Jonathan Racine will forever remember May 27, 2012.
It was on that night he helped the Shawinigan Cataractes complete a truly remarkable run by defeating the London Knights 2-1 in overtime to capture the 2012 Memorial Cup in front of a noisy sellout crowd of 5,250 at the Centre Bionest.
“It was an unbelievable feeling to win the Memorial Cup in front of our fans,” said Racine, who’s now a defenceman with the Moncton Wildcats. “They never won anything in 43 years in Shawinigan. The people there waited a long time for their first championship so I was really happy for them.
“It’s the toughest trophy in hockey to win. To win it on home ice in front of our fans, it was an incredible experience.”
Moncton acquired Racine, goaltender Alex Dubeau and left winger Yannick Veilleux from Shawinigan this summer. They were part of the blockbuster deal that sent defenceman Brandon Gormley to the Cataractes midway through last season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The deal worked out perfectly for the Cataractes as Gormley contributed heavily in helping them capture the 2012 Memorial Cup. Now, it’s the Wildcats turn to benefit with the arrival of three impact veterans who should help them become one of the league’s top championship contenders this season.
“The Memorial Cup is arguably the toughest trophy to win in hockey,” said Moncton head coach and director of hockey operations Danny Flynn. “They were fortunate to achieve that in Shawinigan. They had a unique season of highs and lows. There was a great deal of pressure on them being the Memorial Cup host team.
“They lost in the second round of the playoffs and had a one-month break before the Memorial Cup. They lost the opening game of the Memorial Cup and their fans booed them off the ice. Then one week later they were celebrating winning the national championship. Shawinigan was given a second chance and they took advantage of it.
“Alex Dubeau, Jonathan Racine and Yannick Veilleux obviously grew both as people and players by going through that experience there. They’re going to bring so much to our team both on the ice and in terms of leadership. If we’re going to have success this season, I think they’re going to have to be an important part of it.”
Racine reflected on the roller coaster ride in Shawinigan last season.
Our fans expected a lot from us and we didn’t play up to our potential in the playoffs,” he said. “We did a month of hard practices after losing in the second round. We were the underdog going into the Memorial cup, but we knew in our hearts that we had a great team that could surprise people.”
Racine, 19, is a fourth-year veteran who was a top three defenceman in Shawinigan last season. The 6-foot-2, 189-pound youngster was claimed in the first round, eighth overall, in the 2009 QMJHL draft and although he’s not flashy he’s very effective.
He had 13 points, including three goals, in 61 games last season. The Florida Panthers took him in the third round in the 2011 National Hockey League draft.
“I think he would be regarded by a lot of people as one of the premier defensive defencemen in the league,” said Flynn. “He was very important for Shawinigan in that shutdown role against the opposition’s top lines. He’s one of the most physical defencemen in the league for sure.
“In Shawinigan, he played behind Brandon Gormley and Morgan Ellis in a lot of offensive situations in the second half last season. We’re going to give him more of an opportunity to play an offensive role and I think he will respond to that.”
The Gormley trade to Shawinigan was completed when Moncton acquired Racine, Dubeau and Veilleux in June.
“Gormley was a big part of us winning the Memorial Cup,” said Racine. “He called me after it was announced that I was going to Moncton. He told me lots of good things about Moncton and the Wildcats organization. I was looking forward to coming here.
“I spent three seasons in Shawinigan and I had a great time there. Now, this is a change for me and I’m enjoying it. It’s another type of atmoshpere in the Maritimes. The guys on the team are together all the time and we do lots of activities together away from hockey. It’s a family atmosphere. It’s fun.”
“Racine talked about last season’s experience in Shawinigan and how it helped him develop as a player. He believes that he gained more poise as a result of playing in so many games where the stakes were high.
“I learned to play in pressure situations,” he said. “I think it helped me be more calm. I played with great players and against the best teams in the country so that forced me to bring my game to a higher level. I gained a lot of maturity last season.
“I’m trying to bring what I learned in Shawinigan with me to Moncton. We have the same goal here of winning the Memorial Cup. I feel fortunate that I came to another good team that has a chance to win a championship.”
Racine compares himself to Willie Mitchell of the Los Angeles Kings.
“He’s a good defensive defenceman, he plays aggressive and he makes a good first pass,” he said. “That’s my style of play. I’m a physical defenceman and I take pride in my defensive play. I’m used to playing against first lines.”