Moncton’s own Rick Melanson has seen it all when it comes to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Rimouski Oceanic.
You could say Melanson has been with the team since it’s inception.
“I wasn’t with the team for their first draft, but I was at their first training camp,” said the longtime educator and scout.
“I was kind of like a free agent at the time and they picked me up after the draft.”
Melanson had been scouting with St. Hyacinthe that season before a change in ownership ended his tenure with the Lasers.
Melanson remembers getting the call from the Oceanic like it was yesterday.
“Charles Marier was the Oceanic’s Head Scout at the time, he did their first draft kind of by himself and he brought me on after that,” Melanson said.
“I got the call from Charles that day and twenty five years later I’m still here.”
Melanson is quick to deflect any credit when it comes to the success of the Oceanic organization.
For him it’s all about being a team.
“I’m just one part of the wheel.”
“I’ve been lucky in a lot of cases to be along for the ride,” admitted Melanson.
What a ride it has been for Melanson and the Oceanic organization.
The storied franchise is gearing up for another monumental run at a President Cup and potentially another Memorial Cup birth.
“It’s very cool,” Melanson said of having a chance at another President Cup.
“It’s cool to be part of the organization and having been with the Oceanic for so long.”
The Oceanic have produced several NHLer’s and countless future NHL Hall of Famers.
“I still remember being at the table the year we drafted Brad Richards.”
“We didn’t think he was going to drop to us.”
“We didn’t have an agreement with him or anything, we actually thought he was going to go third overall that year to Moncton.”
“In terms of the guys we have had in some cases it has been luck and other years it’s being at the right place at the right time, with Lafreniere it was the luck of draw or the luck of the ball.”
“When it was Crosby’s time we had decided that we had went for it a couple of years without success.”
“After that we decided to rebuild a little bit and it wasn’t working out so we decided to sell at Christmas that year knowing the second half was going to be difficult, so we ended up getting the 1st overall pick there.”
We all know what that meant for the Oceanic organization. #87 would come to down and literally change the landscape of junior hockey in this country for two seasons.
“It starts from the top,” Melanson said when discussing the culture and rich tradition of winning with the Oceanic.
“Mr. Tanguay who’s been there right from the start, he’s been our leader and has hired the people to do their job and let them do their job, but has had his finger on everything.”
“Mr. Tanguay always took the time for the organization to make sure they make the right moves.”
Tanguay passed on the leadership of the team to his grandson Alexandre after the 2014-2015 season.
Melanson credits stability within the organization as being the pivotal piece to the puzzle when it comes to their success.
“We haven’t had a lot of turnover as far as the staff is concerned.”
“Our Head Scout has been there for eleven or twelve years. There’s been stability there, sure there have been some guys that have left and have come back.”
Donald Dufresne is a perfect example.
Dufresne has an extensive coaching resume both at the major junior and pro ranks.
“Donald was with us in the early years and was with us when Sid was here as well, he’s back with us as our defence coach now for the past two season,” explained Melanson.
The Oceanic organization epitomizes class, character and culture.
From a scouting perspective Rick Melanson has been the face of the franchise in this region for over two decades.
Nevertheless, it’s Melanson’s quiet demeanor and approach to scouting that truly sets him apart.
Being part of a winning tradition is one thing, but what is the most rewarding aspect of his job as scout?
“It’s the kids that you see something in and that you know they have potential and then they realize that potential,” admitted Melanson.
“All scouting is about giving a kid a chance whether your drafted or signed as a free agent, it’s about giving them an opportunity.
“Seeing them have success is the coolest part,” Melanson said proudly.
Melanson has had the luxury of seeing some amazing players and team performances over his years.
What makes this years team and Alexis Lafreniere so special?
“The passion for the game is a big one for him,” Melanson said of Lafreniere’s strongest attributes other than is out of this world skill.
“Willing to do whatever it takes to get better, that’s Alexis.”
“The great ones have that,” Melanson said of what set the young star and projected number one 2020 NHL pick.
“Obviously Alexis’ hockey sense and playing making abilities is off the charts from a pure playing standpoint.”
“His skating is good, he has deceptive speed, and he has a good shot as well, but being unselfish is massive.”
“He would rather set up a guy and get an assist than score a goal.”
“Obviously, he will shoot a puck when he has to, but he’s a special kid and he’s very down to earth as well.”
The entire Rimouski Oceanic organization along with Alexis Lafreniere are living in the moment.
That’s the mantra for the team, but from a scouting perspective, Melanson and the rest of the scouting staff are looking into the future in hopes of landing the next young Oceanic star.
Scouting the Next One
Rick Melanson will never forget watching Sidney Crosby at fourteen-years-old in amazement.
“Sid was a second year Bantam, playing Midget AAA with the Dartmouth Subways, that’s where I saw him the most,” Melanson recalls.
“At fourteen, he was the best player by far in that league, it wasn’t even close, there wasn’t even a close second, he was the best.”
Melanson along with hordes of other scouts filled the rinks across the Maritimes to get a look at hockey’s future superstar.
At fifteen years old and during his QMJHL Draft year, Crosby elected to pursue his career south of the border at famed prep school Shattuck St. Mary’s.
Melanson would enviably see the hockey prodigy compete at the Canada Games that year being held in Bathurst, New Brunswick. It would be another memorable moment for Melanson.
“Even at the Canada Games that year Sidney was a year younger than everyone else.”
The age limit has since dropped at that competition to fifteen, but Melanson yet again was amazed at the Crosby’s skill, talent and relentless work ethic.
“I remember seeing Sid play a game against Ontario, their team was stacked with first round picks from the O.”
“Sidney was by far the best player on the ice during that game.”
“Don’t quote me on the numbers, but I think he got two goals and two assists that game. Nova Scotia lost that game 6 to 4, he was the best player on the ice.”
Melanson and the Rimouski Oceanic had seen enough.
At that time, there wasn’t a guarantee that Crosby would even commit to playing in the QMJHL and some uncertainty that the Oceanic would finish in last place overall.
“It wasn’t until our season was nearing the end and that we knew we were in last place that, so we knew we were going to have the first overall pick, because back then there wasn’t a lottery.”
“That’s when organization started working on him,” confessed Melanson.
“US College was a legitimate option for him, because he was already down there in Minnesota at the time.”
“It wasn’t a slam dunk that he was going to come to Rimouski or the Q in general.”
Uncertainty turned into Championship aspirations for the Rimouski Oceanic, Sidney Crosby chose the Q. The rest as they say is history.
Over the next two seasons Melanson would get to know Sidney Crosby on and off the ice.
Center of Attention
Given Melanson’s educational background in cooperative learning at the high school level, the veteran teacher, scout and coach would be in charge of the Oceanic star forwards education portfolio.
Crosby communicated with Melanson through correspondence and then at the end of the season #87 would come to Harrison Trimble High School to complete his high school exams, in turn becoming one of HTHS’ most famous graduates.
“People don’t understand that Sidney is the hardest working guy.”
“If I just talk about hockey skill, you know what he’s a really good player, a really smart player, you could see that at fourteen years old, but he just went about and did his business,” explained Melanson.
Melanson has a plethora of personal stories that over the years he’s only chosen to tell a select few.
“Sidney was always so down to earth, even back then,” admitted Melanson.
Melanson remembers having the then sixteen-year-old Crosby over for supper.
“My son Chris would have been eight or nine years old at the time, and they wanted to get a ball hockey game going, Crosby replied, ‘sure no problem.’”
Melanson looked at Crosby and told him that he would get him a left-handed stick, #87 didn’t want no part of it. If Crosby was going to play he was going between the pipes.
‘Do you have some pads for me,’ Crosby said.
“I looked at Sid and said are you sure?”
‘No I want to put the pads on,’ stressed Crosby.
“Sidney had a great time, he was sweating making saves on the kids and tapping them on the head when they scored on him.”
“Sidney was just a great kid, you saw that in him back then,” Melanson said proudly.
Melanson may have looked on in amazement with Crosby on the ice, but the veteran teacher and scout had even more admiration for the youngster off the ice.
Melanson recalls running into a local garage for a few minutes after work was being done on the families other car. An employee recognized Melanson’s passenger and ran out asking for an autograph. Crosby was only sixteen.
“I remember asking him, ‘how do you deal with all that stuff?’”
Crosby calmy replied, ‘I’m just use to it now.’
Sixteen years of age, the center of attention of the hockey world, on and off the ice. There was no escaping the inevitable, Sidney Crosby was a superstar, but to this day you wouldn’t know it by the way he handles all the attention and fame.
“That’s always been his life, that’s just who he’s been,” Melanson said.
Melanson describes Sidney Crosby’s ability to handle all the attention in his time with Rimouski with simply one word. “Amazing”
“After every game in Rimouski, there was a line up of people wanting autographs.
We sat up a table for him, he would come off the ice, take his stuff off, he wouldn’t even shower and would sit there in his Under Armour and sign autographs fifteen or twenty minutes, meeting everyone.”
“Back then not a lot of people had phones and he didn’t have to worry about whole selfie issue, so it was just sign the autograph, but that happened at every game,” Melanson said.
The Oceanic hired a full time employee just to oversee Crosby and all of his requests.
The attention surrounding “Sid The Kid” was starting to get out of hand.
Melanson remembers Crosby getting ten to fifteen requests a week from all over the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“I’ve never seen anything like,” Melanson said of the attention surrounding the young phenom at the time.
“The Moncton Coliseum had six thousand people just for warm-up. They had sell-out crowds every time he played, but I’ve never seen that many people in for a warm-up and I haven’t seen it since.”
“Sid would just roll with the flow, that’s how he handled it.”
Every week during his days in Rimouski, Crosby would receive a package from Frameworth, a Canadian memorabilia company that had signed the young superstars exclusive rights to his autograph.
“Sidney would spend an entire afternoon signing that stuff, put it back in the box and Purolator it back to them. That’s when he was sixteen and seventeen years old,” Melanson recalls.
Rick Melanson has been in the scouting business for almost three decades, he’s seen some of the games brightest stars none brighter than Sidney Crosby.
So what is Sidney Crosby’s greatest attribute? Work ethic? Skill? Talent?
“Work ethic,” Melanson said.
“On the ice and even off the ice, Sidney was always so focused at a younger age.”
Melanson remembers Crosby turning down one of his wife’s famous brownies after supper one night after the season had ended while he was attending school at HTHS. “No thank you, Mrs. Melanson, I can’t have those,’ Crosby said.
“It was like the first part of June that year, after the season, and he was a sixteen year old kid, I said Sid it’s ok you can have one.”
‘I’m in training,’ Crosby said.
After school every day Melanson would drop Crosby off at the gym.
“The focus was always there,” Melanson said of Crosby and his offseason workout regime.
“Whatever needed to get done for him to get better he was willing to do that. He was the first guy on the ice and the last one off.”
Melanson recalls former Oceanic coach and former NHL bench boss Guy Boucher telling him that they used to design drills in order to challenge Crosby and work on his weakness. Crosby and Boucher would sit together all the time on the bus talking about the drills. Crosby would always be willing to try something different.
“Nobody does that, at sixteen years old,” Melanson explained.
“To me his work ethic is number one, that and his humility,” Melanson said proudly.
“Sid is not about the fame, or the bright lights, he gets it all the time, but he’s not about that and even back when he was with Rimouski, he was just a regular person.”
Crosby may very well be HTHS’ famous graduate, but he certainty hasn’t forgotten his time at the school.
“Sid didn’t come to his graduation at Trimble, because he didn’t want the attention being taken away from all of the other students on their big day and night,” Melanson said.
A class act on and off the ice, Crosby even sent a very unexpected message.
Several years’ back HTHS was dealing with an unthinkable tragedy.
Four students lost their lives in a motor vehicle accident. The horrible news went nation wide. A day after the tragedy, Melanson received an email from his former student and friend.
“Hey Rick, my mother let me know about the accident, please send my condolences to the school and to everybody there.”
That’s who Sidney Crosby really is.
Everyone may have a Sidney Crosby story, because in many ways he has touched so many people’s lives on and off the ice. From signing autographs and taking pictures with young hockey players and fans, Melanson has a simple response.
“That’s a part of who he is,” Melanson said proudly.
“He’s ready to give to everybody.”
So what does it mean to Melanson personally to see Crosby get recognized by the organization.
“Obviously, it’s very cool.”
“We have been waiting for this for a long time, because it’s the twenty-fifth anniversary, but they have been asking him for years to retire his number.”
Crosby has suggested that he would be up for the number retirement only after his career was over. That’s what makes Friday so special.
“The last time the Penguins won the Cup, he brought it to Rimouski and had a parade in the city, he didn’t have to do that,” Melanson said.
“He was the one that contacted the organization and Donald Dufresne. Sidney had the Cup for two days, and he wanted to share it with the city for one of those days.”
Crosby is no stranger to the city that started his amazing journey in the game.“Sidney goes back to Rimouski all the time,” Melanson said.
“He went back this summer, he doesn’t forget how important Rimouski was in where he is.”
“He hasn’t forgotten the junior guys that he spent two years with. Some people would have said oh yeah those are my junior guys, almost like the high school people you kind of hung out with, and sometimes you kind of forget about them a little bit and everyone kind of drifts apart and everyone has families, he hasn’t forgotten those guys” Melanson said.
“I’ve always told people, even when he was playing with us in Rimouski, that Sidney was a better person off the ice than he is on it, you see what he does on the ice, he’s a better person off of the ice.”
That’s high praise for the best player in the world. “Sidney is just a great guy,” Melanson said proudly.