Just over a month after the Cantonniers de Magog fell 5-1 to the Notre Dame
Hounds and took home silver from the 2018 TELUS Cup, members of that team
dominated the QMJHL Entry Draft.
Two of the first five, three of the first 11 and seven of the first 25
selections in the draft were Cantonniers, led by stand-out defenceman
William Villeneuve (No. 2 to Saint John) and leading scorer Patrick Guay
(No. 5 to Sherbrooke).
The assumption would be that with that much talent gone, Magog would have
been a prime candidate to regress this season in the Ligue de hockey midget
AAA du Québec, right?
The Cantonniers simply reloaded and were even better, and they’ve won their
way to a return engagement at Canada’s National Midget Championship, this
time with a different colour medal in mind.
“We are happy to get here, just like last year, but we’d like to do a
little more,” says head coach Félix Potvin. “We were happy with the run we
had last year; unfortunately we left with silver instead of gold, so we
would like to get another chance to play on the weekend and leave with
Magog was better pretty much across the board from its title-winning 2018
team to this season – it improved in wins (27 to 34), goals for (161 to
196) and goals against (114 to 88).
But it didn’t get the headlines. Those went to the record-breaking
Chevaliers de Lévis, who authored the best season in LHMAAAQ history at
41-1 (although the single loss was to the Cantonniers).
The playoffs, though, are where the great teams separate themselves from
the very good. The Chevaliers were shocked by Lac St-Louis in the
semifinals, and Magog swept aside the Lions to finish an impressive 13-2
romp through the postseason and punch its ticket to Thunder Bay.
Despite all the talent it lost to the QMJHL, Magog returns eight players
from the 2018 TELUS Cup – eight players who left Sudbury, Ont., with a bad
taste in their mouths after the loss to the Hounds.
Potvin is banking on those players leaning on what they learned last year
to help survive the week.
“We have a lot of guys coming back, so they know how much it hurt last year
losing gold,” he says. “The second-year guys can tell the new guys how much
of a heartbreak it was in the final.”
But it’s not just the emotional experience that will serve the Cantonniers
well, it’s the physical.
The TELUS Cup is an absolute grind – seven games in seven days against the
best competition the country has to offer. Players need to take care of
their bodies to ensure peak performance come the playoff round, and the
Magog returnees are acutely aware of what it takes.
“We have to just stay rested, eat a lot, drink and have our routine,” says
Jésus-Piaget Ntakarutimana. “This year we don’t want to lose that
opportunity; we worked all year for this week, and we’re ready to compete.”
The Cantonniers are carrying a little extra baggage with them on their road
to redemption. It has been 18 years since the Gouverneurs de Sainte-Foy won
the most recent gold for Quebec, an almost-unbelievable drought considering
the quality of teams the LHMAAAQ produces on an annual basis.
As the years pass and Quebec comes agonizingly close (teams from La Belle
Province have lost the final eight times since 2001, including five of the
last seven years), the pressure mounts – will this finally be the year?
Potvin isn’t buying it. For him, winning a national championship is not
about a province or a league – it’s about the 22 players in the dressing
room who have a chance to etch their names in history.
“This group worked so hard all year, and last year, to win it,” he says.
“So we’re not coming here with the pressure of winning it for Quebec; we
want to do it for ourselves and finish on the right note.
“We know how hard it is to get here, so now we want to make the most of