As the 2006 MasterCard Memorial Cup began, the top story seemed to be not the players on the ice, but the coaches behind the bench.
The head coaches of the four teams were noteworthy names, starting with Ted Nolan of the tournament host Moncton Wildcats. Nolan had already led a team to the Memorial Cup in the early 90’s with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and also had a Jack Adams trophy to his name as the NHL top coach. This year with the Wildcats marked his first year of professional coaching since winning the award in 1997.
Dick Todd of the OHL champion Peterborough Petes also recently returned to the game after an 11-year hiatus from the OHL. He coached the Petes from 1981 to 1993 before departing to the NHL, where he won the Stanley Cup as an assistant coach of the New York Rangers in 1994.
Don Hay’s forays into the NHL may not have been as successful as the previous two coaches, but his experience at the Memorial Cup more then makes up for it. Hay helped the Kamloops Blazers win back to back Memorial Cups in 1994 and 1995. He also led Team Canada to a World Junior gold medal in 1995. After serving as the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes and the Calgary Flames, he was behind the bench for the WHL champion Vancouver Giants.
Finally, the coach of the Quebec Remparts sticks out because this is his first year coaching at any level. But as the NHL’s goaltending leader in wins as well as the owner of four Stanley Cup rings, Patrick Roy’s resume is as good as any of the others. The GM and co-owner of the Remparts, Roy named himself head coach soon after the season started.
Although the coaches were almost as much of a draw as the players themselves, they all agreed that the real stars of the show were the ones on the ice. According to Nolan, he’d rather see stories like “(Josh) Tordjman come in here and have a moment to shine, (Gilbert) Brule (CLB) from Vancouver and (Alexander) Radulov (NSH). Those are the names. Everybody knows what Patrick Roy did, and what Dick Todd did and what Donnie Hay did and myself. But the real emphasis should be on the kids.”
Sure enough, as the tournament progressed, the players started to show why they deserved to be the stars. From Giants forward Brule leading the tournament in scoring to Remparts’ sniper Radulov’s five points in the championship final or the heavyweight battle between Vancouver Giant Milan Lucic and Peterborough Pete Craig Cescon, there was plenty of excitement on the ice. Although some of Roy’s comments between the games made the action off the ice just as interesting.
Here’s a look at how the prospects on each team fared at the CHL championships.
The Petes’ road to the Memorial Cup ran through the backyard of the defending champion London Knights, who the Petes swept away in four games, although each game was decided by just one goal.
In their 50th season the Petes captured the OHL Championship and earned a ticket to Moncton with Daniel Ryder’s (CGY) 31 points in 19 games leading the strong balanced attack, earning him the OHL Playoff MVP award. At the Memorial Cup, however, the Petes quickly faced an elevated challenge from the Quebec Remparts.
Outshot 47-29 in their first game, it was goaltender David Shantz (FLA) who held it together against a speedy Remparts onslaught which saw many quality chances for the team from Quebec. Coach Dick Todd’s Petes were an offense-first team and Radulov and the other Remparts were able to outskate the Petes on poor ice conditions throughout the game, but the Petes held on for a 3-2 win.
“Hands down they’d be the fastest team if they were in the OHL [this year],” said Shantz after the game, easily the first star in the game who had been acquired by the Petes in the offseason in an attempt to shore up the team’s goaltending.
The Petes’ second game was versus the host Moncton Wildcats team in front of a capacity-plus crowd cheering them on and the Petes played well but were unable to pull out a victory, losing 4-2. Early in the third period Greg Stewart (MTL) scored a goal to make it 3-2, and then later had a chance to tie the game on a breakaway which Josh Tordjman made a nice stop on. Shantz also didn’t play as well as in the first game and allowed a few goals he would have undoubtedly liked back including a knuckler that found its way to the top corner in the second period.
For their final round robin game the challenge was the Vancouver Giants. If the Petes won, they would eliminate the Giants and secure a spot in the semi-final match, however tournament scoring leader Gilbert Brule (CLB) and the Giants staved off elimination with a 3-2 victory. Ryder got his first goal of the tournament when he launched a slap shot to the top corner halfway through the third to bring the Petes to within one, but the Giants shut down the OHL Champions the rest of the way.
Two nights later, in the tiebreaker rematch of the Giants and Petes, Todd’s Petes got into penalty trouble and early in the second period the Giants scored three quick power-play goals to mount a four-goal lead. The last of which came on a power play initiated out of frustration by Shantz, and after the game Todd admitted he thought about pulling his Shantz at that point.
“I considered it, but the score was 4-0 and we were near the end of the period and he’s a last year player with a great deal of potential and an opportunity to go on to the pros,” said Todd, adding, “I thought with [the break] in between periods he’d calm down and come back and play well and I wanted to give the players who played so well for us [this year] a chance.”
Todd did end up pulling Shantz late in the third period after his goalie took another swipe at an opponent and backup Trevor Cann played well in the futile relief situation. The Giants won 6-0 with all of their goals coming on the power play despite spirited efforts from the likes of Steve Downie (PHI).
It was a painful exit from the Memorial Cup for the Petes, but on the whole the team looked slow and offensively inept when compared with the Giants, Wildcats and Remparts. The balanced offensive attack failed the team and Downie and Trevor Hendrikx (CLB) ended as the top scorers on the team with three points apiece. Ryder had only one goal, and Jordan Staal was virtually invisible through much of the tournament, registering a lone assist.
“These are the best teams in Canada and we knew it would be a challenge,” said Staal after the Petes were eliminated. “We just didn’t play our best hockey and that’s the last line, really.”
When asked for specific reasons for being the first team eliminated, Staal expressed his disappointment with the team’s overall play.
“Our work ethic wasn’t there and we were just getting beat out to the pucks, one on one battles, we were just losing them. You can’t let that happen in these kind of games, when they’re so close and you have to win every one.”
Ryder summed up the Petes performance as one that was lacking throughout the tournament.
“We just didn’t have the jump that we did in the [OHL] playoffs, [we were] just satisfied with an OHL title and when we came here, we just wanted to observe and not take charge.”
Prior to the Memorial Cup, the big question about the Giants was whether the WHL champions had the offensive skills to play at the same level as their eastern counterparts and whether the team would have much of an adjustment dealing with tighter obstruction rules. Prior to the 2005-06 season, the QMJHL and the OHL chose to adopt the newer standard of calling obstruction that the NHL had brought in, meanwhile the WHL decided the way their referees called the game was strict enough.
The Giants had a relatively easy path to the WHL championship, winning the semifinal and final series in four straight win sweeps. They prepared for the Memorial Cup by hiring an NHL referee to go over the tighter standards as well as consulting with NHL coaches, such as the team’s part-owner, former Leafs’ boss Pat Quinn.
Vancouver faced off against the tournament host Moncton Wildcats in their first game at the Memorial Cup. After dominating the game for the first period and most of the second period, they allowed Moncton to first tie the game and eventually come out with a 3-2 win. Being unable to play a continuous up-tempo style for the full course of a game would be a characteristic that would haunt the Giants for the duration of the tournament.
In need of a quick change of fortunes, Vancouver played the following night against the Quebec Remparts. Once again, the Giants entered the second period with a lead, but were unable to keep pressuring the Quebec team. Vancouver lost the game by the score of 6-3, the first time since January that more than four goals had been scored against them.
After the game, Gilbert Brule reflected on their inconsistency, “I think, in both games, we’re getting lots of shots and lots of opportunities, we just have to get guys in front of their goalie and get more second shots and more rebound shots.”
Faced with a 0-2 record, Vancouver needed a win in their final game against the Peterborough Petes in order to keep their Memorial Cup hopes alive. In preparation for the game, the whole team, including the coaching staff shaved their playoff facial hair, in hopes of a fresh look for such a crucial game. The move worked, as Vancouver won 3-2, led by a two-goal effort by Brule to set up a tiebreaker game against Peterborough. Team captain Mark Fistric (DAL) called the team a desperate hockey club and noted, “We rolled all four lines and I don’t think we did that in the first two games. So we had guys tired out in the third.”
Facing Peterborough again in the tiebreaker game, Vancouver made sure to bring their ‘A’ game. It was a return to the defensive hockey that WHL fans were accustomed to, with Dustin Slade shutting out the Petes by a score of 6-0. The real story was at the other end of the ice, where Brule scored twice and set up three others for a five-point night.
The celebration was short lived, as the Giants had to face Moncton in the semi-final match the following evening. Unfortunately for Vancouver, this was where the Memorial Cup ended for them, dropping the game 3-1.
Defenseman Paul Albers refused to admit that the difficult schedule, including two occasions of back to back games, was an issue, “We were ready, I think we played. Anytime you have two good teams playing, the outcome is going to be close and the outcome was close. We fought hard to end.”
The Memorial Cup proved to be a coming out party for forward Brule, who had a hand in 80 percent of his team’s offense. His 12 points in five games even had some speculating whether the tournament MVP could be a player whose team doesn’t even play in the final game.
On the other side of the coin, the failure of the Giants could be blamed on undisciplined play. Although the players argued it would not be an issue, the tighter rules led the Giants to lead the tournament in penalty minutes with 117, significantly more than Peterborough who had the second most with 77.
At the start of the WHL season, the Giants weren’t expected to make such a run both to the WHL championship and onward to the Memorial Cup. They were instead supposed to be planning for the 2007 Memorial Cup where they will be the host team.
Said Coach Hay, “I thought the whole year had been good for us. When you get awarded the Cup for next year, you just get core players in place. I thought our guys got better as the year went on and we’re really proud of the season that we had.”
Entering the Memorial Cup, it had been a storybook season for the Moncton Wildcats. Not only were they hosting the tournament, but they were also the QMJHL league champions and were voted into the top spot of the CHL’s Top 10 rankings.
As the only team guaranteed a berth in the Memorial Cup prior to the playoffs in the respective leagues, the Wildcats used this to their advantage, stocking their team to make sure they were ready. Players like Keith Yandle (PHX), Philippe Dupuis (CLB) and Matt Marquardt were all brought in prior to the season’s start, while Luc Bourdon (VAN) and Tordjman were added as the year went on to solidify the team further.
However, by far, the greatest addition to the team was behind the bench, which saw the return to coaching of former NHL coach of the year and Memorial Cup winning coach Ted Nolan. Under Nolan’s hand, the Wildcats set 21 franchise records and finished first in the QMJHL with 107 points. They were one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the CHL, scoring 345 goals and allowing just 184 against.
Nolan brought a winning attitude to the team and many Moncton players credited him not only with helping them develop on the ice, but also off the ice. As Marquardt puts it, “[He’s] second to none, not only is he a great coach, but he’s also a great person.”
Helping the Wildcats grow up as citizens was something Nolan took pride in. “To me that’s what junior hockey is all about, not only developing players, but developing young people,” he said at the conclusion of the tournament.
With Moncton’s success resulting to a QMJHL championship, for the second year in a row, the host team was also a league champion. The Wildcats opted to play the QMJHL champion schedule as opposed to the standard host team schedule, a move that annoyed some fans who had bought their tickets in advance but allowed the Wildcats to have an extra day of rest before their first game. Nolan admitted that taking the additional day off was motivation to push the team to win the league championship.
In their first game against the Vancouver Giants, it was almost business as usual for Moncton. Playing in front of a sold out home crowd, the Wildcats received key goaltending from Tordjman who stopped 28 of 30 shots and an almost expected game-winning goal by Martin Karsums (BOS). Karsums had made a name for himself during the QMJHL playoffs, scoring seven game-winning goals which helped the Wildcats go unbeaten at home throughout the postseason.
Those winning ways at the Moncton Coliseum continued the next time the Wildcats hit the ice, this time against the Peterborough Petes. Stephane Goulet (EDM) led the charge with two goals in the 4-2 victory, made more remarkable by the fact that Goulet had missed the entire QMJHL final against Quebec with a knee injury. Missing time at such a crucial part of the season was hard as Goulet admitted, “I wanted to go in but the doctor said no […] It might have been a good thing, because now I’m 100 percent.”
This all led to a final round robin game against the Quebec Remparts, the team they beat in the QMJHL final. All week, the Moncton fans had voiced their disapproval of the Remparts, showing that there was still plenty of venom left over for the Quebec team. Roy, as the head coach of the Remparts, did nothing to calm the crowd, noting that Tordjman has crumbled under pressure before and that he hoped history would repeat itself. This incited a new chorus of complaints about the former NHL goaltender.
The stakes were high, with the winner of the game guaranteed a spot in the final. Roy’s comments didn’t exactly ring true as the Remparts squeaked out a 4-3 victory.
Moncton then faced Vancouver in the semi-final match, soundly returning to their winning ways with a 3-1 victory, thanks to a Marquardt third period goal. Marquardt celebrated the goal by hanging from the glass on the side boards, parodying a move that Brule did earlier in the week in the Giants win against Peterborough.
This set the stage for the championship final of Quebec versus Moncton. It was the first time in CHL that the two teams in the final were both from the QMJHL, replicating the Q league final that saw Moncton come out on top after six games. The bad blood between the two teams continued, with coaches trading verbal barbs, culminating with Nolan calling Roy “classless”. However, Roy’s previous comments about Tordjman proved to be prophetic as the Moncton goaltender allowed six goals on 19 shots to see the Remparts win the Memorial Cup.
Part of the reason for Moncton’s downfall could have been the fact that star defenseman Bourdon was not completely healthy for the tournament. Still suffering lingering effects from an ankle injury suffered in February, Bourdon admitted after the final, “[the ankle’s] not 100 percent yet. I tried to cover that the most that I could. But tomorrow I have an operation.” He added that his game wasn’t at his best, “I think playing with injury, and it didn’t help me a lot. But I don’t think I could use that as an excuse.”
Also worth noting was Karsums’ sole goal scored in the tournament, well off the 15 he scored in the previous 21 playoff games. His lack of production was something he admitted may have had to do with his new contract signed with the Boston Bruins. He said after one game, “I don’t know why but I was kind of thinking about [the contract] a little bit and maybe that’s why I didn’t play that good.”
In the end, Coach Nolan was quick to note his pride in his team. “I thought we gave everything we had to give and sometimes the score doesn’t necessarily indicate you lost. We gave what we had to give and that’s all you could ask for.”
The season began poorly for Quebec and just five games in Roy, as owner and General Manager of the team, took over the head coaching responsibilities as well.
He turned the team around and led them to a tie for the second best regular season record in the Q, just one point back of the Wildcats, and the Remparts had a successful playoff run until the finals when the Memorial Cup’s host team beat them in six games. The Remparts had a grueling playoff run and played 23 games, the most of any of the four teams in the Memorial Cup.
After they outplayed and outshot the Petes on the first night of action in Moncton and still lost, Roy elected to spare his team from practices for most of the remainder of the tournament. The strategy of resting his tired squad paid off and in their next game they defeated the Giants 6-3, and Roy made comments in the post-game press conference which would trigger one of the bigger off-ice storylines of the tournament when a reporter asked him if he was happy with the play of his goalie, Cedric Desjardins.
“I thought he was okay – we needed a big save at the beginning of the game and he made a few ones,” said Roy of Desjardins. “After the first period I think he made some good saves and kept us in it.”
And then Roy extended his comments to include the Giants’ Dustin Slade.
“In a short tournament like this you need a great performance from your goaltending. Your goaltending could certainly make the difference and I think Vancouver with great goaltending would be up two to nothing in the standings. I thought they played well enough to win both their games [so far].”
Vancouver coach Don Hay clearly took offense and although his next question from a reporter was to compare the Moncton and Quebec teams, he used the opportunity to return fire.
“I think Quebec is as good an offensive team as we’ve seen all year,” began Hay. “I think that [Alexander] Radulov (NAS) is a special player and he’s definitely got a lot of skill and ability to beat you one on and and they’re a talented hockey team, and so is Moncton. Moncton comes at you in a little different way. I think Moncton comes at you with a little more work ethic and Quebec has a little more top-end skill.”
Roy showed that even as a rookie he understands the game very well from a coach’s perspective when he used Hay’s comments to motivate his players as well as defending his earlier comments about the other team’s goalies.
“I didn’t like [Hay’s] comment either when he said Moncton had a better work ethic than us and I didn’t say anything and it didn’t make the front page in Vancouver,” Roy said during the day before his team would go on to beat the host Wildcats 4-3 in the final round robin game.
The Memorial Cup began on a low note for the Remparts, but with the top round robin spot secured and a direct route to the finals, Roy kept his team confident but focused. In a community rink near the Moncton Coliseum two days before the finals the future NHL Hall of Fame goaltender smiled as he and a crowd of hockey fans watched the Remparts in a spirited practice.
Come Sunday evening the Remparts, who were the only team not to win their respective league in order to reach the Memorial Cup, were ready, and behind the offense of the CHL’s Player of the Year (Radulov), who had two goals and three assists in the game the Remparts skated to a fairly easy 6-2 win over the Wildcats.
“Everybody had a big game, not just me,” said Radulov on the ice following the game. “I scored, I had five points, but it doesn’t matter. Our goalie played an unbelievable game, our defense played. Everybody worked for that and now we are here and we won.”
In net, Desjardins saved 46 of 48 shots and erased his disappointing final game from 2005 when the London Knights dominated him and the Rimouski Oceanic, his former team, in the finals.
“[This was] my last game of junior, I said I won’t give up, I wanted to do my best,” Desjardins said following the game that erased any bitter taste that must have lingered from his last cup appearance.
Roy too, was happy with his team’s effort as well as his goalie’s strong play.
“I just wanted to make sure we matched their intensity,” Roy said following the game. “Moncton is a team that works extremely hard and we had solid goaltending. There’s not too many teams that win championships without great goaltending.”
“This is why we play hockey, this is like the Stanley Cup for us,” Radulov said with a beaming smile as he held his Memorial Cup MVP trophy.
When asked about his rookie coach, Radulov summed up how Roy achieved success in his first year of coaching Major Junior hockey.
“You know, he gave us that thought that we can win. He won four Stanley Cups and now he wins a Memorial Cup, he’s a winner. Maybe he’s a rookie as a coach and [had] no experience [but] that’s why he wanted to win, and he brought it to us, to our team.”
It’s worth noting that since the Memorial Cup, two of the four teams have undergone dramatic coaching changes. Ted Nolan has left the Wildcats to accept become the head coach of the New York Islanders, his first time coaching in the NHL since winning the Jack Adams award. Meanwhile, in Peterborough, after helping the Petes set a Memorial Cup record with 20 wins over eight appearances, Dick Todd has stepped down to once again retire from coaching. In Vancouver, Don Hay is preparing for a second attempt at the CHL Championship as the tournament will be hosted by the Giants in 2007. While he denies having any foreseeable plans to move up to the NHL, Patrick Roy certainly made an impressive coaching debut with a Memorial Cup victory.
Glen Jackson contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.