Séries LHJMQ 2023 QMJHL Playoffs
00Jrs./Days -13Hrs. -18Mins. -14Secs.

Five teams to watch | The 2022-23 Victoriaville Tigres

Junior hockey can be unpredictable. For proof of this, look no further than the Victoriaville Tigres. After winning the President Cup in 2021, the club experienced the downturn usually associated with such success stories last campaign. A hard-working club that missed the 2022 postseason on the regular season’s final day, the Tigres are now back in the upper echelons of the Q with a team that, according to captain Maxime Pellerin, has developed an incredibly strong bond.

“I think at the start of the season, we had a better team than what people thought we would have,” Pellerin explains. “We started winning more and more games as the season progressed and started believing in ourselves. We’ve had really good team chemistry. That chemistry has helped us win a lot of games and helped us through some tough times. We’ve been very strong in all departments.”

Pellerin might be modest in his glowing description of how his team has come together. His club currently sits fifth overall in the league standings, capable of generating offence while remaining a defensive force. On special teams, it’s been a juggernaut, currently sitting second on the powerplay and first in penalty killing. And, ironically, much of this success has stemmed from a difficult 2021-22 season in which the staff behind the bench, led by Head Coach Carl Mallette, squeezed every ounce of ability from a developing club.

“Even though last year was really tough, Carl was very optimistic regarding us and our abilities,” Pellerin recalls. “He always believes in us. During practices, he pushed the pace and had us working smarter. He made us realize that if we worked smarter, we could accomplish things. I think missing the playoffs the way we did just pushed us to get better. We all put in the work during the off-season and took that experience with us. It built our character.”

Pellerin is a reflection of the team he leads. A first-round selection of the Tigres in 2019, the captain has already set new career bests with over 35 goals and 70 points this season. His ability to improve on critical aspects of his game has been one of the key factors in the Tigres’ turnaround.

“I think what changed is the fun I’ve had playing with the guys this season,” he notes. “It’s led to more confidence. I also worked out really hard last off-season to get stronger on my skates. I feel I’ve improved in winning puck battles and putting in the work in front of the net. I have to give credit to my linemate Tommy Cormier and Pier-Olivier Roy on defense, who is so strong at head manning the puck. I’m lucky to play with those guys.”

While Pellerin, Cormier and Roy form a nucleus that has helped the Tigres claw back to the top of the standings in rapid fashion, the team has also been augmented by key acquisitions during the holiday trade period. By adding defensemen Frederic Brunet and Francesco Iasenza, along with forward William Veillette into the lineup, Pellerin feels the club has filled some crucial holes.

“Brunet and Iasenza like to play a physical game, plus, Brunet has some real offensive skill,” Pellerin explains. “They bring a different dimension to our defense. Veillette brings depth to our attack. He works hard and is able to grind. Before Christmas, we had one top line that could produce. Now, we have two really good, solid lines producing for us. We’re harder to play against. Beyond this, I think those three guys bring a lot of leadership to the room, which is very important to us here in Victoriaville.”

The name of the game in Victoriaville remains chemistry and winning through experience, something that’s rare among teams two years removed from a championship at this level. But that experience, in Pellerin’s mind, might make all the difference as the postseason unfolds.

“It means a lot,” he says. “Veillette had his run with Shawinigan (last season). Roy and I lived it here. We know what it takes to win. It’s not necessarily the best team on paper. We need to develop something special between us, as a team, to win a cup. Sometimes in the playoffs, there are tough moments where you just can’t panic. Perhaps those of us with that experience will be able to settle the guys down and be able to play our best hockey this spring.”

If doable, their biggest reward will come by accepting the Gilles-Courteau Trophy in a few weeks’ time.

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