Junior hockey: Trade winds blowing as draft nears

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The silence surrounding the Lewiston Maineiacs since the team shut it down for the summer appears finally to have been broken.

The hockey operations staff met last week in New Brunswick, where a Maineiacs-sponsored youth team of Lewiston-area skaters was participating in a pee-wee tourney, to map out a plan of attack for the upcoming Quebec Major Junior Hockey League entry draft, scheduled for early June.

And, it appears, the staff has already laid the groundwork for a few trades.

Rumors began circulating this week of three different transactions that would swap out a couple of familiar faces for a couple of new players for the 2010-11 season, and the players reportedly involved in those transactions have all but confirmed knowledge of the moves via social networking.

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The biggest name from the 2009-10 roster to leave appears to be captain Billy Lacasse, who is rumored to be headed to Chicoutimi for undisclosed draft picks.

On his Facebook page, a Maineiacs’ fan asked Lacasse to “Say it isn’t so,” and Lacasse replied, “would love to … but it is.”

In three seasons in Lewiston, Lacasse has 48 goals and 57 assists for 105 points.

Another apparent transaction appears to involve Shawinigan. In that move, the Maineiacs would send 17-year-old forward Jean-Francois Plante to the Cataractes, and receive in return 20-year-old forward Antoine Houde-Caron.

Houde-Caron has received several well-wishes on his Facebook page, including a couple referencing Lewiston as his new team.

Last year with the Cataractes, Houde-Caron had 20 goals and 11 assists for 31 points to go along with 55 penalty minutes, and he was a plus-3.

The other new potential piece to the team’s puzzle is Olivier Dame-Malka, a rugged defenseman who last year had nine goals and 21 assists for 30 points while racking up 108 penalty minutes for Acadie-Bathurst. He also previously played for Cape Breton. There is no word on any potential compensation headed back to the Titan.

Dame-Malka wrote on his Facebook page simply, “Lewiston.” In replies to his message, he confirmed that he’d been told he’d been traded to the Maineiacs.

Roger Shannon, Lewiston’s general manager, made only a brief statement when asked about all of these potential deals.

“Given that the trading period for our league opens on June 4 at the draft, we cannot discuss trades openly,” Shannon said, “however, I will say, if those two players are coming to Lewiston, we would be very happy to insert those two solid 20-year-old players into our lineup. The draft is only a couple weeks away, and we will see how it all plays out.”

Another trade that has been rumored for months is the completion of a January deal that sent Eric Gelinas to Chicoutimi via Cape Breton. Rumored to be headed to Lewiston in that deal is goaltender Olivier Roy, who on Monday night, on Dame-Malka’s Facebook page, welcomed him to “the new team.”

On the organizational front, Shannon also hinted at a bigger announcement within the next three weeks, ahead of the draft itself, that will outline how the team will proceed from a business standpoint. Earlier in the off-season, the team laid off most if its staff as a cost-cutting measure. Expected to be announced at that time will be a new head of front-office operations, and NHL-experienced addition to the coaching staff and potential new part-ownership. The team is remaining tight-lipped about those items, as well.

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