A year ago, Antoine Houde-Caron, Olivier Dame-Malka and Nick Champion were scattered across Eastern Canada. None of the three skaters had ever played for the Lewiston Maineiacs, and had been to Lewiston only as visitors with their respective hockey teams.
Now, all three are lamenting leaving the town and the team that embraced them in their final year of junior hockey.
“I had a really good experience here, it was the best season of my junior hockey career,” Dame-Malka said. “From the coaches to the boys, everything was perfect.”
Each of the players brought something different to the table. Dame-Malka was added in the offseason to add toughness and some offensive flair to the Maineiacs’ blue line.
“(Dame-Malka) is an interesting character,” Lewiston coach J.F. Houle said. “He had his times, at times he was undisciplined. I’ve had many meetings with him. And every time, he’d look you in the eye and he’d want to better himself. He was always a good listener.
“He really impressed me with his shot, and his ability to skate and brush off people,” Houle added. “He was a big key for us. At defense, we needed somebody like that.”
Dame-Malka finished the season with 16 goals and 39 assists for 55 points, and added nine goals and 10 assists in 15 playoff games.
“A few NHL teams have called, so that’s nice,” Dame-Malka said. “Hopefully I can get into a good camp this summer and prove to the team I go to what I can do and hopefully play in the AHL next year.”
Houde-Caron was solid on defense, as well, but from a forward position. His ability to read plays, and to lead in the locker room, made him a valuable addition to the squad.
“He has some speed and his defensive play was great,” Houle said. “He chipped in on offense, but he did his job, he knew his role. Sometimes, as a 20-year-old, it’s not easy accepting this role. but I thought he did a great job at that.”
Houde-Caron’s trade from Shawinigan to Lewiston was a welcome change, he said.
“When I knew I was coming here … I was happy, because I knew this team would be good this year and next year,” Houde-Caron said. “I’m pretty happy, the way things went this year.”
Going forward, Houde-Caron said he is looking forward to testing the minor-pro hockey ranks before making a decision about his education.
“He was a leader,” Houle said. “He was vocal in the locker room, and we used him in the right capacity, I believe. he was very good for this team in a lot of ways.”
Champion began the season with a mandate to help lead other young goalies by example. All he did along the way was lead the QMJHL in wins for a large part of the season.
“We did not envision using him that much,” Houle said. “We wanted to use him, but we wanted to make sure we developed (Andrey) Makarov. But he had some bad luck with injuries, so we were forced to use Champion a little bit more. All in all, he delivered.”
Champion was happy, too.
“Overall, I’m pretty happy with how everything went, and I wouldn’t have changed anything this year,” Champion said. “I try to lead as an example on the ice, just to show the younger guys how to get through the practices, how to manage different situations in the game. I think it’s important to have someone to look up to. I know it was something I enjoyed when I was younger, and I hope I was able to do that for these guys, at least.”