Quebec born players have been key pieces for the Twin City Thunder this season. From left to right: Nicolas Garneau, Zachary Desmarais, Nicolas Poirier, Etienne Crousle. RAM photography

 

AUBURN — The Twin City Thunder are represented by players from eight different states, two countries in Europe and four players from Quebec.

Those four Quebec players — Zachary Desmarais, Nicolas Garneau, Etienne Crouse and Nicolas Poirier — have each played a key part in the Thunder securing a playoff spot as the sixth seed in the New England Division playoffs/ They take on the No. 3 seed South Shore Kings starting Saturday in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Desmarais, of Drummondville, is the team’s leading scorer in the regular season. The 18-year-old forward had 27 goals and 29 assists in 43 games played. Garneau, another forward who hails from Blainville, joined the team midseason and tallied four goals and 14 assists in 21 games.

Crousle and Poirier are the team’s top two scoring defensemen — Crousle leading the way with seven goals and 29 assists in 44 games, while Poirier has five goals and 18 assists in 37 games.

Porier joking said that the four Quebecois were born and bred to be import piece on a playoff hockey team.

“I always say hockey is Canada’s game,” Poirier said with a chuckle. “That’s what I think. We have a great vision of hockey, we play hard and we brought our own vision up here.”

Joking aside, another reason they have been successful is their familiarity with each other. Garneau and Crousle played the past two years together at Kents Hill, where they were coached by Thunder head coach Doug Friedman. Desmarais and Poirier, meanwhile, played together two years ago at Ulysse Prep in Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan, Quebec.

“There’s a bunch of (teammates) that I have played with at Kents Hill or back home,” Crousle said. “Obviously, playing with Dougie was a great opportunity and playing two years already at Kents Hill, I knew what was getting into here.”

“I’ve played against Garneau for a couple years and Zach and (Poirier) played for the program I played for a year after me when I left for Kents Hill,” Crousle added.

There’s no replicating Quebec’s passion for hockey, but the four players have found a slice of home in the passion that the Auburn-Lewiston area has for the sport. They figured that would be the case since they had some familiarity with the area because of the Lewiston Maineiacs, who played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 2003-11.

“I kind of recognized it when I first heard about this place,” Desmarais said. “I knew of the Maineiacs so there’s a connection here. That kind of gave me the idea that this place would be a good hockey community, and it really is.”

Desmarais knows all about the QMJHL because Drummondville is the hometown of the Voltiguers. And Blainsville, where Poirier and Garneau hail from, is home to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

The power play has been important to the Thunder’s success this season, and Crousle said the power play is a big reason why Poirier and he have put the points up that they have.

Friedman believes those two players are the prototypical modern-day defensemen. These days,  defensemen need to be good skaters and move the puck out of their own end of the ice.

“Both of those guys do a good job in their one-on-one battles and their containment,” Friedman said. “They are good in the (defensive) zone and once they do get the puck, they do make quick plays. That’s a big one, we try to be a transition team. They are (good) defensemen, if they don’t have a play, they are moving their feet and gaining zones.”

Desmarais, the team’s leading scorer, said the transition from prep hockey to junior hockey went smoothly because he bought into what Friedman was teaching at the beginning of the season. Playing in a new country made doing so particularly important.

“It’s been different, definitely different, but it’s just hockey,” Desmarais said.

Friedman knew Desmarais had skill, but the forward blew the coach’s expectations out of the water.

“Coming in, we knew he would be offensive, we didn’t realize he would be our leading scorer,” Friedman said. “I think what exceeded more so is the way he carries himself off in the dressing room and around the guys. His defensive play is really a nice pleasant addition.”

Garneau, who joined the team in late November, has come on strong in in the final month of the season, tallying he has one goal and nine assists in the team’s final 10 games. Garneau credits Tristan Mock, who was acquired in late January, for his recent success.

“When Tristan (Mock) got here, I had a great connection with him and started to put points on the board,” Garneau said. “Then I started to feel confident and able to make plays and scoring chances.”

At the USPHL showcase in Foxboro last weekend, he was put on a line with Desmarais and Derric Trudeau and he continued to feel confident.

Desmarais said that confidence was noticable.

“We played together this weekend; he works really hard, great hands, great vision,” Desmarais said. “It makes it a lot easier for me to score goals or make plays.

“It’s great playing with them, same with (Poirier) and (Crousle), they are great hockey players, great defensemen. They move the puck out of the zone.”


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