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BLOG: Rebuilding with experience

 

The Val d’Or Foreurs have one of the youngest teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season, with 11 of the 24 players on their roster aged 17 or younger.

What they lack in experience on the ice, though, they make up for behind the bench with the one of the winningest coaches in league history.

Current bench boss Mario Durocher made his coaching debut in the QMJHL over 20 years ago, and is on the verge of joining some pretty elite company. Entering action on December 11, Durocher was just two wins away from 500 career QMJHL regular season victories.

Only three other coaches, Richard Martel (589), Guy Chouinard (569) and Real Paiement (541) have reached that plateau.  And with 498 wins in 941 games behind the bench, Durocher has the best winning percentage among all four.

“I’m still here,” he chuckled while visiting a familiar building last week, the K. C. Irving Regional Centre in Bathurst, where he coached from 2004 to 2006. “Everywhere I went was a good experience,” he added.  “People are nice here and they enjoy their hockey.  I have good memories [from] everywhere I went, and Bathurst is one of those places.”

Durocher began his Major Junior coaching career with Sherbrooke, when he stepped behind the bench for one game during the 1993-94 season.  Since then, he has gone on to coach Victoriaville, Sherbrooke again, Lewiston, Acadie-Bathurst, Cape Breton, and Val d’Or. To nobody’s surprise, he leads all active coaches in games coached and in wins.

As a matter of fact, when the Foreurs hit the ice to play the Halifax Mooseheads last Friday, Durocher moved past Gaston Drapeau into sole possession of fourth place in games coached in QMJHL history. Again, he trails only Martel (1,171), Chouinard (1,121) and Paiement (1,101) in that department.

His 140 playoff games coached is also fourth in league history, behind the names of Benoit Groulx (166), Chouinard (153) and Paiement (150). His résumé also includes a pair of President’s Cup wins, with Victoriaville in 2002 and more recently with Val d’Or, in 2014.

With that many games under his belt, Durocher has been at the helm of a lot of different types of teams during his career. This year, Val d’Or is rebuilding with youth and nearly half of the players Durocher is coaching weren’t even born when he started his first full season behind a QMJHL bench, back in 2000-2001 with the Victoriaville Tigres.

A few weeks back, for example, the Foreurs had 10 rookies in their lineup against Bathurst – including six players who have yet to celebrate their 17th birthdays. “[Being] so young makes a difference in your team,” said Durocher, pointing out that a 68-game season is quite a jump from Midget AAA for rookies.

As rewarding as it is to help young players develop, it also comes with its own set of challenges.

“Travelling is also a big thing,” said Durocher.  “We are lucky that we fly to the Maritimes, but we are the only team doing that. They are kids, they are going to school.  We are close to exams, and we are close to Christmas, so there is a lot of stuff going on right now.  It is not easy.”

Despite those challenges, Durocher is happy with the way his team is playing. “If you look at the game [against Acadie-Bathurst] it was 1-1 after two periods,” said Durocher, of the 5-1 Titan win. “We were there, but it was experience that made the difference at the end.”

And for Val-d’Or’s young players, they are gaining that experience from one of the best to ever step behind a QMJHL bench.

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