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Avs Prospects, Huskies Have Special Connection

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies didn't just beat up on the competition this past year, they steamrolled them en route to a President Cup championship.

Now, the best team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will look to win another title as it begins the Memorial Cup tournament this weekend in Red Deer, Alberta, against three other top clubs in the Canadian Hockey League.

"We're not here as tourists," said Colorado Avalanche prospect JC Beaudin, a forward for Rouyn-Noranda, about getting to the Memorial Cup. "We want to win. We want to make a great impression. We're ready."

  Julien Nantel was the Avalanche's seventh-round draft pick in 2014.

The Avalanche organization is well-represented on the QMJHL champs with forward prospects Beaudin, AJ Greer and Julien Nantel all playing key roles in squad's success. Beaudin had a career-high 82 points (33 goals and 49 assists) in 58 games, Nantel picked up 46 points (22 goals and 24 assists) in 52 contests and Greer, who joined the team midseason, had 27 points (16 goals and 11 assists) in 33 outings.

It's rare that three players drafted from one NHL team is on the same junior club, so it is no surprise that the three Avs prospects get along with each other. However, the entire team shares a special connection.

"We have a big chemistry," Beaudin said. "Not just the three of us, the whole team is very close. It was a big experience to win the President Cup at home for our fans that have waited 20 years.

"We're 23 brothers, and we fight for each other. That's what we saw in the final and all throughout the playoffs."

Greer, who was the No. 39 overall draft pick by Colorado in 2015, joined Rouyn-Noranda in December after leaving Boston University and was quickly immersed into that strong team bond.

"The guys did such a great job for making my transition so easy, bringing me in, making it feel like home," Greer said. "We took it one game at a time. We didn't think about the Memorial Cup or the playoffs and just focused on winning the regular season and taking it one game at a time."

The team's attention is now on the Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights, the Western Hockey League champion Brandon Wheat Kings and the host Red Deer Rebels, who are no slouches themselves as the WHL's second team at the Memorial Cup made it to the league's Eastern Conference Final before losing to Brandon.

The next three games will be a new experience for the Huskies, as they'll play three teams that they've never seen before in a round robin.

"We looked at their games, but at the same time we just want to play our game," Beaudin said. "We want to have a mentality that they need to adjust to us. We'll play our game and see how it goes."

JC Beaudin finished third on the team in scoring with 82 points.

Greer noted that the Rouyn-Noranda coaches have done a good job of preparing the club all season, while still allowing the players to do what they do best. That trend has continued in Red Deer.

"Our coaches do an amazing job of pre-scouting the teams, whether it is videos from their games or just looking at their systems, what they practice. They do a great job in that," Greer said. "Basically, bringing that same mentality and intensity to each game that we did the whole season. Nothing is going to change."

The bullseye will once again be on Rouyn-Noranda's back, just as it was all season.

There was little doubt that the Huskies were the best team in Canada's entire major-junior ranks during the year. Each time an opposing club tried to topple Rouyn-Noranda's position atop the standings, the Huskies bite back.

Val-d'Or and Gatineau got close, but they were no match to chase down Rouyn-Noranda, which ranked as the No. 1 team in the BMO Canadian Hockey League's Top-10 Rankings for the final 25 weeks of the regular season. The Huskies only lost nine games in regulation all year, finishing with a 54-9-5 mark and running away with the regular-season title after winning their final 14 contests.

In the playoffs, Rouyn-Noranda picked up four more victories in a first-round sweep of Drummondville before it finally lost in the first game of the quarterfinals to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. It was the team's first defeat in nearly two months.

The Huskies went on to win the next four outings against the Armada and only lost three more times en route to the team's first championship in its 20-year in the Western Quebec city.

"We knew we had to win," Beaudin said of the QMJHL playoffs. "We had all the pressure, but we didn't think about it. We just focused on our game. Our coaches did a great job on that. They just told us to focus on what we can control or what we can do. That's what we did, and it turned out to be great."

   AJ Greer joined the Huskies midseason from Boston University.

The Rouyn-Noranda management made several personnel changes to the roster throughout the season to help the team become an almost unstoppable force. Greer's addition was one of them, but the biggest might have been trading for Timo Meier, the No. 9 overall draft pick by San Jose last summer, who recorded 51 points in 29 games with the Huskies.

With the team already off to a great start in its season, the players recognized that the staff and coaches were going all in for a title.

"We knew we had a good team," Beaudin said. "We made some good trades, some small trades too that turned out to be huge for us. With that we built our chemistry, and we became a really good team."

Beaudin's breakout sophomore year was also key in the team's push for a championship. He was held without a point in only 12 regular-season contests and finished the year on a 12-game point streak (12 goals and 13 assists).

"Everybody was talking about [the streak]," Beaudin said. "As a player, it is good for your confidence. I didn't really think about it, I don't really think about points, but it's still good for confidence. It was good for me before the playoffs."

The Avs' 2015 third-round draft pick stretched that streak to 16 games into the postseason before he was finally held off the scoresheet. He finished the playoffs with 19 points (seven goals and 12 assists) in 17 contests.

Beaudin did miss three games in the QMJHL final with an upper-body injury, but he is expected to play when the Huskies start preliminary play on Saturday against Brandon.

Greer was a key contributor to the club in the playoffs, as he nearly matched his scoring from the season by tallying 22 points (12 goals and 10 assists) in 20 games. He had five goals in the final series versus Shawinigan and registered three points (a goal and two assists) in the title-clinching Game 5.

The atmosphere at Iamgold Arena on May 12 was electric, and it continued building throughout the night. The Huskies kept scoring and won 7-2 to spark a celebration throughout the city for the team's first championship.

"Honestly, it was crazy. I have never heard a rink that loud," Beaudin recalled. "There were 3,600 [people], so it's not that much, but it's all close to the rink so the atmosphere was great. They all have trumpets and stuff like that so there was a lot of noise, for sure."

It was a moment that the players will surely never forget.

"Words don't describe winning," Greer said. "It's an amazing feeling, especially with the guys that you put in all the work with. To come in and have that championship won, it's just a great feeling and you want to relive it again."

The Huskies will get their chance at the repeating the dream, but this time it will be on the biggest stage against Canada's best.

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