Gone But Not Forgotten
Whispers of the American Hockey League still linger.
But the history books, banners and indelible memories are all that remain of an exciting time in Moncton hockey history. “There is great history in Atlantic Canada with the American League and we are very proud of it,” said Dave Andrews, who has served as the circuit’s president and chief executive officer since 1994.
“The Atlantic Division back then from the early 80’s to the mid 90’s was essentially half of the American League,” said Andrews.
“At one point there, we had all the major cities in the Maritimes and Newfoundland. We had a lot of teams and it was a tight little travel circuit, it was mostly the Canadian based NHL franchises that had their affiliates there, it really worked well,” explained Andrews.
“If you look at the history of our league and National Hockey League, and all of the players that came through the AHL in the Maritimes, it’s a big part of people’s lives and a big part of the story of our game,” added Andrews.
Indeed, the AHL embodied the Maritimes, and you might say the reverse was true as well, as the Maritimes embodied the AHL.
For 16 years the region’s hub witnessed the highs and lows of hockey’s top minor professional league.
From players on their way to stardom, to aging veterans wanting one final shot at ‘The Show’, the AHL offered fans a unique perspective inside the world of professional puck.
These were the days long before the saturation of social media and 24-hour sports television stations. As Eddie Shore would say, this was old-time hockey, where folks followed their team’s road games on the radio, and when they walked into the friendly confines of the Moncton Coliseum on a cold, wintry night, they knew they were watching hockey in its purest, and sometimes most primitive, sense.
“The hockey was extremely competitive in those days,” Andrews said. “Even then, it was the second-best league in the world with really quality players.”
The AHL epitomized the blue-collar mentality of the region in an era where hard work and pride meant everything. The AHL was the factory worker, the mechanic, the carpenter.
It exemplified the values that those fans believed in. People worked hard during the day and they wanted to see their club do the same at night.
And if that tenacity generated the odd bench-clearing brawl, well, so be it.
The American Hockey League quickly gained momentum and popularity by forging unforgettable Maritime rivalries, which are still etched in the annals of time.
The atmosphere was electric in the Coliseum, as fans lived and died with every shift of momentum.
AHL hockey was theatre on ice.
The loyal patrons spent their hard-earned cashon season tickets, concessions and memorabilia. It was their brand of family entertainment, which seldom disappointed.
Bruce Boudreau, Darryl Sutter, Steve Larmer, Gary Roberts, Brett Hull and Mike Vernon all got their start on Coliseum ice.
Legendary coaches Orval Tessier, Pierre Page, Terry Crisp, Ed Johnston and Rick Bowness cut their teeth behind the bench in Moncton.
Unfortunately, as the old axiom reminds us, all good things must come to an end.
“Things really changed with the decline of the Canadian dollar at the time and the impact that had on the Canadian-based NHL teams,” said Andrews.
“They were eager to find some way to reduce their player development costs and one of the ways they saw in doing that was relocating American Hockey League teams to larger markets, to see greater return on their investment,” Andrews added.
“Slowly but surely our Atlantic Division really got decimated with teams leaving the area, but it was a very good time in the American League.”
“I really enjoyed my time going through Moncton and the ownership group at the time with Gary O’Neil and their commitment to the league was really significant.”
The American Hockey League has significantly changed since the glory days of the past three decades in Atlantic Canada.
“The history is amazing,” said Andrews. “Since that time we have become a much younger and energetic league. I think the challenge that we had at that time was that the American league was an older league,” explained Andrews.
“The quality of play was really good and it was physical and appealing to fans. We saw a decline in some markets based on the quality of the product at that time,” Andrews added.
“I regularly talk to people that were involved in those days with the Hawks and that championship team, similarly with the Nova Scotia Voyagers, Cape Breton Oilers winning a Cup and of course the Saint John Flames,” Andrews said.
From Calder Cup glory in 1982 to the sad end in 1994 the American Hockey League will always hold a special place in the heart of Monctonians and all of the Maritimes.
The New Brunswick Hawks, Golden Flames, Alpines and Moncton Hawks, all left an unforgettable impression on the Atlantic region that still lives on in the memories, record books and photos of an era of hockey that truly captivated the essence of the game.
Before they were NHL stars, they were our Heroes
Moncton has witnessed the birth of countless hockey heroes over the course of city’s American Hockey League history.
From memorable individual performances to triumphant team success the Coliseum faithful have seen it all. The City’s hockey heroes have left an unforgettable mark on us forever.
Countless NHL players, coaches and even reporters first applied their craft in Moncton before future stardom in the NHL.
A memorable beginning for the New Brunswick Hawks
Ed Johnston, now a five time Stanley Cup Champion made his professional coaching debut with the NB Hawks in 1978-79. “The experience was terrific, it was a stepping stone for me because I moved up to Chicago the following year,” said Johnston.
“Having the opportunity to be there for the first year in the American Hockey League was terrific, the attendance was great, the people in Moncton were fantastic.”
Johnston’s coaching prowess might have had an impact on several players on that roster and perhaps gave them some initiative to start coaching after their playing careers ended. Future NHL coaches Ron Wilson, Joel Quenneville, Darryl Sutter and Bruce Boudreau all played the inaugural season for the AHL in Moncton. The eighty-two year old, Johnston is quick to point out that he had six former players coach in the National Hockey League. An encounter with Boston Celtic Legend Tommy Heinsohn might have led to Johnston’s quick transition to the show.
“I got into fundamentals, and we ended up having a really good power play and I ran a lot of my power plays with basketball picks,” Johnston said.
“It was all set up by Tommy, we started talking about the picks and stuff they were doing and the next thing you know I implemented in our game.”
Bruce Boudreau was 3rd in team scoring with 58 points that season and would play the better part of three seasons in Moncton. Darryl Sutter who was only twenty years old at the time played 19 games, but would be a star the following year for the Hawks scoring 35 goals and amassing 66 pts. in 69 games before finding a permanent place in the NHL.
Joel Quenneville’s stay in Moncton was temporary, but definitely made an impact while he was there, amassing 11pts in only 16 games before getting the call to Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ron Wilson’s impact was even greater on the backend amassing 31 pts. in 31 games for the Hawks. Wilson would continue his torrid point scoring pace the following year with the Hawks when he had 63 pts. in 43 games.
The Moncton Coliseum provided the stage and the platform for some amazing hockey spectacles through the AHL era. “We were playing against the Maine Mariners and the late Pat Quinn was coaching, they had a very physical team, we had a couple of guys up with Chicago and Toronto so we brought in some tough guys from the senior leagues,” remembered Johnston.
“They were used to clearing their benches a little bit, so we had to get a couple of guys with us, so it didn’t take us too long before we did, but that’s what you had to do back then,” said Johnston.
Johnston has never forgotten his time in Moncton and how critical it was for his development as a coach. “That year was very important for me, it was my first year coaching and I learned how to communicate and discipline players,” Johnston said.
“It was really important to teach a lot and give a lot of confidence to our guys, that was very instrumental for our hockey club and organization,” added Johnston. After the Calder Cup victory in 1982, Chicago and Toronto decided to pull their American League team out of Moncton and that’s when the Edmonton Oilers brought the Alpines to the Hub City for the next two seasons.
Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr played 10 games as a 19–year-old for the Alpines that season. Ray Cote was their offensive star amassing a 91pt. season in 82-83 and was over a point a game the following season as well. The Messier family impacted the Alpines organization with Mark’s brother Paul, ending up second in team scoring with 77 pts. in 77 games in 1982-83, while their father Doug coached the squad.
One of the most memorable nights in the Coliseum during the Alpines era was when the Edmonton Oilers played an exhibition game against the Alpines. The Coliseum crowd witnessed “The Great One” and the other cast of future Hall of Famers of the Oilers dynasty.
The Alpines run in the Hub City was short lived, however another Alberta based team wanted their farm club in Moncton.
A City on Fire
The Calgary Flames organization moved into the Coliseum in 1984-85 and would eventually share their affiliation with the Boston Bruins from 1985 to 1987. For the next four seasons, Moncton would be witness to some high profile prospects both on the ice and behind the bench.
“We had great ownership, knowledgeable fans and passionate media,” said former Golden Flames coach Pierre Page. The first year in Moncton was very difficult for Page’s club as they struggled to a 32-40-8-0 record and missed the playoffs.
“Not everybody gets excited about a three year plan, but we all have to remember that very few players played in the NHL before the age of 23,” said Page.
The 1984-85 Flames team would produce the likes of Joel Otto, Mike Vernon, Neil Sheehy, Gino Cavallini, Dale Degray, Mark Lamb and Pierre Rioux. Page credits Dave Cameron another future NHL coach for coming in and helping the young players during that time. “The 1984-85 season was a tough year for the fans and myself but the development paid off,” explained Page. “They can proudly look back at the NHL players who were developed there,” added Page.
Page and his family thoroughly enjoyed their time in the Maritimes but it was short lived. After a trying season on the farm, Page’s emphasis on development paid off. He was promoted to Calgary as assistant coach for the following three seasons before moving on to pursue other head coaching opportunities across the league.
The 1985-86 Flames featured a new cast of players and characters with the Boston Bruins sending their prospects to Moncton. With the promotion of Pierre Page, the baby Flames needed a coach.
A fiery red head who won a Stanley Cup with Broad Street Bullies would take over behind the bench and became a colourful fixture in Moncton for the following two seasons. “The first thing I learned coaching in the minors, is that you better be a darn good juggler,” said Terry Crisp.
“I was dealing with two teams putting players in the system. You have two GM’s wanting their players to play, wanting their goaltenders to play all the games and wanting their guys to get more ice time, you have to be a good diplomat,” explained Crisp. Crisp joined the coaching ranks fresh off his retirement from the NHL and stayed on with the Flyers as an assistant from 1977 to 1979 before a jump to the junior ranks in Sault St. Marie of the OHL.
“It was a stepping stone those six years coaching junior,” said Crisp. “It was one of the best grounding experiences as a coach, having kids that age, so it was a natural progression leaving the junior ranks for the American league,” added Crisp.
Crisp’s transition into the American Hockey League was seamless. “I was getting the kids that I coached or coached against in junior, they were entering the American league, that’s what helped me more than anything,” Crisp said.
“It was really fun, when you see them in the minors, they’re kids, they’re anxious to go, they go through the wall for you. I had some really good young players come through during that time,” added Crisp. Crisp’s two seasons in Moncton were critical in creating the foundation of his philosophy, but it helped him understand what players wanted to hear at the next level.
“Players open up to you when they come down from the bigs, so when you go back to the NHL what sticks in your mind is what those players were thinking and what they wanted to hear in the NHL,” said Crisp
“I was privet to two years of these kids talking to me, and they open up because you are the guy that is trying to help them get back to the NHL or get there for the first time,” explained Crisp.
Brian Bradley, Dave Reid, Geoff Courtnall, Randy Burridge, Mike Vernon, Gary Roberts, Bob Sweeney, John Carter and future legendary goal scorer and Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull all played under Crisp during his tenure in Moncton.
Hull would be the only player in franchise history to score 50 goals in Moncton during the AHL era. He finished the 1986-87 season with 92 points in 67 games.
The Golden Flames would get ousted in the 1st round of the playoffs that season, but Crisp would get promoted to Calgary and would have instant success winning the Stanley Cup in 1989. “Probably my fondest memories of Moncton are the friendships, from the owners to everyone, they took my family and children in and made us feel part of the community right away,” Crisp said.
“We had great fans, when were there, they were passionate and loud, I really appreciated that and had a lot of fun with that,” Crisp added.
“The hockey takes care of itself, but when you get welcomed like we were welcomed to the city, it was just great,” explained Crisp.
Crisp still remembers all the nuances of the Moncton Coliseum in those days. From the poorly lite dressing rooms to the goaltender’s isolated cubby hole locker room with the slanted ceiling. “They would say, hey coach is this a new system of torturing goaltenders or are you just trying to toughing us up,” joked Crisp.
Some of Crisp’s most vivid memories of the Coliseum are of his coach’s office. “My fridge was always stocked full Moosehead beer,” said Crisp. Glen Hall was working with the goalies for Calgary back then, so when Hallsy came down, that would be the first place we would go after practise or games, to have some cold ones,” Crisp said.
A Rookie Reporter Looking for a Scoop
From coaches and players to reporters, it seems like all the future stars of the NHL have touched down in Moncton from one time or another.
Television’s iconic host of Hockey Night in Canada and Rogers Hometown Hockey has fond memories of the City of Moncton, the Coliseum and the honorary host of the Calgary Flames Training Camp, Charlie Bourgeois.
Ron MacLean’s first NHL Training Camp as a reporter was in the Hub, covering the parent club and the Moncton Golden Flames. “It was 1985, and Charlie Bourgeois was our host/ambassador, he showed us a lot of great times during that Camp, going to Fishermen’s Wharf and Shediac,” remembered MacLean.
“I just remember all the scenes,” MacLean said.
“The first evening we arrived, there was a big spread put on by the six owners of the Golden Flames. For the first time in my life I saw champagne bottles on ice, next to lobster claws, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” explained MacLean.
“At that get together I was sitting with Al MacInnis, and he turned to me and said, ‘Ron do you think I’m being traded,’ I thought to myself you have to be kidding Al, you are one of the greatest players in the history of hockey and you are worried about getting traded,” MacLean remembered.
“I’m a kid from all over Canada, of course being an Air Force brat, and there I am sitting with Glenn freaking Hall,” said MacLean.
“It was a great memory of Moncton, the Coliseum and Ziggy’s bar and going to Shediac for a big lobster feast, it was a special time,” MacLean added.
Bourgeois who was born and raised in Moncton is featured in the last chapter of MacLean’s bestseller ‘Hockey Towns’. “I think it’s the best chapter of the book and the most compelling story,” MacLean said.
“When we were there for Hometown Hockey a few years back, it was neat to see Charlie again,” MacLean added. MacLean was searching for a scoop. The pride of Red Deer, Alberta wanted the low down on who was going to be the Flames back up netminder.
The Flames Goaltending Consultant/Coach at that time was the aforementioned legendary goaltender and Hockey Hall of Famer Glenn Hall. “I wanted to sneak a look into Hall’s binder.” MacLean said with a smile. “There were three kids back then trying to make it to the NHL as the Flames back up to Reggie Lemelin, Doug Dadswell, Rick Kosti and Marc D’Amour,” explained MacLean.
“I wanted to see how they were being ranked, so I just thought I would slide in two rows behind him and look over his shoulder into the binder.” In big block letters with black sharpie marker there was a big “FU” written on page. “He knew what I was up to,” MacLean said bursting into laughter.
“That was a great memory of that Training Camp,” said the iconic broadcaster.
The Winnipeg Jets flew into town with big shoes to fill after the Calgary Flames produced some phenomenal talent. The Hawks moniker was reborn and the Jets organization would spend the following seven years in Moncton.
Randy Gilhen, Peter Douris, Guy Larose, Paul Boutilier, Brent Hughes, Ron Wilson, Tom Draper, Bob Essensa, Rick Tabaracci, Matt Hervey, Bryan Marchment, Dallas Eakins, Kris Draper, Andy Brickley, John Leblanc, Dan Bylsma, Stu Barnes and Claude Julien were some of the notable players that suited up for the Hawks over the years.
Current All-Time NHL games coached leader and Dallas Stars Assistant coach Rick Bowness was behind the bench for the first two seasons in Moncton. “It was my first opportunity to be a head coach, I had been in assistant in Winnipeg for three and half years and wanted to get out and experience head coaching and learn a lot more about the position and learn what it took to become a head coach,” Bowness said.
“Moncton was a great opportunity, my first year there we had about twelve rookies mostly college players. It was a great learning experience for them and me to learn how to deal with them and teach them how to be a pro in an eighty game schedule and the commands and rigors of the whole thing,” explained Bowness
“We didn’t have a very good team, but both sides learned an awful lot that first year,” stressed Bowness.
Bowness would turn things around the following year, before getting the call from the Jets. “The next year before I had to go to Winnipeg as the interim coach in February we were in first place,” remembered Bowness.
“The tough experiences from the year before had paid off and we were a much better team and honestly to this day, I still believe we could have won the Calder Cup, if I had been able to finish the season,” confessed Bowness.
Bowness still has fond memories of his time in Moncton. “For me, local ownership was fantastic, we had great owners like Gary O’Neil, so that made it very comfortable for all the players and coaches,” said Bowness. “The fans were enthusiastic and the way they supported us that year when things were really struggling showed you their passion and commitment to the franchise and the game,” added Bowness.
“We weren’t very good or entertaining for that matter, we had so many young players, but the fans stayed true to us, we had great support and loyalty.”
“Anytime you go into the Moncton Coliseum, it was always a great atmosphere due to the fans,” said Bowness.
Campbellton, New Brunswick product John LeBlanc came up just short in reaching Brett Hull’s 50-goal mark. “It was a special experience playing in Moncton because it was so close to home, I knew a lot of people around the city,” said LeBlanc.
LeBlanc scored 48 goals and amassed 88 pts. in 77 regular season games in 1992-93. “Moncton was a good hockey city, we had plenty of rivals around the Maritimes, and the hockey was very good back then,” added LeBlanc.
LeBlanc played three seasons with the Hawks and was called up to the parent club on three different occasions during that time. He still reflects on the Hawks Calder Cup Playoff run in the team’s final year in Moncton.
“It’s hard to say, what my fondest memory would be, but our final playoff run was definitely a highlight. The City’s support was great that year, even knowing that the team was leaving,” remembered LeBlanc.
“We came very close to winning the Calder Cup that year, it was hard for me knowing the team was leaving because it was my home province, we really wanted to win it for the city,” said LeBlanc.
“The final season was extremely exciting to be part off,” said then Hawks Co-Coach and former NHL’er Charlie Bourgeois. “We had a great mix of young and veteran players and very strong leadership by Andy Brinkley who had played almost 400 NHL games,” Bourgeois said.
Young and old alike Moncton always seemed to have veteran players who lead the way during the American Hockey League days. Brinkley would be over a point a game player for the Hawks that season amassing 59 pts. in 53 regular season games while adding 27 pts. in 19 playoff games.
“The team really came together late in the season, it helped that Winnipeg didn’t make playoffs that year and sent some players down,” added Bourgeois.
“The Calder Cup Finals were very rewarding, we had great atmosphere with very large crowds at the Coliseum, it was a great series that featured some great hockey,” added Bourgeois.
“Olaf Kolzig stole a few games for Portland during that series, making a large number of spectacular saves each night,” remembered the Moncton native.
The final memory of American league hockey for Monctonians is a sad one. The American Hockey League produced some of the games greats.
For 16 seasons the future stars of the National Hockey League skated on Coliseum ice. They were our heroes. Their memories and stories will live on and will always remain part of Moncton’s hockey legacy.
Calder Cup Glory
In 1982, Moncton was the City of Champions.
New Brunswick Hawks Head Coach Orval Tessier had a great blend of seasoned veterans and skilled rookies, and the grit that was a prerequisite to win during that era of the game.
One player who embodied the American Hockey League and instantly captivated the hearts of the fans in Moncton was the pride of Amherst, NS, Bill Riley. “To this day, I still get chills just driving by the Coliseum,” said Riley, the Hawks captain. A veteran of 134 NHL games, Riley was a great leader and mentor for the young players coming into the organization.
“By that time in my career, I didn’t fight as much as I did in my younger days, but if somebody was hassling one of my teammates, then so be it,” Riley said.
“The Toronto Maple Leafs had talked to me about coming to Moncton to work with their kids, it was a great fit, there was just something special about Moncton.” “It was an honour to walk into the Coliseum every morning for practices and evenings on game days. The people of Moncton were tremendous,” added Riley.
In addition to Riley, the Hawks were led by Mike Kaszycki, who led the circuit in scoring, veteran rearguard Dave Farrish, skilled scoring forward Steve Larmer and energetic two-way specialist Stevie Ludzik.
“We had a great team and a great bunch of guys,” said Riley. “Of course the skilled guys got most of the credit but I still believe it was the road warriors that made the difference. That’s what I used to call them,” said Riley.
Those road warriors consisted of Bart Yachimec, Russ Adams, Rod Willard, Lowell Loveday, Sean Simpson, Louis Begin and star goaltender Bob Janecyk. “They all came in as rookies and played great,”Riley said.“They probably didn’t get the credit they deserved.”
Riley led by example that season scoring 32 goals and amassing 62 points in 80 games and 104 PIMS in the regular season. He would add 16 points in 15 playoff games. The Hawks beat the Binghamton Whalers in five games to claim the Calder Cup on home ice. “There had to be close to 8,200 people at the Coliseum during that final game,” said Riley.
Riley will never forget hoisting the Cup in front of the hometown faithful. “My first thought, when I picked it up was, I have to get this thing to the rest of my teammates.”
“All the guys on that team really embraced the city, and the city embraced us, it was a great time in a great era,” said Riley. We had great rapport report with fans in those days,” said Riley.
Ludzik has fond memories of Moncton and Calder Cup glory
Three decades worth of memories came flooding back when Steve Ludzik returned to the Moncton Coliseum and the City he called home during his first foray into professional hockey. 36 years ago, Ludzik left the Hub City a Champion with his dream to play in the National Hockey League in reach. “I haven’t been back since we toted the Calder Cup around this ice surface,” Ludzik said.
“Coming back here brings back so many memories. What I remember most about Moncton is the people and how nice they were to me,” Ludzik said. “It’s classy by the Moncton Wildcats organization to bring us back and let us be a part of this,” said Ludzik.
The Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League turned back the clock on March 3rd to honour the city’s rich American Hockey League history. The eclectic Moncton Coliseum is in its final year. The Wildcats have been paying tribute to the buildings hockey history throughout the season, but the AHL night went above and behind.
The American Hockey League was a staple in Moncton for 24 years, but it was the 1981-1982 New Brunswick Hawks that not only captured the hearts of Monctonians, but also the “Picture Province” first professional sports title.
That season the Hawks possessed great balance and blend of veteran leadership, character, young talent, toughness, and impactful offensive players. In that era of the game you had to have it all to stand a chance of winning in hockey’s greatest minor league circuit.
Steve Larmer, Louis Begin and Ludzik all made their professional debuts in the Hub City that memorable championship season. “We had great leadership. I never thought about being a first year guy back then,” Ludzik said.
Ludzik finished the regular season with 62 points in 73 games and 142 PIMs. The talented gritty forward would add 10 points in 15 playoff games for Tessier’s Hawks.
Ludzik credits Riley has being the main catalyst of success. “Bill was the greatest captain I ever played for, and I’ve played with some good ones,” Ludzik said. (Photo Credit HHOF)
“Riley was the straw that mixed the drink,” he said.
Ludzik points to Riley’s tilt with Adirondack Red Wings tough guy Dennis Polonich as a defining moment that season. “Polonich was causing trouble all over the ice, he was a stick man and wasn’t scared to try to take your eye out,” said Ludzik.
“I think it was the third game in Adirondack when Riley looked at us and said, ‘I’m taking care of that guy, he’s bothering some of you guys,” remembered Ludzik.
“Just like the sheriff and the hired gun, he pounded out Dennis Polonich and we never had a problem after that.”
“I circle that game on the hockey calendar as the reason we one won the Calder Cup,” said Ludzik.
Ludzik, a fan favorite in his own right is grateful to have the opportunity to once again reconnect with some of his Hawk teammates. “It’s nice to get together with the guys and tell stories, those stories are probably a lot better now then they were back in the day. It’s like you never played bad game,” joked Ludzik.
“Hockey players are a funny group, you are very close for a period of time, hockey dictates that, then they are gone.”
“They don’t see each other, but they think about each other, but they just don’t get that chance,” he said. “That’s just life and that’s the way it is,” confessed the retired NHL veteran.
Ludzik credits Hawks legendary bench boss Orval Tessier as another key figure in the team’s success. “People don’t remember this we started slow out of the gates that year, we almost had a rebellion on our team,” explained Ludzik. “Guys were pissed off about this or that, we had a meeting with Orval and after that meeting, he said let’s all go out for a beer,” recalled Ludzik.
“I think we only lost 7 games in our last 30, it was unbelievable record.”
Riley’s impact would be felt in a lot of different areas that season. “Billy ran a lot of our practices back then, people don’t realize how much he had to do with that team,” confessed Ludzik. “Orval had the confidence in him to say, you run the practice today.”
Ludzik’s stay in the Maritimes was short lived as the NHL came calling after only one season in Moncton. However, the Maritime region has certainly left an impression on the talented forward from Toronto, Ontario. “I say the people on the East Coast are the nicest people you are ever going to meet,” said Ludzik.
“We had some tough nights back then, it wasn’t always smooth sailing, but as long as you showed the people that you wanted to work and had your heart they backed you, it was loyalty, that’s something that I will never forget,” said the veteran of 468 NHL games played.
Moncton, and the rest of the Maritime cities that were home to the American Hockey League will be forever connected to this special era of the game, but the City of Moncton will never forget their only Calder Cup victory.
Back to Back
1982 was a special year for Hub City hockey. It was the year of champions.
The New Brunswick Hawks of the American Hockey League hoisted the beloved Calder Cup, while the University of Moncton Blue Eagles would use home ice advantage and the support from the entire city and region to once again capture National Championship supremacy.
Then Blue Eagles Head Coach Jean Perron had a team that understood how to win the big game, coming off a dramatic National Championship victory in 1981. Perron believes the Blue Eagles journey to back-to-back championships all started with a trip to a high profile tournament in Montreal where the Blue Eagles faced stiff competition. “No one knew about the Blue Eagles,” Perron exclaimed.
“Claude Ruell and the entire Montreal Canadiens scouting staff was there. They were looking at my club and they couldn’t believe what we were doing, that’s where we were exposed,” said Perron.
“When you are in the Mecca of hockey in Montreal and you win the International University Cup, no one knew that a team from Moncton could beat all those power houses,” Perron said with a laugh.
“We got on the map with the first CIAU National Championship, but we first got on the map in Montreal at the International University Cup,” stated Perron. “In 1981 we went to Calgary and no one gave us a chance. Against all odds we beat everybody in Calgary,” Perron said. “With all the brouhaha that was made with us winning our first National Championship it transferred to the next two seasons when we hosted,” Perron added.
The reigning CIAU National Champions were ready to host the country’s best. Similar to the American Hockey League’s New Brunswick Hawks, the Blue Eagles had a great blend of young talent, veteran leadership, presence and grit.
“The atmosphere in the National Championship game was a once in a lifetime experience,” said then Blue Eagles assistant coach and local hockey legend Ron LeBlanc.
“To see people coming in from all the other Atlantic Provinces on buses, reserving their tickets, it was an attendance record and I believe it still stands today,” said Perron.
LeBlanc had experience playing some major events in front of a hometown crowd, but never witnessed anything like the 1982 event at the Coliseum. “Compared to the Hardy Cup Championships that I played in at the Coliseum in 1975 and 1979, the 82’ National Championship game was much more alive and electric,” said LeBlanc.
The Blue Eagles would face a familiar foe in the final, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, who were coached by long time Canadian National Team coach and 2018 Canadian Olympic Men’s Hockey Team Asst. Coach Dave King.
“We beat them in 1981 on a last minute goal so they were looking for revenge, and we wanted to let them know that our victory the year before wasn’t a fluke,” said LeBlanc.
The Blue Eagles found themselves down by two goals entering the 3rdperiod of the Championship final. “You could feel the nervousness in the crowd from behind the bench when we were down by two goals,” said LeBlanc.
The Blue Eagles would answer early in the 3rd to cut the lead in half, before Alain Grenier tied it up with a slap shot on his off wing that sent the Coliseum faithful into a frenzy.
The tone was set for yet another nail biting finish. The Huskies were the first to crack under the pressure of the moment by taking an ill-advised penalty late in the 3rd period. With 27 seconds left in the game the Blue Eagles specialty teams delivered the knock out blow on Louis Durocher’s goal to claim their second straight National Championship.
“We had a team that matured very well,” Perron said.
“We were on a mission, all of my players had more experience, but scoring two years in a row in the late stages of a game is dramatic and something that you remember all your life,” said Perron who went to coach the Montreal Canadiens.
“It didn’t matter where the players were from they were all playing for their university, our region and for all intents and purposes they were all Monctonians, Acadians and New Brunswicker’s in that Championship game,” stressed LeBlanc.
“It’s one of the highlights of my career, that team was very, very, special,” said Perron, who would go on to win the Stanley Cup in 1986 with the Montreal Canadiens.
“Moncton is very special, the city is always behind the Blue Eagles, it is an important part of the sports culture in the Maritimes,” explained Perron.
Farewell to the AHL, Bonjour QMJHL,
The City of Moncton was struggling to come to grips with the impending relocation of its beloved American Hockey League franchise in 1994. The Moncton Hawks were poised to raise the Calder Cup once again and go out on top in their final year of existence. The Portland Pirates and Olaf Kolzig stood in the way of the Cinderella story.
There would be no storybook ending for the city or the Hawks. Kolzig was MVP of the playoffs, and thoughts of the Calder Cup and the AHL turned to heartache for Monctonians.
The love affair was over. The American Hockey League was gone. It was never coming back.
In the midst of sadness and denial, the Moncton Coliseum sat dormant without a major tenant for the entire 1994-95 season.
The thought of competitive hockey returning to Moncton was on hold. It may never have returned if it wasn’t for a small group of passionate hockey fans and businessmen. A local group, which included Clark Buskard, Bernard Cyr, David Hawkins and Greg Turner, joined forces with John Graham. Their goal was to bring the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to Moncton. “John Graham and his group formed the Mooseheads a year earlier and were an immediate success story in Halifax,” said Turner, a current city councillor. “When Graham came to Moncton to form the Alpines the following season and a mutual friend Bobby White directed him towards me due to my involvement in Jr. A hockey locally.”
Graham enticed a number of individuals from the Toronto area to invest in the franchise. In all, there with 16 partners with various share totals.
The Moncton Alpines were born. However, they faced the daunting and unfair task of filling the void left behind by the professional circuit.
Moncton product Jeff LeBlanc was the Alpines first ever draft pick in the Atlantic Draft, the last time players from Atlantic Canada could choose their junior league.
“To play in the QMJHL at 16 was something that I will never forget,” said LeBlanc. “To play in front of family and friends was extra special.” With expansion, growing pains are inevitable and with only two Maritime-based teams the travel schedule was arduous.
“Expansion in any league is hard. As players we felt it. A losing environment is never a fun environment for anyone. We lost a lot of games that first year,” said LeBlanc, who is the current Head Coach and General Manager of the Amherst Ramblers of the Maritime Hockey League.
“The inaugural year was met with many obstacles especially off the ice,” said former assistant coach Roland Collette said.
Unfortunately the losing wasn’t limited to the ice. The team was also losing ground financially.
“Graham managed the team and was in close contact with the local owners, but attendance never reached the expected totals and by Christmas the franchise was in turmoil,” said Turner. “The local group wanted to prop it up financially, but the absentee owners from Toronto weren’t interested.”
“There was a tug of war, Gerry Steinberg from Toronto finally grabbed control of the team and Graham was ousted as President. Gerry would oversee the operations until the end of the season, working closely with the league, who bought back the franchise at the conclusion of the season,” added Turner.
There are number of reasons why Moncton’s first crack at major junior hockey failed.
“With so many investors from such a distance, it was difficult to get a consensus of opinion and make strategic decisions,” said Turner. “The franchise’s leadership was inexperienced and undercapitalized, a recipe for failure,” confessed Turner.
“The players and staff were very anxious about the future of the team,” added Collette who also acted has the teams educational consultant.
After the failed inaugural season, Turner approached current Moncton Wildcats President Mr. Robert Irving, the City and the Quebec league in hopes of brokering a deal. Turner credits the late Ian Fowler as instrumental in bringing the Wildcats to Moncton.
“When Mr. Irving became apart of the team it gave us stability and hope, the organization really focused on family and community and engaged the south east region and it really rejuvenated the team,” said Collette.
Current Wildcats Governor Jean Brouseau remembers those years very well. “The first year was difficult on and off the ice, to say the least. But because of the vision of these owners, Greater Moncton proved to be a great place for the development of a Major Junior team,” said Brouseau.
Brouseau would see a resurgence of fans in the first year of the Wildcat. “Fans enjoyed watching young and talented players chasing their dream to become pro players,” explained Brouseau.
“The packaging of the Wildcats game was new to Greater Moncton and offered affordable and fun family entertainment,” Brouseau said.
Jeff LeBlanc experienced both franchises first hand and year two of the QMJHL being in Moncton was drastically different. “My first game as a Wildcat in front of a sold out Coliseum crowd is definitely my fondest memory,” said LeBlanc.
“I still remember being the second one out of the tunnel and thinking how different it was from the year before.”
A Perfect Fit
Gilles Courteau understood the importance of expansion into the hockey crazed Maritimes.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League commissioner believed expansion would strengthen and solidify his product. After establishing a club in Halifax, Moncton was the next logical location.
“We were very happy at first to have the chance to put a new franchise in Moncton, but with the first ownership group. It just didn’t work the way it was supposed to,” said Courteau.
“We went through a difficult situation, and took over the franchise. We operated the team for the rest of that first season. We were very lucky to have a person like Robert Irving show some interest to have a major junior franchise and we were able to make a deal.”
Since the inception of the Moncton Wildcats in 1995-96 there has been unwavering commitment from the organization to build a community presence and a winning culture. As the AHL began moving out, the QMJHL’s Maritimes Division would soon swell. “We have been very lucky to find the appropriate owners or ownership groups that put the pieces together to bring franchises to those regions and it really helped the league at that time,” said Courteau.
“It really solidified our product.”
Moncton hosted the 2006 Memorial Cup, which Courteau believes left a lasting impression on the city and the league. “I think it was a great experience to have that prestige event in Moncton,” he said. “The City of Moncton deserved that tournament at that time and they did an outstanding job. They had a very good team,” Courteau added.
“It was a first class event for the people of Moncton and New Brunswick. Everyone that came to Moncton from across the entire CHL in 2006 really enjoyed their time there. It was a marvelous event,” said Courteau in an interview in October 2017. Courteau has followed the progress of the new downtown events centre closely, and is pleased with having a new building in the league. “I think when there’s an opportunity to get a new building in the league it’s always a plus,” he said.
“I’ve seen the plans of the building, and the building infrastructure, and have followed the construction over the past few months. It’s going to be a first-class building. All the players on the Wildcats and across the league are going to be very excited to play in that building,” added Courteau.
Courteau believes the new arena will give Moncton a legitimate shot at hosting another Memorial Cup, something that would not be possible in the aging Coliseum.
“I think when they have a building like that, for sure it’s a great opportunity for them, I don’t think where we are today, they would be able to put in a bid forward to have the Memorial Cup as a host team. With a new building they will be able to put a bid forward,” suggested Courteau.
An independent committee for the last several years in the QMJHL has been used for the final decision on the bidding process to host the Memorial Cup. Courteau understands that process will be difficult. “The independent committee will have a big decision to make in their selection because it’s going to be very interesting to see who may bid for the 2019 Memorial Cup, I wish them all the best of luck,” Courteau said.
The Moncton Wildcats lost the 2019 Memorial Cup bid on April 5th to their long time Maritime rival the Halifax Mooseheads. The heartbreaking decision came a day after the Wildcats upset the 3rdseeded Rimouski Oceanic in the first round of the 2018 QMJHL Playoffs. The upset was the 3rd largest in QMJHL history from a point separation perspective. The City of Moncton and the Moncton Wildcats will now have to agonizingly wait for the return of Memorial Cup to the QMJHL, which undoubtedly be heading back to the Quebec the next time around.
From the American Hockey League to the Quebec Major Hockey League, the City of Moncton and the game of hockey will be forever connected and seemingly a perfect fit.
Champions are Forever
The City of Moncton was starving for a championship. It was 2005-06, and after several dramatic playoff runs the Moncton Wildcats were focused to reach the pinnacle of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League entering their 10th anniversary season.
The Wildcats solidified themselves in the league’s upper by building a culture of competitiveness within the cyclical nature of junior hockey.
When it was announced that Moncton would host the 2006 Memorial Cup, the franchise was poised to become a champion. “It was a tremendous team,” said Danny Flynn who served as an assistant to Head Coach Ted Nolan. “We worked really hard in the off season to build a competitive host for the Memorial Cup, but we also wanted to be able to go in the front door and win the league and really have a good shot at winning the Cups,” Flynn added.
With Nolan, Flynn and Dan Lacroix at the helm, the Wildcats put up staggering numbers throughout the regular season with one of the most talented rosters they had ever assembled.
The Wildcats were driven that season to hoist the President Cup for the first time in franchise history and enter the Memorial Cup on home ice as the QMJHL champion. They brought in Andrew MacDonald, Keith Yandle, Philippe Dupuis and Luc Bourdon to help put them over the top.
The Wildcats defeated the Quebec Remparts in six games and raised the President Cup in front of an electric sellout crowd at the Coliseum.
“Being the first one to lift the President Cup, at home, in front of a sold out Coliseum, in front of our wonderful fans was a great honour,” said then team captain Chris Gaudet. “That championship season was by far the best year of my hockey career,” added Gaudet.
“It was a really close-knit group of kids with great leadership and solid goaltending,” said Flynn.
“It was one of the strongest teams that I have been a part of. Like any championship team, the team leadership and chemistry was really strong,” explained Flynn.
“My experience with the Wildcats is one I will never forget,” said Matt Marquardt a North Bay, Ontario product.
Flynn and Nolan signed the 6”2 200 pound forward as a free agent before the start of the 2005-06 season. Marquardt had put up fantastic numbers the previous year in Jr. A with the Brockville Braves of the Central Canada Hockey League. The rangy power forward quickly became a fan favourite in Moncton and possessed an impressive two-way game, which fit Nolan and Flynn’s system perfectly.
Marquardt provided energy on a very skilled laden team in 2005-2006. Marquardt had the ability as a rookie to play up and down the line up in his first full season in the QMJHL.
Marquardt fondly remembers the special bond that was formed with the 2006 President Cup Championship team. “I had the honour of playing, bonding and winning with the best teammates and friends a guy could ask for,” Marquardt said. “I grew so much as a player, but most importantly as a person. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Mr. Irving and my Wildcat family,” explained Marquardt.
“The Coliseum was absolutely electric ever game. I thrived on the roar of the Wildcats faithful,” Marquardt added.
“I often stop and think about the moment we won the President Cup, it was pandemonium.”
“Just when I thought that building couldn’t get any better, we hosted the Memorial Cup. The energy in the Coliseum was incredible,” said Marquardt. “There’s nothing like scoring a goal in the Moncton Coliseum,” Marquardt added.
Marquardt may lay claim to the most important goal in Wildcats franchise history during the Memorial Cup semi-finals. The Wildcats faced their Quebec league rivals again – in the Memorial Cup final -and came up agonizingly short in their bid to claim junior hockey’s ultimate prize.
Still, that 2005-2006 club is fondly remembered in the memories of the Wildcats fans and city.
“That team was incredible, so many talented players, but it was the leadership on that team that left a lasting impression,” said former Wildcat forward Matt Eagles. “Our Memorial Cup experience was the highlight of my hockey career. Having the entire city behind us was very special, something that I will never forget,” Eagles added.
“To play with such a tight knit group of guys, from the coaching staff to the training staff everything clicked that year for us,” said skilled American power forward Adam Pineault.
“When we won the President Cup you could see the excitement everyone had in the City for the Memorial Cup,” remembered Pineault.
“Playing in the Memorial Cup in front of your home town crowd was one of the greatest memories I have playing hockey,” said Pineault, who had 81 points in 77 regular season and playoff games combined during the 2005-06 season. Pineault remembers driving downtown with his father after beating the Peterborough Petes at the Mem Cup. “My dad and I could hear the chant, Go Cats Go on Main street, he turned to me and said, ‘enjoy every minute of this,’”Pineault said. “Looking back, I know what he meant,” Pineault said.
Champions are forever, but the Wildcats faithful wouldn’t have to wait very long to claim another “Q” league championship.
Poised for a Another Run
Fast-forward four seasons.
The Moncton Wildcats were poised for another run at league supremacy.
Danny Flynn returned behind the bench, this time as head coach and the Wildcats found themselves vying for another championship, this time against interprovincial rivals the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Kelsey Tessier, Gabriel Bourque, Mark Barberio, Brandon Gormley, Nic Deschamps and Nic Riopel were some of the standouts on that squad. “We made some aggressive moves with Tessier and Bourque, but we also brought Nicolas Deschamps in and he was a really strong addition,” said Danny Flynn.
“It was unfortunate he got hurt in the playoffs and we didn’t have him for a lot of the playoffs or the Memorial Cup,” Flynn added.
“It was a team again that had great chemistry, character and leadership that year,” said Flynn. David Savard was CHL Defencemen of the Year and was a leader of a real solid blueline with Barberio and Gormley.”
“We got Nic Riopel back from the American league at Christmas and that solidified our goaltending. “We were able to take good team, a close-knit team and made some real good acquisitions at the deadline that really improved our team,” explained Flynn.
“From my very first junior camp at 16 years old, all the fans welcomed me to the city and organization,” said Nic Riopel, who considers his time in Moncton the best four years of his life, hockey wise. “They were all great people. They made me feel right at home in Moncton. The atmosphere in Moncton, especially during the playoffs with everyone wearing either white or red, was really intimidating for the other teams coming into the Coliseum.” The Wildcats would claim their second President Cup in four years as they beat the Sea Dogs in six games in front of another sellout.
“In the four rounds to win the President Cup we had to beat three teams that had 100 point seasons, and played round three and four without home ice and without Nic Deschamps,” said Flynn.
Flynn considers the two championship seasons as major accomplishments. “It’s a tough trophy to win, and almost half the franchises in the league haven’t won it once, so to be able to be part of two championship teams is something that I’m very proud of,” he said.
Long-time Wildcats equipment manager Serge LeBlanc believes both teams were unique, but equally as special. “To see the kids that grew up in the organization and seeing them go through all kinds of highs and lows during their career and then to see them lift the Cup was truly amazing to be a part of,” said Leblanc, who had been with the club for 11 seasons.
Former Wildcats assistant coach and current Vancouver Canucks video Coach, Darryl Seward believed the addition
s of Tessier and Bourque at Christmas that year was crucial. “That year was really special, we had a lot players for a few years and at Christmas when we added “Tess” and “Bourquie”, it really pulled the group together”
“The fans in Moncton are awesome,” Seward said.“They are a knowledgeable fan base and they support the team without exception. The players should be very thankful they have fans like that.”
“We had a lot of great players that year and I’ve been on a lot of teams over the years, but that was a really close knit team, guys really cared for each other and you could see it on the ice, we all genuinely wanted success and we played for each other,” said Wildcats star defencemen Brandon Gormley.
Alex Saulnier was only 16-years-old during the 2010 Championship run but that experience influenced the remainder of his hockey career.
“It was a dream come true. I was able to learn a lot from the older guys on that team. It allowed me to develop immensely as a player,” said Saulnier.
“The atmosphere in the Coliseum was unbelievable. Weonly lost a few games during that Cup run and I think the fans were a big reason why,” added Saulnier.
The 2006 and 2010 President Cup Champion Moncton Wildcats Teams will live on in Hub City hockey lore.
After the American Hockey League’s exodus from Moncton in 1994, the eclectic Coliseum sat dormant for a full season. When rumours of junior hockey surfaced, the City’s purest hockey fans balked at the idea.
It didn’t take long for those skeptics to realize that junior hockey would be a preview to stardom.
The First Star
The 1995-96 Moncton Alpines struggles as an expansion team are well documented, however one player used his time with the hockey as a stepping-stone to a sixteen-year professional career. “I arrived in Moncton to prove to everyone and myself, that I could be a great offensive player, like I was before my accident,” said David Beauregard.
Beauregard suffered an unimaginable eye injury the year before playing for the St. Hyacinthe Lasers of the QMJHL when arrant stick when under his visor and perforated his left eye.
The Alpines claimed the young sniper off waivers from the Lasers and gave the Montreal, PQ product a chance to play. “Lucien De Blois gave me all confidence in the world to prove that I could still score with one eye, I had tons of ice time and was first in the league in goals by Christmas,” Beauregard said.
Beauregard fondly remembers the city and the organization that gave him a second chance.
“It was a great experience to play for a new team in New Brunswick, we didn’t have high expectations with a young team, but I enjoyed every day while I was in Moncton,” added Beauregard. “We faced a lot of financial problems over the first four months and by the trade deadline the team sold me for cash to Hull,” explained Beauregard.
Cash transactions were commonplace in the QMJHL in those days. “I just hope I gave the fans some good times especially those who showed up for that first year in Moncton,” said Beauregard. “It was a difficult year for everyone, but I’m truly grateful to have been a part of the Alpines that first year.”
The speedy left-winger was drafted the year before his accident by San Jose Sharks in the 11th round, 271st overall. Beauregard scored an amazing 34 goals and added 27 assists in 41 games with Moncton but certainly left his mark on the city.
Changing of the Guard
With new ownership in place the Moncton Wildcats forged ahead trying to establish a young core group of impact players that would bring stability and competitiveness to the organization.
Sebastien Roger, Simon Laliberte, J.F. Damphousse, David Comeau and Alexandre Vigneault would be the driving force behind the upstart Wildcats for the transition years.
The 1999-2000 Wildcats made it to the 3rdround of the QMJHL playoffs an amazing accomplishment given the early struggles of the organization. The Moncton Wildcats had arrived, but what would a rebuild bring?
Over the next two seasons the Cats found themselves retooling their roster and added players like Patrick Yetman, Jonathan Roy, Johnny Oduya, P.A Parenteau, and James Sanford.
The Wildcats were building towards something special, and in 2003-2004 they would make it all the way to the President Cup Finals. Karl Gagne, Mathieu Betournay, Francois Caron, Steve Bernier, Bruce Graham, Martins Karsums, Ryan Salvis and Corey Crawford would become impact players for the Wildcats.
“My favorite moment as a Wildcat was wining Game 6 in PEI to go to the league final,” said James Sanford.
“We walked out of the rink over there with all of Moncton cheering us on,” remembered Sanford. “We were heroes, we were representing Moncton and all it stood for.”
Sanford still holds the franchise record for points as a defencemen at 181 and will never forget the atmosphere and what it was like playing at the Moncton Coliseum.
“Being introduced with ‘Crazy Train’ playing in the background and skating out of the Cat, I have never felt that good in my life,” remembered the Alma, New Brunswick product.
“I’ve played in ten different countries, I consider the Moncton Coliseum to be the best rink in the world,” Sanford said.
Sanford will never forget the fan support the team received during his time in Moncton. “We had two buses that came up to Rimouski to watch us beat Crosby and I still remember them coming to Gatineau for the finals, we always had the best booster club and fans,” Sanford said.
A Lasting Impression
Steve Bernier and Corey Crawford were the face of the Moncton Wildcats and arguably could be the most influential duo that has ever suited up for the franchise.
Steve Bernier was selected 1stoverall in the 2001 QMJHL Draft coming off an Air Canada Cup victory with Ste. Foy in the spring of 2001. Bernier impact was instant upon his arrival in Moncton.
The Quebec City product scored 31 goals and added 28 assists in 66 games for a rebuilding Cats team. At 16 years old, Bernier was 3rdin team scoring behind Collin Circelli and Patrick Thoresen. Bernier saved his best season in QMJHL for his sophomore season. He eclipsed the 100 pts. plateau and scored 49 goals in 71 regular season games.
Bernier had established himself as a power forward in the league but it was his play away from the puck that drew attention from NHL scouts. Bernier had the ability to change a game by physical dominance and boasted one of the best two-way games with in the QMJHL.
Bernier was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 1st round 16th overall in 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
The Wildcats organization had two cornerstones in which to build a contender. Bernier and Crawford led the team all the way to the President Cup Finals in 2003-2004. The Wildcats would eventually lose to Gatineau in five games but Bernier turned in a solid effort tying for the team lead in playoff points with Karl Gagne with 17.
In four years with the Moncton Wildcats, Bernier played 271 games scoring 151 goals while adding 162 assists for 313 pts. The native of Quebec is still among franchise leaders in games played, goals and points.
Bernier made his NHL debut in 2005-06 and has played in 707 career NHL games and has amassed 253 pts. over that time.
Corey Crawford was drafted by the Wildcats 14th overall in the 2001 QMJHL Draft. Crawford won the starting role from Matthew Davis by Christmas in 2001-2002. Crawford tried to backstop a young developing Wildcats team and finished the year with a 9-20-3 record with 3.74 goals against average.
In Crawford’s second full season with the club the Montreal, PQ product dominated and turned in a 24-17-6 record with a 2.73 GAA. Crawford backstopped the Cats all the way to the President Cup Finals in the 2003-04 after posting incredible numbers between the pipes. He won 35 games that season with a 2.62 GAA and would play in all of the team’s 20 playoff games.
Crawford’s performance in his first two seasons in Moncton caught the eye of NHL scouts and the Chicago Blackhawks selected him in the 2nd round 52nd overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Crawford won Defensive Player of the Year honours in the QMJHL in 2003-04 for his incredible performance during the playoff run and as a result of the NHL lockout in 2004-2005 returned to play his overage year with the Cats.
Crawford’s junior accomplishes are staggering but pale in comparison to his professional success. Crawford is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Chicago Blackhawks and won the 2016 World Cup of Hockey with Team Canada.
Crawford has played 383 NHL games and has a 2.37 GAA and has 21 career shutouts, 216 career wins and 115 losses.
Steve Bernier and Corey Crawford will be forever etched in the minds of Wildcats fans for their individual performances and team success that they provided.
The Pride of PEI
After dealing with junior hockey’s dreaded cycle the Moncton Wildcats looked to add a cornerstone to their blue line and build toward another President Cup. They selected their blue chip prospect in the 2009 QMJHL Entry Draft 1st overall. The pride of Murray River, PEI Brandon Gormley and the Moncton Wildcats were a match made in Heaven.
“Definitely memorable years for me, had a lot of great times in Moncton, I met a lot of great people here not only on the team but in the city and the fans,” said Gormley.
“It was an honour to play in Moncton for three and half years, I was fortunate enough to be on a lot of great teams with the Wildcats, great coaching and Mr. Irving runs a great organization so from a players standpoint, Moncton is one of the best places to play in the entire CHL,” explained Gormley.
Gormley’s ability to play at both ends of the ice and offensive upside made the Wildcats an instant contender. Gormley recorded 27 pts. in 62 games as a 16-year-old rookie and would add 4pts in 10 playoff games in the 2008-09 season.
Gormley was 2nd in defensive scoring behind David Savard with 43 pts. in 58 regular season games, and would add an impressive 17 pts. in 21 games in the playoffs. In all, Gormley played 229 games for the Moncton Wildcats and had 167 pts. during that time. Gormley was part of the 2010 President Cup team that featured one of the best blue lines every assembled by the Wildcats. “We had a lot of great players that year and I’ve been on a lot of teams over the years, but that was a really close knit team, guys really cared for each other and you could see it on the ice, we all genuinely wanted success and we played for each other,” Gormley said.
David Savard would win the CHL Defencemen of the Year that season while Mark Barberio and Simon Jodoin were instrumental in the Cats quick transition game and team success. Barberio played 220 games with the Wildcats amassing 158 pts. Jodoin played 165 career games adding 92 pts. Savard, Barberio and Gormley have all played at the NHL level but Savard has had the most success in NHL playing 339 games thus far with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Gormley ended his junior career in Shawinigan after being traded by the Wildcats in 2011-2012 and went on to win a Memorial Cup with the Cataractes.
“I spent most of my career in Moncton and you want to win there that’s the goal but at the end that’s the business of junior hockey, trades are part of it and that was my first experience with one,” added Gormley.
“As a player your ultimate goal is to win the Memorial Cup, we knew that we weren’t going to have a chance in my last year in Moncton, but it was still a tough decision, I still remember thinking long and hard, I didn’t want to leave, I loved everyone in Moncton,” explained Gormley.
“At the end of the day it was a good decision to go and to win the Memorial Cup in my game in junior hockey was special.”
Over the course of franchise history the Wildcats have done an amazing job selecting or acquiring highly skilled and impactful import players.
Alexei Tezikov, Dmitri Kalinin, Martin Bartek, Mikhail Deev, Patrick Thoresen, Sebastien Strozynski, Konstantin Zakharov, Martins Karsums and Oskars Bartulis, Marek Hrivik, Ivan Barbashev, Dmitriji Jaskin and Manuel Weiderer all had impactful seasons for the Wildcats.
Karsums and Bartulis won the President Cup with the Cats in 2006. Karsums’ solid two-way style of play and defensive accountability made him an instant fan favorite. The Riga, Lativia product finished fifth in team scoring that season amassing 65 pts. in 49 regular season games.
He scored 34 goals in the regular season, and would continue his torrid pace in the playoffs amassing 26 pts. in 21 games.
Bartulis provided stability defensively while providing an offensive punch to the line up. The Riga, Lativia product had 31pts. in 54 games and was the perfect complimentary defencemen for Ted Nolan’s and Danny Flynn’s system, during the 2005-06 season. Martins Karsums had 187 pts. in 180 career games with the Moncton Wildcats and still regarded as one of the most complete import players ever to suit for the Cats.
In 2009-2010, the trend of impactful imports continued with the addition of Marek Hrivik who recorded 55 pts. in 66 regular season games that year and added 17pts. in 21 games in the playoffs. Hrivik, would add to his career totals the following year scoring 79pts. in 59 games. The Cadac, Slovakia product finished his 3rdand final year with the Wildcats by putting up 70pts. in 54 regular season games. Hrivik possessed a pro release at 18 years old but has struggled to find his way to the NHL level.
The undrafted Slovakian star was signed by the New York Rangers organization and spent the six seasons in that organization. Hrivik has played 21 games with the Rangers over that time but now is looking for a fresh start with the Calgary Flames.
In 2011-2012 the Wildcats selected Roman Will in the import draft. The Litomerice, Czech. Republic product played only one season with in Moncton but finished with a 29-25-7 record with a 2.77 goals against average. Will’s solid performance with the Wildcats propelled him into the pro ranks.
He made his NHL debut with the Colorado Avalanche two years after his junior career had ended. The undrafted Will would only play in one NHL game before returning home to play in his native Czech Republic, where he still plays with Liberc Bili Tygri HC.
The Russian Dynamic Duo
The Moncton Wildcats won the draft lottery during the 2012 import draft selecting Ivan Barbashev 1stoverall and Dmitrij Jaskin 22nd overall. Dmitrij Jaskin could possibly own the best individual season of any import selected by the Moncton Wildcats. In 2012-13, Jaskin dominated the QMJHL recording 99 pts. in 51 regular season games. Jaskin’s 46 goals tied him for 3rd overall in the league. The Wildcats looked poised for another long playoff run but were upset in the first round that season. (Photo Credit Moncton Wildcats)
The product of Omsk, Russia used his lone year in the QMJHL to adjust to the North American game and hasn’t looked back since. He has 206 National Hockey League games under his belt with the St. Louis Blues.
Ivan Barbashev’s career numbers for the Moncton Wildcats are truly staggering. The Moscow, Russia native had 262 pts. in 200 career QMJHL games. Barbashev saved the best for last recording 95 pts. in 57 games in 2014-15. He recorded 24 pts. in 16 playoffs games and was a key factor in Wildcats semi-final appearance that year. After two seasons in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves Barbashev looks poised to be an NHL regular. He appeared in 30 games for St. Louis last season tallying 12 pts.
Barbashev and Jaskin are arguably the best import duo ever to play in Moncton. The Russian duo had an uncanny ability to get fans out of the seats every time they touched the puck.
Manuel Wiederer is the most recent Wildcat import to have an impact on the team. Wiederer arrived in Moncton as a relative unknown. The Deggendorf, Germany native put together a monumental rookie campaign in the QMJHL in 2015-16. He collected 64 pts. in 54 games while adding 16 pts in 17 playoff games. Wiederer’s strong rookie season didn’t go unnoticed by NHL scouts.
He was selected in the 5th round, 150th overall by the San Jose Sharks in the 2016 Entry Draft. Wiederer returned to Moncton for his sophomore season and was a point a game player for the rebuilding Wildcats before being traded after 30 games. Wiederer’s ability to play in any situation made him a very dangerous player and a perfect compliment for QMJHL, CHL scoring sensation Conor Garland.
Shipping up to Moncton
Big things do come in small packages. Conor Garland faced endless criticism about his size all his life. When the Boston, Massachusetts product first arrived in Moncton he had something to prove.
After one year of acclimatizing to the QMJHL, Garland let everyone know just what he could do. In 51 games in his sophomore season with the Wildcats he put up 54 pts. while scoring 24 goals.
Garland stood poised for a break out season. In 2014-2015 he terrorized the league scoring 35 goals and recording a staggering 94 assists for 129 pts. Garland would lead the Wildcats into the QMJHL semi-finals that season and would amass 25 pts. in 16 playoff games.
Garland’s ability to spot the open man coupled with his tenacity below the dots in the offensive zone was truly an unique combination for a player of that skill level and stature.
Garland’s relentless offensive tenacity, instinct and total dominance of the QMJHL would lead to him getting drafted as a 19 year-old. The Arizona Coyotes selected the diminutive forward in the 5th round 123rd overall in 2015.
Given his stature and playing style, Garland continued to prove skeptics wrong by amassing points at an incredible rate early on in the 2015-2016 season. Garland possessed an uncanny ability to make every teammate an offensive weapon.
It became apparent that the franchise record for points held by former Wildcat standout Sebastien Roger could be in reach. On March 19th 2016 the 5”8 163 pound kid from Boston recorded his 327th point of his career.
Garland amassed 128 pts in 62 games in his final year in Moncton and would lead the Wildcats back to another semi-final berth. He recorded 15 pts. in 17 playoff games that season. “My time in Moncton was the best time of my life,” said Garland.
“I wish I cherished it a little more when I was there cause it’s such a special city and organization to play for. Breaking the franchise record was real special because the guys on the team made it special,” said Garland.
“They all knew it was the next point and when I scored every guy came up and hugged me and the ovation from the crowd was something that will stick with me for a while, it was a special moment,” said Garland.
“I’m looking forward to getting back there this summer to get one ore look at the Colisuem,” Garland added.
The Moncton Wildcats and the City of Moncton have witnessed some of the games brightest stars on Coliseum ice over the course of its existence.
From an expansion team to President Cup Champion’s, the Moncton Wildcats journey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League continues. The venue may change, but this proud franchise with the next wave of young stars will forge on in hopes of leaving their impression on the city in a brand new downtown centre.
Goodbye to Coliseum, Thanks for the memories
That was excellent! Those are all really special moments for me as a fan . I was there for most of everything that was written here. Especially as a kid growing up watching the N.B Hawks. I remember playing ball hockey on the street we grew up on (Bell st.) , and Steve Ludzik , Steve Larmer & I think Mike Kazycki, jumped in & played with us. I’ll remember that forever. Anyway, great article!