Thibeau taking in Memorial Cup, prepping for 2022/23

The Memorial Cup represents the end of the Canadian Hockey League season, where a new national champion is crowned.

But there numerous teams represented at the tournament whose clubs are not participating.

Moncton Wildcats Director of Hockey Operations Ritchie Thibeau was among the thousands of spectators taking in the opening night of action Monday between the host Saint John Sea Dogs and Hamilton Bulldogs.

He said there’s still a lot of work to do as next season starts to take shape.

“We’re looking at players on some of the teams that are here with Shawinigan and Saint John and there’s also an opportunity to talk to some colleagues over different files we may have been working on for trades or anything to do with the draft,” Thibeau said. “And meet a lot of agents that are here. So, it’s still a hockey setting, a lot of contacts and discussions to be had.”

Thibeau said it’s important to get a closer look at how the participating teams have been constructed, including where and how they got their players and the types of players that are key contributors to their success.

“You put that in the back of your mind as you’re building your team and then try to identify some players that fit those types of roles,” Thibeau said. “You take that all into the process of building your own team.”

Head Coach Dan Lacroix also took in Monday’s game, as did a pair of Moncton-area Wildcats players: Alexis Daniel and Preston Lounsbury.

Thibeau said he wanted to give all of them exposure to the Memorial Cup, the atmosphere and the types of teams and players that get there.

Lounsbury, a Wildcats fourth-round pick in 2021, played eight games for Moncton this season. He spent the majority of the year with the Moncton U18 Flyers, which won the Telus Cup as national U18 champions in May.

“I told Preston, ‘You just won one. Here’s the next one. Let’s go!’” Thibeau laughed. “He was pretty excited when I called him this morning and said, ‘Hey let’s go to Mem Cup.’ He was, on a moment’s notice, ready and raring to go because he knows this is where he wants to be down the road and this is the next thing in his evolution that he wants to win.”

Thibeau said, while he’s conducting plenty of business while in Saint John, he’s also enjoying the game action as a fan.

“It’s the pinnacle of our sport in the CHL,” Thibeau said. “Everyone wants to be here. There’s a different buzz in the building. We’ve spent some time in this building over the last few years, but the atmosphere here (Monday) is definitely different than for a regular game because of the Memorial Cup.”

Next season’s roster could begin coming into focus in the next two weeks. The CHL Import Draft is scheduled for July 1, while the QMJHL Entry Draft will be held virtually on July 4-5.

Thibeau said his phone is ringing constantly.

“We’re fielding lots of calls,” he stated. “Whether it be from agents about players or dealing with interviews every night, interviewing players for the draft, working with other general managers around the league. There’s many different files. We have a number of free agent files we’re working on and hopefully we’ll have something to report there when we’re able to sign folks in July. So, on all fronts – we’ve got the CHL Draft, free agents that we’re working on and getting ready for camp on August 15.”

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