go for that classic end-to-end rush and that’s not a big part of anybody’s game these days. Now when he moves the puck and joins the rush, he’s become much more effective," explained MacAdam. "The biggest thing he’s done is add a lot more consistency at a high level to his game and with that, he’s just become a much more valuable player to us and I would assume catching the eye of scouts a lot more often. Whereas, early in the year, he had one good game and at least one, if not two or three, not so great games."
A converted forward, Gelinas pairs offensive ability with great skating and vision and is working hard to improve his physical play.
MacAdam views his physical ability as being a key piece to Gelinas’ game, noting that "when he plays physical he typically plays considerably better," and pointing out, "he’s got good size. At the moment, not a lot of great strength. I should say great height, he needs to certainly be serious about his training program this summer but he has the frame, the athletic build to really achieve some positives as a result of the physical training side. And when he does that, his skating is very strong now, his passing is excellent, his physical play is getting stronger, needs to get stronger and as he does get stronger, all those areas will improve."