Only three games into the regular season (four in reality with the game against Rouyn-Noranda that was stopped due to the large amount of penalties), and we already have a pretty good idea of what the Olympiques are all about. They will generate tons of offence while being really tough too.
To start off, one of the biggest advantages the Olympiques have over most teams in the QJMHL is that they can count on 18 veterans coming back this season. To those 18 players, add the names of Simon St-Pierre and Pascal Morency who were acquired during the off-season. In return for St-Pierre, Hull gave to Acadie-Bathurst a 1st round pick choice of 2003 (previously acquired from Bathurst) and the 2nd round pick choice (acquired from Halifax) of 2002. To acquire Morency from Cape-Breton, Hull traded their 4th round #57 pick choice of the Entry Draft 2002. So this means that the Olympiques have in their line up to 20 players with QJMHL experience. To get the opportunity to dress that many player with experience in the league is as amazing as it is an advantage.
Of all those players that are coming back, there is goaltender Éric Lafrance who scored his best goals against average in three years last year (3.23). Entering is fourth year as the starting goalie in Hull, Lafrance should be able to post even better numbers this year. He shows great work ethics and is a solid veteran between the posts. Another reason why Lafrance could have a great season would be the guys in front of him.
The Olympiques’s line up on defence is indeed impressive. They have a great mix of players. Some like Martin Vagner and Jesse Lane are gifted with great offensive skills, others like Charles Fontaines and Dominic D’Amour are tough and will protect their teammates while Doug O’Brien, who started the season as the 6th defenseman on the team, has already scored twice and added 4 assists in the first 3 games, thus surprising everybody. So defence will most definitely be one of the best assets for the Olympiques this season. Many goals should be the results of plays that started for the blue line while many others will be prevented thanks to tight coverage down in the slot area.
Up front, most of the offence should come from Ales Hemsky who is arguably the best player in the league along with Chicoutimi’s Pierre-Marc Bouchard. As of right now (sept. 25th) Hemsky is still at the Oiler’s training camp but it’s probably just a question of time before he comes back to the Olympiques, even though he just signed a 3 year contrat. Hemsky is one of the finest playmakers in the league for sure. He has great vision on the ice because he seems to be able to think ahead of the play. Add to that good stick handling skills and you’ve got yourself a superstar in the making. But the problem that Hemsky will have to face this year is the loss of is teammate Phillipe Lacasse who netted 55 goals last year. This means that it’s time for guys like Simon St-Pierre, Jean-Michel Daoust and especially Maxime Talbot to step up and try to fill the spot left empty by Lacasse’s departure and help Hemsky with the offensive duties. So far, it hasn’t been a problem since the Olympiques already scored 15 goals in 3 games.
So in the end, if everything goes accordingly, the Olympiques are logical contenders to go all the way and win both the President’s Cup and a trip to the Memorial Cup tournament that will take place in Quebec City. If head coach Benoît Groulx really wants his team to get a serious shot at winning it all, he might request a trade that would bring in a good sniper to add more punch to his offence.
Note: If Hull goes all the way and faces the Quebec Remparts in the finals (if Quebec makes it there too), they will be automatically qualified for the Memorial Cup tournament since Quebec is hosting the event.
thanks to M. Stéphane Leroux for is collaboration