Sunday, 22 May 2016

That time Michel Therrien, Francis Bouillon and Georges Laraque won the Memorial Cup.

RDS showed a 1-hour documentary on the Prédateurs de Granby’s Memorial Cup conquest in 1995-96.

Interesting points to note:

–The Granby ownership brought in the Morrissette brothers, who used to own the Laval Titan, to run the team. They brought in their own crew, including head coach Michel Therrien, who brought in the conditioning coach from Laval as well, Stéphane Dubé.

Michel Therrien brought in three ‘character’ players, including Francis Bouillon, who was made captain.

–They started the year on a 9-0 run, scoring 57 goals. Players talked in the documentary about how they knew that if they were leading, or even if the game was close in the third, only down by a couple of goals, that they’d win. They knew other teams couldn’t keep up with them in the third, their fitness and conditioning meant they dominated in the third.

“We’d been holding off-ice conditioning sessions all year. In the third, we’d crank it up a notch, augment the tempo, and they couldn’t follow.”

“What we were trying to do with our conditioning, was establish a culture of hard work, of winners.”–Stéphane Dubé

–There was a climate within the team, starting at the top with the Morrissette brothers, that merely winning wasn’t enough, you had to win convincingly, playing the right way, in keeping with their talent and strength as a team.

“At home, we’re not going to get outworked, roughed up. No one is going to come and beat us at home.”

“The owners were there before every game, before every practice, it showed how serious they were about winning.”

“For us, the players were like our children.”–Georges Morrissette

“The players knew they had backing, they had support, but they also knew the owners were very demanding.”

–Maybe the most important battle cry for the team was ‘Respect’. The team took note that even as they piled up wins, they never made the #1 spot on the weekly CHL rankings.

“With good reason, we never got the #1 spot. The common question at the time was which of the OHL or WHL team would win the Memorial Cup.”–Michel Therrien

“I heard that LHJMQ President Gilles Courteau contacted the CHL to note the lack of consideration for Québec teams. The reply he got was that a Québec team hadn’t won a Memorial Cup in 25 years, so it was hard to put a LHJMQ team #1.”–RDS’ Stéphane Leroux

“We used this as team. Like it or not, you had to use this for motivation, that we were going to earn respect.”

–The team kept adding pieces during the season, notably Winnipeg Jets’ first-rounder Jason Doig, and centreman Benoit Gratton. That gave the team 3 powerful lines, which a player explained made it hard to pinpoint which was the first and which was the second or third.

(Interesting point: I’ve never heard of Benoit Gratton, he was a fifth-round pick of the Capitals, but he eventually played a dozen games for the Canadiens and Michel Therrien in the NHL.)

–Even after these acquisitions, it was felt that there was an element missing, that there wasn’t a heavyweight enforcer around to protect the players when other teams tried to goon them.

As the trade deadline approached, the Lasers owner gave Georges Laraque the option of going to Hull or Granby.

“I detested Michel Therrien, so I wanted nothing to do with Granby. In the meantime though, I spoke with Samy Nasreddine who I’d played with in Bantam AA, spoke with Francis Bouillon and Jason Doig, and they convinced me to come to Granby.”–Georges Laraque

Lasers head coach Norman Flynn was so mad he got traded to a division rival that he refused to let him leave with his equipment in a Lasers hockey bag, he got the staff to put his gear in a garbage bag.

The feeling with the team was that they hadn’t just added a tough guy as a replaceable missing piece, they’d added the best enforcer in the country. (I’ll note that that pre-season, Georges had had a good training camp with the Oilers, so much so that they wanted to keep him in the NHL to start the year, but he demurred.)

–Georges Laraque tells the story of how he got from Mont- Laurier to Drummondville the day of the game, wiped out from the travel, after the first period. Michel Therrien asked him to don his gear to just sit on the bench with his new teammates. Georges explained that he kind of put it on loose, wasn’t expecting to play, but between the second and third, Michel Therrien asked him to skate around during the warmup, to get his legs going, that maybe he’d get a shift to start the third period.

On the ice, he was approached by Drummondville tough guy Joël Theriault who told him Washington scouts were in the stands, that he needed to go with him to show what he could do. Reluctant every step of the way, he went through with it and won a convincing K.O. (You can tell the uneasy relationship he had/has with Michel Therrien when he tells this anecdote.)

“Georges made a statement right off the bat. It made the guys an inch taller, ten pounds heavier. What it brought also was confidence.”–Michel Therrien

–An interesting insight into the psyche of Michel Therrien, and his relationship with Georges. Before their game against the Olympiques de Hull and their giant Peter Worrell, a game that everyone had circled on the calendar as a clash of the titans, the coach brought him in and had a chat, and told him he didn’t want him to fight against Peter Worrell, that he’s too tough, and that because of game situations, because they didn’t have the last change, it would be best if he stayed away.

“I’m telling him ‘You don’t want me to fight Worrell? That’s why you traded for me. You think I’m going to lose against him? Never in a million years! I’ll destroy him.”–Georges Laraque

This bit of reverse psychology served, in the head coach’s eyes, to motivate le grand Georges before the game, and Stéphane Dubé and Francis Bouillon noticed how he wasn’t loosey goosey in the dressing room, but instead was very focused.

Georges won a clear K.O. against his adversary, the Prédateurs easily won the game 7-2. The players explained that this was a psychological hurdle that the team cleared, they realized they were now the team to beat, they got more confident, more cocky. They went on to win the regular season championship.

–The Prédateurs easily won the playoffs and la Coupe du Président. The owners proclaimed that there’s still a lot of work to be done, that the ultimate goal still is ahead of them. They refused to hold a parade at this point, as other LHJMQ teams had done before shipping off to the Memorial Cup.

The first practice back, after winning la Coupe, they had a one-hour bag skate.

–The documentary goes into some background on how there hadn’t been a Québec-based Memorial Cup winner since Guy Lafleur’s Remparts in 1971, how since then teams would show up to the tournament a little intimidated. They faced off against Guelph to start, a team that had been ranked ahead of them in the CHL standings all year.

“We told ourselves, ‘Hey boys, ‘Respect’, it starts tonight’.”–Stéphane Dubé

“Michel said ‘When the puck drops, I’m opening the gate, and I want my racehorses to go’. And we went.”

Les Prédateurs easily beat the Storm, 8-0, and the team thought they caught them unprepared, that they expected an easy game against the Québec team.

Unfortunately, the players, in hindsight, also think that they got a little ahead of themselves, started to believe their own press, and they lost their subsequent game against the Peterborough Petes 6-3.

“It was a loss that hurt us, that brought us back to Earth, and woke us up for the rest of the tourney.”–Francis Bouillon

They went on to win 3-1 against Brandon to finish the round-robin portion.

–With a bye to the Final, the team went on a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Morrissette brothers brought a Prédateur jersey and donated it to the Hall of Fame, in a gesture of anticipation of a championship.

“It was the best thing in the world to happen, for us to lose against Guelph in the round-robin, and now get to face off against them for the Memorial Cup. Having lost, we wouldn’t be overconfident, and we’d be motivated to avenge the initial loss.”–Georges Laraque

“It’s probably the easiest pre-game speech to give, once you’ve gotten to that game.”–Michel Therrien

–In a bit of gamesmanship, the Morrissette brothers had their mascot Preddy come in to Peterborough, lace up the skates in secret before the game, and jump on the ice during the pre-game ceremony.

–The players felt they were dominated in the first period, but their goalie Frédéric Deschênes kept them in the game.

“Mike came into the room, made a couple of adjustments, and that was it. In the second period, I scored the opening goal. We knew that we were now in the driver’s seat, and we stepped on the gas pedal.”

“The home crowd isn’t quite as loud anymore. The other team, the players start to look at you a little differently. The more the second period unfolds, the more we start to dominate.”

–As the period continued, fog started to build in the arena. Michel Therrien used this as a pretext to rest his players when he felt they needed it, he’d get the refs to call a break and have both teams skate around to dissipate the fog.

Early in the third, the Prédateurs scored to make it 2-0. They went on to win 4-0.

“The first thought I had when I lifted the Memorial Cup, was that the last Quebecer to raise the Cup before me was Guy Lafleur.”–Francis Bouillon

–The documentary goes on to propose that this win ‘broke the seal’ for the LHJMQ, that other teams followed with Memorial Cup wins.

“It was a question of pride, province-wide, to win that Memorial Cup, and it changed the LHJMQ.”–Stéphane Leroux

“It was the best year in hockey of my entire life.”–Francis Bouillon

“I’m convinced that there isn’t one of those boys who didn’t become a better person in the future, because of what they went through that year.”–Stéphane Dubé

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