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 sceptics 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 1st overall 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.
Will spent last year in Rogle BK Angelholm of the SweHL after spending three years in his native Czech Republic.
The Russian Dynamic Duo
The Moncton Wildcats won the draft lottery during the 2012 import draft selecting Ivan Barbashev 1st overall 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.
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.