A Chance to Shine: Quebec U Sports All-Stars Make Strides for Their League Against Canadiens

Despite Lopsided Score, Players Continue to Prove the Value and Talent of Their League

  • U Sports All-Stars celebrate goal in strong performance vs Canadiens Rookies in Brossard. Photo Andrew Maggio

Exposure was the key word, before and after the fact.

“It’s good exposure for Quebec university hockey and good exposure for our guys too,” said Marc-André Élement of the chance for a team of provincial U Sports all-stars to match up against the members of the rookie camp of the Montreal Canadiens.

The Sept. 10 game was an opportunity to pit the young hopefuls of the Canadiens—some NHL draft picks, others fighting for a contract—against a team of older players that had all starred in their junior leagues, and continued to bring a high level of play to three University teams.

The Concordia Stingers, Université de Québec à Trois Rivières Patriotes, and McGill brought together a collection of their best players in an attempt to not only give the habs rookies a tough bit of competition, but prove that their league deserves more credit than it often gets.

A league made up of former top tier junior hockey players, graduating more professionals year by year, U Sports is an example of strong hockey without the marketing or public recognition it probably deserves.

“It was really good for our league. There’s no promotion at all for our league. It’s sad a little bit on that part but this was a great opportunity for us,” said Samuel Tremblay of McGill.

A league made up of former top tier junior hockey players, graduating more professionals year by year, U Sports is an example of strong hockey without the marketing or public recognition it probably deserves.

Every one of the 21 players that were brought to face off against the Habs knew this.They were itching for a chance to show as many people as they could just what they and their league could do.

“It was the mindset we had at the beginning of the game: to promote U Sports hockey,” said Concordia Stinger and team captain Philippe Sanche, who notched a goal in the game’s second period.

“It’s a really nice league. Maybe people don’t watch us cause the games aren’t on TV and it’s not as known as the American [Hockey] League or the [ECHL]. It was a good opportunity for the league to show what we can do.”

Both U Sports and Sanche are well known to the man who coached against the all-stars.

“It was really good for our league. There’s no promotion at all for our league. It’s sad a little bit on that part but this was a great opportunity for us,” – Samuel Tremblay

Head coach of the Laval Rocket, the AHL affiliate of the Canadiens, Joel Bouchard, coached Sanche and other players from the team when he was behind the bench of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“When I saw Sanche score, I smiled a bit,” he said in French after the game.

Bouchard was a big fan of the game happening. He knows U Sports and has encouraged his junior players in the past to look to it as an option.

He sees good players that have matured both physically and mentally from their time in junior. He went into the game knowing that some players had earned professional contract offers, or would have them coming in soon . The perfect test for his team of young, hungry prospects looking to impress.

The game would end up being 40 minutes of tight, hotly contested hockey that ended 3-3 before a third period in which the U Sports players “lost their legs” according to several players, to end the game 7-3.

Despite the final score, both sides were clear that it was a competitive game that demonstrated a high skill level on both benches.

After the game, Bouchard lamented the lack of recognition that university hockey receives as a legitimately talented league that can be a pipeline to professional hockey.

It should be noted too that the Canadiens rookies had spent time together in camp and played in two games against their counterparts from the Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators. The U Sports team had one practiced together and most players had not played since March or April.

Canadiens’ third-round draft pick Cam Hillis didn’t know much about U Sports before going up against this team but he certainly left impressed with the level of play and appreciated the challenge that they gave him and his teammates.

“I really liked playing against the older competition. When you get to the next level, that’s what it’s gonna be so when you prepare for it here, it’s helpful,” he said.

For his part, Bouchard wasn’t surprised that, barring the third period, the two teams were evenly matched. Another Concordia player in the game that he had coached in junior, Alex Katerinakis, had been at the same rookie camp the year before, wearing Habs colours.

The coach had looked forward to this matchup because he knew he could evaluate his players against real talent and also give them the chance to see just what kind of players were out there, even outside of the pro leagues.

Nothing is set in stone but Bouchard, Élement, and the players praised the benefits of the game and no one closed the door to the possibility of making this a recurring event.

“We’ve talked about it before,” said Bouchard. “We’re really happy we did this, it’s a great experience. We’re gonna take it back and revisit what we’re gonna do next year.”

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