He left Lewiston in tears.

The first big piece in the Maineiacs’ master plan to rebuild their on-ice product, the team traded hulking defenseman and New Jersey Devils draft pick Eric Gelinas to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles at the midseason deadline a season ago. The Eagles immediately flipped him to Chicoutimi as part of an ill-fated run at a league title.

Ultimately, that trade laid the foundation for others that turned into Lewiston’s ability to draft first overall in last summer’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft, and along the way acquire other key components to this year’s third-round playoff squad.

But at the time, the 18-year-old Gelinas wasn’t thinking about any of that.

The only hockey home he’d known in the QMJHL, his home away from home for two-and-a-half seasons and a town — and team — to which he had become attached moved in a different direction. It hurt. And it showed.

But after a pair of half-seasons during which Gelinas was the main defensive force for the Sagueneens, trade winds blew Gelinas’ way again.

This time, there were no qualms about his destination. After enduring a rough season with the 16th-place Maineiacs as a 17-year-old, an even rougher start to his 18-year-old campaign with the Lewiston squad and then a pair of mediocre half-seasons with the Sags, Gelinas was on his way to the top-rated team in all of Canada.

“In my position, being a 19-year-old and pretty much in my last year of juniors, being on the No. 1 team in Canada is the best opportunity for a guy like me,” Gelinas said. “I was really happy to be traded to Saint John. I enjoy being here.”

Now a fixture on the blue line for the Saint John Sea Dogs, the 19-year-old, highly-touted NHL prospect will have a chance to square off against the team that set him on his initial path in major junior hockey as the Sea Dogs will face off against Lewiston in the teams’ third-round, best-of-seven playoff series beginning Friday.

“I think it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be a good series for sure,” Gelinas said. “For me personally, it’s going to be a little bit of a challenge to try to beat my old teammates and my old team. It’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be fun.

“I think it’s going to be weird at first, when it starts,” he continued. “I know a lot of guys on the team still, I played there for two-and-a-half years. But I’m used to (the Colisee) and I’m used to the rink in Saint John, so that won’t be much of a problem.”

Even at 16 on a Maineiacs team fresh off a President’s Cup championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup, Gelinas stood out. Tall and lanky, he learned to use his size to his advantage early, and worked hard on his offensive skill set for a team that won 37 games. NHL scouts began to take notice.

The following season, despite an overall tough year for the team, Gelinas’ draft stock climbed. The Devils selected him in the second round, 54th overall, in 2009.

Being one of the top defensemen with the Maineiacs — and eventually the Sagueneens — Gelinas always felt he had to not only play solid defense, but be a major offensive contributor from the point, as well.

Since his trade to Saint John, he’s settled into more of a defensive role.

And he’s loving it.

“In Lewiston and in Chicoutimi, I think I was more the offensive defenseman on the team,” Gelinas said. “Being on a team like Saint John, with Simon Despres and (Nathan) Beaulieu, my role has changed a bit. I don’t need to force anything offensively. I need to be a more physical type of player, play a more simple game and help the team as much as I can.”

While he admitted facing Lewiston won’t be the most comfortable feeling, he’s not kidding himself about his — and his team’s — ultimate goal.

“The guys, early in the season, they said they wanted to dominate again this year, they want to win it this year, and that’s pretty much what we focus on,” Gelinas said. “We want to work toward winning the President’s Cup and the Memorial Cup, too.”


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