MONTREAL - Twenty years ago today, Michel Therrien, Francis Bouillon and the Granby Predateurs compelled a new page to be written in the QMJHL history books.
|[Left to Right] Michel Therrien, Francis Bouillon, Georges and Jean-Claude Morrissette went all the way with the Granby Predateurs, in 1995-1996. (© QMHJL Archives) |
The city of Granby, Quebec was swept up by the winds of change during the 1995-96 season. After Jean-Claude and Georges Morrissette took control of the Bisons - Granby’s Quebec Major Junior League franchise - the brothers decided that the team required a renovation.
First came a new team-name, then a complete overhaul of the logo and team colors followed shortly thereafter. But the most important change for the new look Granby Predateurs came behind the bench, where the brothers had the perfect person in mind for the job; Michel Therrien. The same head coach that the Morrissette brothers had hired just a few years earlier to run the Laval Titans.
Therrien wasn’t the only export coming over from the North Shore, as the bench boss was followed closely behind by a few of his former Titans, including the reliable rearguard Francis Bouillon. Given the closeness of their preexisting relationship in Laval, Therrien did not hesitate long before electing his trusted 20-year-old blue-liner as team captain. In fact, both coach and player can vividly recall a particular meeting before the start of training camp where the fiery coach gave his new captain a significant assignment.
“Michel told me, 'Frank, you're going be my new captain and you will be the first since Guy Lafleur to bring the Memorial Cup back to Quebec.'” It was a very special and touching moment. In saying this, he expressed that he had confidence in me. That is pretty challenging in itself. That conversation will remain etched in my memory for the rest of my life,” tells Bouillon, who played under Therrien throughout his four-year career in the QMJHL and once again when the pair reunited for stints with Fredericton and Quebec City in the AHL before ultimately reaching the pinnacle together with the Canadiens in the NHL. "It was a vote of confidence and he caught me by surprise with it. I was a leader with the Titans so by the time I arrived in Granby I was already a 20-year-old veteran. He knew he had a lot of talent in Granby, but he wanted me to bring in that winning attitude that I had developed back in Laval. Michel’s biggest strength is being a motivator. That’s why he’s always been behind the bench of winning teams.”
With a talented lineup in place, the Predateurs supplemented their arsenal with a couple reinforcements acquired through transactions made during the regular season to further strengthen their roster. The additions of future-Canadiens Georges Laraque and Benoit Gratton brought new components to the lineup that quickly acclimated to their new environment. The new arrivals would help lead Granby to a regular season championship and a memorable playoff run that culminated with a President’s Cup victory. Despite the Predators’ accomplishments, the ultimate prize of a Memorial Cup title was still up for grabs with the Peterborough Petes, Guelph Storm and the Brandon Wheat Kings standing in their way.
As this was not his first taste of the CHL’s top tournament, a more seasoned Therrien entered the tournament well prepared from his previous experience just two years prior.
“The owners and coaches had their sights set on one thing and one thing only, and that was the Memorial Cup. I remember a year with the Titans – my first as a head coach – when we made it to the finals but ultimately lost. We were all very disappointed, it was almost as if we had never even made the playoffs in the first place,” recalled Therrien, who suffered a 5-3 loss at the hands of the Kamloops Blazers in the final game of the Memorial Cup finals in 1994, in front of their fans on home-ice in Laval.
|On May 19, 1996, Bouillon became the first captain of a QMJHL team to lift the Memorial Cup since Guy Lafleur in 1971. (© Getty Images) |
Armed with a better psychological attitude on the ice, the Predateurs had arisen with a new mentality, ready to end more than a quarter century Memorial Cup drought for the QMJHL. Concluding the preliminary round with two wins in three contests and a plus-7 goal differential, the surprising team out of Granby quickly showed they were not impressed with the rest of the competition.
"I remember talking to other players from Quebec who went to the Memorial Cup before us and they maintained that they choked despite having a team capable of winning it all. On our side, we were well prepared both mentally and physically. So we were confident that we had all the elements needed to win," continued Bouillon, who notched two points in four games during the tournament. "We wanted to establish a new reputation – so that teams from Quebec don’t arrive at the tournament with the anxiety of being expected to be unsuccessful. This reputation was hard to shake but we wanted to show people that we were prepared to do whatever it takes to win.”
The task wasn’t easy for the Predateurs. After securing their spot in the finals, the Predateurs had a rematch against the Peterborough Petes – the tournament’s host team - who had defeated Therrien’s squad by the score of 6-3 just a few days prior. With the Peterborough Memorial Centre packed with Petes fans, it was obvious that the odds were stacked against Granby.
However, despite a multitude of factors working against them, the visitors laughed in the face of adversity and surprised the hockey world with a convincing 4-0 shutout victory. While the Peterborough faithful were left speechless by the final score, the Predateurs couldn’t contain their excitement. After all, the Predateurs not only completed the mission that was initiated nine months earlier, they ended years of championship drought in Quebec. To date, only six other teams from the QMJHL have ever managed to lift the Memorial Cup trophy since that memorable evening on May 19, 1996.
“The first image that comes to mind from that victory is seeing Francis Bouillon crying on the bench. We spent four years together before we finally reached that ultimate goal,” recalled Therrien, who has since been elected into the QMJHL Hall of Fame 19 years after his dream season in the Eastern Townships. Winning the Memorial Cup proved significant as Therrien was promoted into the professional ranks within two years. “I was constantly surrounded by hard working and determined people that paved the way for the 1996 Cup run, but most importantly it also helped break the inferiority complex that Quebec clubs experienced when they arrived at this tournament.”
Hugo Fontaine is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Jared Ostroff