Lewiston Maineiacs’ Simon Courcelles, Tom Michalik, Peter Delmas, Marc-Andre Cliche, Jonathan Bernier and Chad Denny carry a banner around the ice after clinching first place in the QMJHL.
AUBURN — Ten years did nothing to dampen Clem Jodoin’s smile.
The former Lewiston Maineiacs coach, who since leading the team to a President’s Cup championship in 2007 has completed coaching stints elsewhere in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as well as in the National Hockey League, recently called it quits at the NHL level after 15 total years that bookended his stay in Lewiston.
Sitting at Gipper’s Sports Grill in Auburn — one of the team’s sponsors during its eight-year existence — on the 10th anniversary of the Maineiacs’ championship earlier this month, Jodoin and his wife, Louise, sat back in their chairs and chatted with former team photographer Ron Morin, now a warehouse manager for Bedard Medical, a local pharmacy and medical supply company.
“I remember that” was a popular phrase.
One by one, more people who worked with the team 10 years ago turned the corner. On the busiest night of the week at one of the busiest restaurants in the Twin Cities, they found each other during an impromptu gathering of as many of the team’s staff as could make it.
And each was greeted with a firm handshake or a hug — or both — from Jodoin. And a smile. There were plenty of those to go around.
“A lot of the teams have a division between front of the house and back of the house,” said Matt McKnight from his home in Key West, Florida.
McKnight, who held various roles in the Maineiacs front office, was one of the few from the team who was unable to make it to the reunion. But he wasn’t short on memories.
“(Jodoin) was never one of those guys, he never had secrets,” McKnight said. “He talked to anybody the same as he talked to his assistant coach, the same as he talked to a ticket-sales person, or even a fan, to be honest. He had everything out front in the open. We had a group of people who worked together, but also hung out together.”
That chemistry permeated the team, and helped mold it into a champion.
“Good relationships create good communication, and good communication creates winning,” former team owner Mark Just said from his home in Chicago. “Clem understood that, and made sure it happened in Lewiston.”
The right people
Constructing a hockey team that can win a championship has a lot to do with the individual talent each player on the team can bring to the table.
But as important to Jodoin when he took over the Maineiacs prior to the 2004-05 season was how the players related to one another, how they behaved, and how they carried themselves, both on and off the ice.
“On the hockey side, all the scouts, they did a hell of a good job, and one thing: We built with good people,” Jodoin said. “That was the most important thing. When you build with good people, you are always going to move forward.
“I had to go through the first year, and then after that, say, ‘OK, where are we going?’” Jodoin said. “It was hard for me to say anything, for me, it was a complete new journey. It was a good challenge. The environment was just incredible. And I am not shy to say, the three years I had in Lewiston, they were three great years. Three great years. The fun that we had, the camaraderie that we had, unbelievable.”
When the veterans on the team during Jodoin’s first season soaked the rookies’ gear in the shower, Jodoin called them out for it.
“We had to change the whole philosophy of the team,” Jodoin said. “No more initiation. Let’s have some respect for everyone. It’s not that, because you are a veteran, you are ahead of everything. You need the rookies if you want to win, too.”
The players who joined the team over the next three seasons all fit into Jodoin’s ideal formula.
“Everyone in that locker room genuinely cared about each other,” former athletic therapist and equipment manager Tom Bourdon said. “You could see it. You know how sports goes — you’re going to have your fun, you’ll pick on each other. But no one person felt they were bigger than the team, and they genuinely cared for each other. They played hard for each other.”
“Even though I’ve probably witnessed as many fights in practices as I did in games, there was definitely a brotherhood between the boys,” defenseman Michael Ward remembered.
“We were a really close-knit team, more than any other team I’ve ever played on,” added Triston Manson, a 20-year-old forward on the championship team. “It was a really close team.”
The right attitude
Manson was one of the final two pieces of Jodoin’s puzzle, along with assistant captain Simon Courcelles, another 20-year-old skater with an impressive pedigree. Courcelles won a Memorial Cup the previous season with the Quebec Remparts.
“Training camp had already started when I got traded,” Manson said. “I did one preseason game, I think, and that was it.
“But I know Simon came after me,” Manson continued starting to chuckle, “because originally, I had No. 9, and then Simon came in, and I was like, ‘You just won a Memorial Cup, you can have it.’”
“(Courcelles) brought his experience, he was a very good player,” Jodoin said. “But he was a down-to-earth person. He wasn’t the ‘big guy,’ you know? He was like everybody else, even though he was 20 years old.”
Every player had a role, even the 20-year-olds. Courcelles was a spark plug, a leader, and an incredible faceoff man. Manson was an imposing bruiser, provided important fourth-line minutes, and added a key goal here and there throughout the season, and even in the playoffs. And Pierre-Luc Faubert, the team’s third 20-year-old player, took a chance by returning to the Maineiacs after two years away, and turned into one of the team’s primary offensive threats.
And while most teams that make a run to a championship in the QMJHL are heavy with 19-year-old skaters, Lewiston had only seven, plus its three 20-year-olds.
Still, those in the know … knew.
“The scouts, before the season started, they were the ones saying, ‘Book your trips to Vancouver,’” McKnight recalled. “They knew it before we even dropped the puck, they were saying it all summer long.”
Even after a tougher-than-expected start to the season, Jodoin and his staff — coaches Ed Harding and Jeff Guay — never lost sight of the bigger picture, and never got down on the players.
“The big thing that I think many people couldn’t tell, in the locker room, they never doubted themselves,” Bourdon said. “They never felt like they were out of it. And Clem made sure they believed that.”
And that went beyond the hockey rink.
“I went to school with them, I went to see their teachers. I sat down with them in class,” Jodoin said. “I did everything like that. Hockey is a tool, it’s not an end. It’s a tool you can use. If you are drafted, good. If you are not drafted, you can still go to college. If you don’t go to school and you’re not drafted it’s still not the end. Use hockey as a tool and you’re always going to have some fun with it.”
In a vote of confidence, while other teams with title aspirations that season made trade deadline deals to bolster their lineups, the Maineiacs did something no other team had done: They did nothing.
“After Christmas, when the organization chose not to make any trades, they walked in and they told the boys, ‘We really like the group we have, we really didn’t see any reason to change the chemistry we have, and this is what we’re going with, and we think you guys can take us there,’” Bourdon said. “The players bought in. That was a big part of what happened the second half of the season.”
The players — and the staff — had plenty of fun to go around that season, and it’s left a lasting impression.
“I was amazed at how much our kids enjoyed playing there,” Just said. “They really did. They would tell me all the time, how nice everyone was to them there.”
Most of the players from that team remain in touch as often as time allows.
“I’m probably not as close to most of them as I wish I could have remained, that’s just part of growing up,” Ward said. “I do communicate with some of them from time to time. I’m sure we’d have anyone’s back if they were in need of of help of some sort.”
“Some guys made it to play professional hockey, which was great to see,” forward Jakub Bundil said. “Many others took the advantage of scholarships and continued to play university hockey. We try to stay in touch as much as we can.”
And it’s not just the players who’ve remained in contact with one another — though, like the players, many former staffers said they’re not in touch nearly enough.
As they gathered at Gipper’s, some told stories of where they are now. But most of the talk revolved around the 2006-07 season, and the memories they made during the team’s run to a title.
And they told them all with smiles on their faces.
Triston Manson holds the President’s Cup over his head after the Maineiacs swept the final round, finishing off Val D’Or 2-1.
Former members of the Lewiston Maineiacs’ front office and hockey staff gathered together recently at Gipper’s Sports Grill in Auburn. In the photo are Ernie Gagne, Jeff Guay, Marc Gosselin, Ron Morin, Dee Dee Record Allen, Jim Anderschat, Ben Levasseur, Jeff Mannix, Clem Jodoin and Chris Manson.