Sixteen years ago, Dan Lacroix was an assistant coach for the Moncton Wildcats when the team won the 2006 QMJHL President Cup and hosted the Memorial Cup.
Now, as head coach, he’s taking in the 2022 Memorial Cup tournament in Saint John from the seats.
He’s also taking notes.
“Not a lot has changed,” Lacroix said, comparing the two experiences. “There’s really good hockey in all three leagues. There’s great parity.”
The game has also improved, he said.
“Teams are very detailed now,” Lacroix started. “Their staffs are extensive. A lot of junior experience, a lot of NHL experience when you look behind the bench of these teams. And it’s great hockey and a great experience. The hockey’s faster, the players are getting bigger. It’s great hockey.”
There has been a visible Wildcats presence at this year’s tournament, including coaches, managers and current players.
“For me, it’s a great opportunity to look at what’s being done elsewhere, look at the makeup of championship teams, see how the different leagues interact, how they play against each other,” Lacroix said prior to Wednesday’s round-robin matchup between the Sea Dogs and Edmonton Oil Kings. “Obviously, this is where we want to be, and for us to move forward, we’ve got to look up. And those are the tops teams in the country.”
Lacroix believes the host club may have an advantage this year. He said the Sea Dogs are healthy and fresh, having not played for more than a month before the tournament began.
“The other thing they do have going for them is that they’ve got a little bit of a home-crowd advantage,” he said. “They’re playing in front of their home fans and that’s obviously a good advantage to have and I’m sure with a new coach coming in that that reenergized the team also. So we’ll see how they do.”
But Lacroix will be analyzing more than just the results of the games. He said he’s looking at how the teams are built and what lessons can be learned as the Wildcats seek to assemble their next championship lineup.
“As far as I’m concerned, I also look at how the teams are going to play, what they do systems-wise,” Lacroix said. “It’s one thing to get to this tournament, but you also need to be healthy. There are a lot of things that need to go in your favour for you to win. These are all extremely important details and, in order to get there, all this information could be valuable, hopefully, in the near future for us.”
Lacroix watched Monday’s tournament-opening game with players Alexis Daniel and Preston Lounsbury. Lacroix echoed sentiments from Director of Hockey Operations Ritchie Thibeau, saying he hoped it would be helpful to expose the players to a key goal for all major junior hockey clubs.
“I was looking at guys that might be local, and obviously (playing in the Memorial Cup) is what we want and what we’d like to be,” Lacroix began. “So to have these guys witness it and watch it live – and not just on TV – but take it all in because the Memorial Cup is a great tournament. I was lucky enough to be part of it one time. What surrounds it and the people that make junior hockey work – you see all facets of that in this week and it’s a great celebration of junior hockey.”