RIMOUSKI, Que. - There was an empty chair at the head table when the Rimouski Oceanic brought their most famous alumni in for a news conference at the MasterCard Memorial Cup - Sidney Crosby.
Crosby, who played two seasons in Rimouski before taking the NHL by storm, had a legitimate excuse - his Pittsburgh Penguins are playing the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL Eastern Conference final.
To have Tampa Bay Lightning captain Vincent Lacavalier and Dallas Stars scorer Brad Richards there with Vancouver Canucks farmhand Michel Ouellet was enough to signal the success the Oceanic have had since they set up in Rimouski in 1995.
"I knew Sid since he was a young kid," said Richards, who took the Oceanic to a Memorial Cup title in 2000, three years before Crosby landed on the lower St. Lawrence. "We still talk about Rimouski.
"He called me before he made his decision to come to Rimouski to ask about the city and see, for an English player, what kind of set-up they have here.
"But they do everything first class here whether English or French, so it was a no-brainer for me to tell him 'play in Rimouski, you'll have a great time.' It worked out great for him."
Organizers placed an Oceanic hat with Crosby's No. 87 at what would have been his spot for what turned out to a feel-good session for one of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's top franchises.
Lecavalier, Richards and Ouellet were to perform the ceremonial face-off before a game between the Oceanic and the rival Drummondville Voltigeurs.
Lecavalier has fond memories of the two seasons he played in Rimouski before he was drafted first overall by the Lightning in 1998. He and Richards jumped to the Oceanic after playing together as teenagers for the Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan.
"When people ask me how it was in junior, I say it's was like going to an NHL team," the Montreal native said. "It's a city of about 50,000, but there's a real hockey ambiance.
"I had come from a little town of 250 people in Saskatchewan where there were eight people at our games into the Friday night games here where everyone's excited. It felt like I'd already made the NHL, just playing in this environment."
Lecavalier jumped to the NHL as an 18-year-old, but Richards stayed on long enough to win a Memorial Cup. Only a few years later, they were both on a Stanley Cup team in Tampa in 2004.
The duo was split up when Richards was traded to Dallas.
"We played together since we were 14," Lecavalier said. "Seven years in Tampa, winning together - it was definitely different when Brad got traded.
"I hope that one day it happens (that they play together again). I don't know if it will."
Lecavalier has been the subject of trade rumours since January, but he had no news on that subject. There has been speculation that he'll be moved to Montreal before a no-trade clause in his contract kicks in on July 1, but other teams have also been mentioned.
"I spoke to (general manager) Brian Lawton, but not about that," he said. "The last time we talked about rumours was when he said after the all-star game that he wasn't trading me and that if there ever was anything, he'd talk to me first and give me a piece of paper to put five teams down."
Rimouski native Ouellet spent most of the season with the Canucks farm club, the Manitoba Moose, who are playing in the AHL playoffs.
Ouellet has been sidelined for several weeks with an injury so he was able to return home for the Memorial Cup.