When the Memorial Cup gets underway on Friday in Saginaw, the Winnipeg Jets will have connections on and off the ice.

Fifth round pick Jacob Julien will be looking to win with the London Knights and former amateur scout Yanick Lemay will try to do the same as the general manager of the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

Julien has been a big part of the Knights cruising to the Memorial Cup with 18 points in 18 playoff games. Meanwhile, Lemay was with the Jets for 12 years before taking the GM job with the Voltigeurs last May. Less than a year into his new gig, he has helped the Voltigeurs to their second QMJHL championship with Drummondville sweeping Baie-Comeau in four games last week.

“I arrived and there was already a great bunch of players, very good individuals. So, it was a lot of fun working with those players,” said Lemay.

“There were already great leaders in that group. So, after that when we decided we go, so we made a few moves, trying to improve the team.

Lemay took over a team that already had Lightning prospect Ethan Gauthier and Sam Olivier who led the team in scoring with 71 points apiece. Riley Mercer and Louis-Felix Charrois were two of the top goaltenders in the QMJHL during the regular season. In early December, Lemay made a trade with the 2023 Memorial Cup champion Quebec Remparts that saw Sabres prospect Vsevolod Komarov and Mikeal Huchette come to Drummondville. At the end of April, Lemay was named a finalist for the QMJHL general manager of the year award.

“I knew it was going to be a good year but to win the cup, I was not sure. So, I took some time with the staff to evaluate what we have on our end and when we realized that we have a very good core of leaders, that’s when we decided to go (for it). When we traded for Komarov who is a heck of a defenceman, like he’s unbelievable,” said Lemay.

“After that we knew that we could go. So, we made a couple more trades after that. It was important for us to bring, like I said, our group of leaders was good, but we wanted to bring some help for our leadership (group) and people who have already won. So, trading for three Quebec players who last year won the Memorial Cup. That was the plan, to get some guys who had already been there, to make that grind the year before.”

The sweep was huge for the Voltigeurs, as they finished off the higher ranked Drakkar on home ice to capture the Gilles-Courteau Trophy.

“The other two leagues (OHL and WHL) did the same so it’s not really an advantage but for us with the travel, its eight hours between Drummondville and Baie-Comeau so to just not go back there (for Game 5), for us its huge. So, we gave a day or two to our players to celebrate and enjoy this one with their family and everything,” said Lemay.

“Winning in four, that’s huge for that. Because if that series would have gone to seven games, we would have played on Tuesday and we would have been on the plane on Wednesday morning. So that’s completely different.”

Even with winning the QMJHL title and the Memorial Cup about to begin, the 50-year-old looked back at the day that he had to tell the Jets that he was leaving to take on a new challenge.

“Toughest decision of my life. I appreciated everything there, it was a wonderful 12 years there. The organization was so good with me, like from ownership to Mr. Cheveldayoff to everybody. So, I enjoyed every minute of it, it was not an easy decision. It’s 25 minutes from my home and I wanted to be a GM at some point, and I felt that I was ready to do more, to have a bigger role,” said Lemay.

“After 12 years, I was needing a new challenge and challenge myself more with something else. So that’s why I made the move, it’s certainly not because I was not happy. I still care a lot about the organization. I follow them all year long in the playoffs, I was sad when it was over. I’m still pulling for them. Sometimes in life you need to make some tough decision and at the end of the day I have confidence in myself, and I was ready to do more.”

Even after delivering the news, he was taking the job in Drummondville, Lemay continued working with the Jets until their final meetings for the 2023 NHL Draft. As excited as he was for the new opportunity, he still found himself very emotional walking out of the meetings for a final time.

“Because you work all year, it’s a lot of scouting. People don’t always know, it’s so much travelling, so much work, reports and not being home very often and stuff,” said Lemay.

“So, you work with those guys all year long trying to do the best work as possible, so I would have really appreciated to be there but at the same time when you make that type of decision, its normal that I wasn’t there. But I followed on tv, and I was not there but I was there.”

Drummondville will open the tournament on Saturday against OHL champion London, Sunday they face the host team, Saginaw and close out the round robin on May 28 against WHL champion, Moose Jaw. The QMJHL has won the last four Memorial Cups.

“Everything has worked well so far, so there is one trophy to go,” said Lemay.

“We’re going to be ready, that’s for sure. We’re not going there to be tourists.”

Photo courtesy: Drummondville Voltigeurs