LEWISTON – The chants were deafening as the Lewiston Maineiacs arrived home from Val-d’Or at nearly midnight last Thursday.

“U-S-A, U-S-A,” the crown chanted.

The gathered masses were proud that the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s President’s Trophy had for the first time been carried by a team across the international border the United States shares with Canada.

But the players are almost all Canadian.

Only Chris Tutalo from Roscoe, N.Y., and Tom Michalik, from Andover, Mass. are U.S.-born players. Fifteen others come from Quebec, four from Nova Scotia and one from New Brunswick. There are as many Maineiacs from Slovakia – Michal Korenko and Jakub Bundil – as there are from the United States.

“Still,” Maineiacs head coach Clem Jodoin said, “we are based in the States, we play in the States, we skate in the States, we are representing the States.”

Lewiston is the second city south of the border to have a QMJHL franchise, but the first to survive beyond 17 games.

In 1984, the Plattsburgh Pioneers began play without the benefit of an expansion draft, and used a smattering of American players who hadn’t made the cut at several NCAA institutions. The team folded after playing only 17 games in 1984, with a final record of 0-16-1. Games played against the Pioneers were not counted in the QMJHL standings that season, and the team no longer appears in any QMJHL archives.

Elsewhere, American teams have flourished for better than two decades. The Western Hockey League has five U.S.-based teams – Portland, Spokane, Tri-City, Seattle and Everett, while the Ontario Hockey League has three – Plymouth, Erie and Saginaw.

“We’re very proud of our history,” Portland general manager Ken Hodge, a former Boston Bruin who was involved with both victories, told the Daily Courier of Kelowna, British Columbia..

In 1983, when Portland beat Oshawa 8-3 in the final, he was the head coach; 15 seasons later, he was the GM when the Hawks defeated Guelph 4-3 in overtime for the Cup. Hodge also coached the ’82 Hawks, the first U.S. team to reach the Memorial Cup.

In 1991, Spokane became the only American team to win the Cup on Canadian soil with a dominating performance in Quebec City, Quebec.

“Our first game there, they were so unprepared,” Chiefs GM Tim Speltz told the Daily Courier, recalling tournament organizers didn’t even have the Star Spangled Banner at the outset, something that was quickly corrected.

This year, there was a chance for another first. The Everett Silvertips were the favorites heading into the WHL’s playoffs, but suffered a second-round upset. With Plymouth and Lewiston, Everett would have made three U.S.-based teams in the tournament for the first time.

Instead, for the second time, there are two.

“Everett is today what Spokane and Portland and Seattle were in the 1990s,” Kelowna Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton told the Daily Courier. The Rockets began life in 1991 in Tacoma, Wash., and played there for four seasons.

“We saw expansion as a way to help the league, and when we joined, (the American teams) were strong,” Hamilton continued. “Today, there are more U.S. teams in the WHL (5) than there are in the OHL (3) and QMJHL (1).”

Plymouth has cornered the market on American players in this year’s tournament. While Lewiston has just two American-born players, Medicine Hat has none, and Vancouver has three.

The Whalers have seven, partly because of their location among a hotbed of hockey talent outside of Detroit.

Regardless of where each player was born, and where each franchise is based, the goal is the same. Plymouth and Lewiston are looking carry the Cup through customs for just the fourth time. Vancouver and Medicine Hat would prefer it to stay north or the border.

“We are a team that has paid our dues together,” Jodoin said. “We are a team of players who are all away from home, who have found a nest together in Lewiston. We are a part of the league. We represent the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, we represent all of Eastern Canada, we represent New England , we represent Maine and the Lewiston-Auburn area. We have a lot of responsibility on our shoulders now, so we have to go to the Memorial Cup and we have to perform together, like we have all season.”


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