The 18 prospects selected in the first round of the QMJHL Draft on Saturday each took their turn walking onto the big stage in Shawinigan. Complete with a red carpet, music, projectors and cameras, the scene made these 15 and 16-year-old teens feel like absolute rock stars in front a crowd of over 4,000 spectators in the stands at Centre Gervais Auto. By their side were 18 QMJHL greats who got to relive some of the greatest moments of their careers.
Sean Couturier (ex-forward with the Drummondville Voltigeurs but representing the Acadie-Bathurst Titan as one of the team owners), Danny Groulx (Victoriaville Tigres), Thomas Chabot (Saint John Sea Dogs), Mathieu Dandenault (Sherbrooke Phoenix), Antoine Roussel (Chicoutimi Saguenéens) and Steve Bégin (Val-d’Or Foreurs) were among the few dozen players who were on hand in Shawinigan. Others like Anthony Beauvillier and Kristopher Letang were also in attendance as part of other promotional events surrounding the QMJHL’s 50th Anniversary.
“What a great day! I got to walk up on stage three times with the Foreurs as they picked their players,” said Bégin. “Mr. Courteau jokingly asked me if seeing the packed arena was like back in my days. I told him maybe in my NHL days! This Draft was terrific, it’s just like when I was selected into the NHL.”
“This is really an experience of a lifetime for many of these kids”, added Bégin, who took countless photos with the Foreurs’ newest players.
More emotional than by phone!
Shawinigan native and former NHLer Martin Gélinas is currently an assistant coach with the Calgary Flames after previously being a scout with the Nashville Predators. His career in hockey has taken him all over the world and across the country; and he is quick to admit that Quebec knows how to do things differently.
“Back in Alberta, all junior drafts are simply handled by phone. Teams call the agents or the player to confirm where and when the player has been selected. Here, there is a direct and spontaneous contact. You can see the joy in the eyes of these young players and their families when they are picked. To me, this is a priceless day”, admitted Gélinas.
Gélinas is a big part of the history of the formally Hull now Gatineau Olympiques. He was proudly wearing his familiar jersey at the draft on Saturday.
“When the Olympiques asked me to come and be a part of their draft table, I immediately said yes. This trip also gave me a chance to come visit my parents and meet these young players who will join the team in the coming months,” said Gelinas.
The same goes for Bégin, who was thrilled to be on hand.
“Val-d’Or will always hold a special place for me. We won the President’s Cup and I met my future wife there. I have nothing but great memories of that town and the organization. Junior hockey represents a time when you move from your teenage years to adulthood. It is a very important time of your life and the people in Val-d’Or made it an exceptional experience for me. I will always be more than happy to give back to the organization with every chance I get.”