Elliott Stanley continues with part 2 of his recent Canadian hockey experience, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League..

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League makes up one third of the Canadian Hockey League. ‘The Q’, as it is often known, is to North Eastern Canada what the OHL is to Ontario. Teams are scattered across Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and a single outfit provides the only non-Canadian franchise in the American state of Maine.
Legends such as Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy and most recently Sidney Crosby learnt their stuff on the ice pads of the QMJHL. However, perhaps more relevant to those of us who practice our religion at Lower Parliament Street was a guy who may not have been a name to rival those Hall of Famers who have graced ‘The Q’, but in our world is a legend in every sense of the word, more on him later.
Whilst visiting Canada’s capital, Ottawa, we made the short trip across the Ottawa River to the city of Gatineau. The two cities, so close together, are surprisingly distinct, with the Ontario-Quebec border running slap down the middle of the aforementioned Ottawa River which separates the two. We were headed for a Tuesday evening game between the local Gatineau Olympiques and the Mooseheads of Halifax at the Robert Guertin Arena.
The Robert Guertin Arena is everything that the GM Centre, visited two nights previous, isn’t. A rickety old place that, from the outside, looks more like a warehouse than a hockey arena, the Robert Guertin filled me with a sense of ‘old school hockey’. Tight corridors led into the bowl of wooden seats offering leg room that made the dingles’ home arena seem like stretching out in Emirates Business Class. The steep seating practically hovers over the ice and despite being two rows from the back it felt like the ice was within touching distance.
Announcements at Olympiques home games are made in double quick time as they are made twice, once in English preceded by the native French. The announcements and advertisements were also deafeningly loud and the atmosphere decidedly more vociferous than the family orientated experience down in Oshawa. Almost constant chanting and shouts of some sort accompanied the battle on the ice.
The game itself was another see-saw affair. Gatineau took the lead with 9:47 on the clock however a late period equaliser and a further strike just 25 seconds into the second period saw the Mooseheads begin to find their way, and they started the third period 3-2 ahead. A two goal lead 4:25 into the third was as good as it got for the boys from Halifax, who were now facing Maxime Clermont standing between the pipes for Gatineau.
Clermont, who will hit the age of 18 on new year’s eve, is highly regarded by many in North America and is expected to be snapped up early in next year’s NHL entry draft. Clermont made his QMJHL debut at only 15, the youngest player ever to wear the Olympiques uniform. The only disappointment was that we did not get to see an arguably even brighter prospect as Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault played second fiddle to Joël Grondin in the Halifax net.
As the locals got restless their side clicked into gear and crashed in four without reply, interspersed with two excellent toe to toe battles; the second of which was one of the best fights I’ve seen for some time between Linden Bahm of the Mooseheads and Nicolas Boyer of the Olympiques.
A late powerplay effort from the Mooseheads meant the game finished tighter in statistics than it was on the balance of play. The two teams posted a combined powerplay conversion percentage of over 57% and they certainly showed a considerable amount of ruthlessness when they had the man advantage.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed everything about my first QMJHL game; it is genuinely a pleasure to visit a rink where sightlines are superb yet the stench of history and tradition seep from every inch of the building. When I discovered our trip to Ottawa did not coincide with any Senators games I was slightly disappointed however on reflection I’m glad I got the chance to sample something slightly different. This was real, raw hockey the way the Canadians love to see it played.
So, back to the earlier mention of a local legend; and the link between the Olympiques and our very own Panthers. Prior to being renamed in 2003 the team took the name of the small area of Gatineau within which they play, Hull. On 1st June 1981 the 4th round draft pick (35th overall) of the Hull Olympiques was a certain Paul Adey. A young Adey went on to ice 145 times for the Olympiques registering 237 points before he moved on to the Shawinigan Cataractes to record a further 98 points in just 62 games. I don’t think I need to include his Panthers stats.
Knowing just how much of an impact a player who graced the ice of the Robert Guertin Arena had on the history of my beloved Panthers just added to the romance of my first sample of junior hockey in Quebec. I can only reiterate what a great experience this was and urge anyone visiting Ottawa to make the effort to take in a game at this historic and atmospheric rink, who knows, you may see the next Sidney Crosby or, better still, you might see the next Paul Adey!

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