(Saint-Hyacinthe) A lot of water has flowed from the Yamaska ​​River, which runs through the city of Saint-Hyacinthe, since sports-loving Maskoutains took steps in the fall of 2017 to attract a national midget hockey tournament, then called the Telus Cup. The culmination of their efforts will come on Monday.

From April 24 to 30, the Louis-Philippe-Gaucher stadium will live to the rhythm of the National Men’s U18 Championship. Six teams will participate, from five major regions of the country.

Quebec will have two clubs, the Gaulois de Saint-Hyacinthe, whose presence was assured as the host team, and the Blizzard du Séminaire Saint-François, from the Quebec City region.

The Blizzard earned their ticket by virtue of their participation in the Grand Final of the Ligue U18 AAA, which they however lost 5-2 at the hands of the Gauls on April 9th.

The tournament is demanding. The six teams will play every day in the preliminary round, from April 24-28. The four semi-finalists will have played seven games in as many days by the end of the competition.

A few days before the start of hostilities, the members of the organizing committee are looking forward to the first face-off, Monday at noon.

You have to understand them; they have been waiting for it for about three years. Because this tournament was to take place at the same time of the year… in 2020, and the Gauls were also to participate as host club.

“On March 9, 2020, we were ready. It was the final press conference. The tournament was scheduled to start on April 20. Our funding was in place. We all had our sponsors. We had over 200 volunteers. The only question mark for us was the performance that our team was going to deliver, “says Jean Bédard, who, at the time, was president of the Gauls and also of the tournament’s organizing committee, two positions that it still occupies today.

Bédard and his acolytes, however, were not prepared for a health disaster that would force the interruption of sporting and cultural events, for an indefinite period, all over the planet.

COVID-19 officially took hold in the North American landscape some 48 hours after the press conference. On March 12, Hockey Canada canceled all of its national tournaments, including the Telus Cup, until further notice.

Developments related to the coronavirus have forced Bédard to direct his thoughts and actions towards the management of the restaurants he owns.

“Honestly, I’ve been almost a year and a half without thinking about that for a second,” says Bédard of the Telus Cup.

“I got caught in the ‘fire’ of restaurants. For sure, the Telus Cup was like the least of my worries,” he admits.

“I had time to think about it,” adds without malice Jean-Claude Ladouceur, general manager of the organizing committee and longtime acolyte of Bédard.

“The first few days was like, yeah… After that, I had a little depression,” he confesses.

“He fell low,” confirms Bédard.

“We were ‘high’. You do not live the event when you have done all this work for three years. We were ready. Everyone,” adds Ladouceur to describe all the disappointment that has been inside him.

Second chance

Also canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic, the Telus Cup came back to life with a tournament held in Okotoks, Alberta in May 2022.

At the same time, Hockey Canada announced that the city of Saint-Hyacinthe would host the event in April 2023.

Bédard and Ladouceur have restarted the machine. The exercise was not easy.

First, the organizers quickly realized that the financial picture of the event would not be the same as in 2020.

“We have about $75,000 more spending on accommodations, meals and transportation,” notes Bédard.

“That $75,000 is based much more on arena admissions. There have to be people in the arena to balance our budget. »

The other job of Bédard and Ladouceur was to bring the volunteers back into the fold. Most have returned, but some in key positions have chosen to pass.

“To leave all that, it was heavy for some”, underlines Ladouceur.

Some aspects, however, militated in favor of the organizing committee.

First, the major improvement work underway at the L.-P.-Gaucher stadium, an enclosure inaugurated in 1938.

There was also the assured presence of a quality host team made up of a certain number of local skaters and, finally, the need to hold a unifying event in the city, according to Simon Desautels, educational advisor with the Gauls and director hockey operations of the event.

“Since the 2005 Quebec Winter Games, there had been nothing in Saint-Hyacinthe. Also, we knew that we would have a good team and a locomotive in Caleb (Desnoyers), “says Desautels, speaking of a 16-year-old center player who is one of the best prospects for the next draft of the QMJHL.

“The arena is another positive aspect. The locker rooms have been changed, the bands and the bay windows have been changed, the sound system, the lighting. The arena is in better condition. After the tournament, we will bequeath something to the City,” adds Desautels.

“Above all, we wanted to make the tournament for young people”, launch, in unison, the three members of the organizing committee.

After all these adventures, the tournament will take place under the honorary presidency of Bruno Gervais, a former Gaul and NHL defender, now an analyst at RDS.

It’s a role he gladly accepted for 2020 and is happy to fill three years later.

“When I was asked, I didn’t even hesitate, because the Gauls are close to my heart and because the organization of the tournament relies on quality people”, underlines Gervais.

“Jean-Claude Ladouceur is the Wayne Gretzky of creating an event. He makes everyone around him better. Jean Bédard is an Eric Lindros, he is a Scott Stevens. When he has a problem to solve, he comes, he goes and he solves it! And the team of volunteers is amazing. »