Friday night, a new banner will be raised into the rafters of the Robert-Guertin Centre, one honouring Martin Ménard’s #25.
This honour is one that has been entirely earned by a player who, in 1993, was ignored in the Entry Draft by the 13 teams in the QMJHL at the time. It’s always interesting to note that 155 players were picked ahead of him in the Draft, and yet he remains the 66th highest scorer in QMJHL history. We often say this, but here’s to more proof that recruitment is far from being a perfect science.
Martin Ménard has written history with the Gatineau/Hull Olympiques. To this day, he remains the club’s second-highest scoring player with 378 points in 194 games. Only Luc Robitaille has done better for the Outaouais squad. He also belongs to a select group of 28 players who have recorded three 100-point or more seasons in the Q.
The Hull native owes his success with the Olympiques to the man currently at the helm of the Montreal Canadiens, Claude Julien. In June 1993, after a more than interesting Midget AAA season spent with the Abitibi-Témiscamingue Forestiers where he put up 45 points in 39 games, the small forward was ignored by every QMJHL team in the Draft, including his hometown Olympiques.
Ménard then decided to test his luck across the river with the Ottawa Senators (of the Ontario Junior Hockey League), who were led by Claude Julien. Ménard had a standout season, amassing 98 points in 57 games. After receiving offers from numerous American university programs, Ménard then received a call from Julien, who had just been hired as an assistant coach with the Olympiques for the 1994-95 season. Julien invited him to the major junior team’s training camp in August 1994.
Just before playing his first preseason game in Val-d’Or, Ménard was still unsure of his future: QMJHL or NCAA? The young man, just 18 at the time, finally settled on staying in Quebec and taking the QMJHL path, much like his good friend and ex-teammate in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Daniel Brière, did with the Drummondville Voltigeurs.
The years to come would make history. With Pavel Rosa, Peter Worrell, Jonathan Delisle, Christian Dubé and company, the Olympiques had three outstanding seasons. The first two under the guidance of Robert Mongrain, where they’d grab hold of the President’s Cup in 1995, and one final year under the supervision of Claude Julien. That year, Julien’s Olympiques swept everything in their path before winning the Memorial Cup on May 18, 1997, beating out the Lethbridge Hurricanes at home, in Hull.
Ménard concluded his time at the major junior level by being selected to the Memorial Cup tournament’s all-star team, after putting up seven goals in four games. Only Dale Hawerchuk and Luc Robitaille have performed better as QMJHL athletes during the national championship, each scoring eight goals. That being said, these two players had the opportunity to play in five games, one more than Ménard’s four in 1997.
Ménard then made the jump to professional hockey the following year, joining the Rochester Americans of the AHL where he had some success. However, he played during an era where players of his size did not necessarily have what it took to make it at the professional level, and so he moved on. Making the trip overseas, Ménard found himself playing out the next season in Germany.
After two more years spent in the American professional minor leagues, he decided to hang up his skates. For the past 20 years, he’s been an employee of Coca-Cola in the Outaouais region, married, with two young daughters. And, as always, he’s remained a loyal fan of the Gatineau Olympiques.
Friday night, his number 25 jersey will join Maxime Talbot’s and ten other former players in the rafters of the Robert-Guertin Centre. Talbot also brought honour to number 25, wearing it during his time with the Olympiques from 2000 through 2004.
In the current era, a player like Martin Ménard probably would have made it to the NHL. With the Canadiens, we speak of the rise of Cole Caufield nowadays. Ménard was exactly that kind of smaller player who had the touch of a prolific scorer, born maybe 20 years too soon.
That being said, Ménard is very happy with the junior career he had and most of all, is excited to see that his former team has not forgotten about him. He’s a great example and proves, once again, that being passed over in the QMJHL Entry Draft is far from being the end of the road.
*A text by Stéphane Leroux