MONTREAL - Life without scoring stars Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin begins Thursday night for the Halifax Mooseheads.
The team that steamrolled its way to a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title and a Memorial Cup saw MacKinnon go first overall to the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL draft, while the slick Drouin was taken third overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Both are expected to stay in the NHL this season, which will take the Mooseheads down a peg for the 2013-'14 campaign, even if they've still got enough talent to be competitive.
"Obviously, it's big pieces," said Mooseheads goalie Zach Fucale, who will miss the start of the season at the Montreal Canadiens camp. "Nate and Jo, and Marty (Frk) and Konrad (Abeltshauser), we're really happy for them moving up to a higher level.
"For me, the mindset will stay the same. I have to get in the net and help the team win some games. I have to make the saves. It's not complicated for me no matter what team is in front."
The Mooseheads will raise their QMJHL league championship and Memorial Cup banners when they get the season started at home against the rebuilding Moncton Wildcats on Thursday. Halifax will also be celebrating its 20th QMJHL season.
The other teams start the regular season on Friday with a full slate of nine games. Halifax will make a visit to Charlottetown to play the Islanders, formerly called the P.E.I. Rocket.
Acadie-Bathurst Titan players will wear a sticker on their helmets in honour of prospect Jordan Boyd when they open play at home against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Boyd died suddenly during drills in training camp on Aug. 12.
And the Quebec Remparts open a new era without their fiery head coach and general manager Patrick Roy when they face the Sagueneens in Chicoutimi. Philippe Boucher is the new bench boss, with Roy now coaching MacKinnon in Colorado.
Commissioner Gilles Courteau paid tribute to Roy, the Hall of Fame goalie who was perhaps the league's most visible and controversial figure in his eight years behind the Remparts' bench. Roy remains a part owner of the club.
"His departure to the NHL is huge news for Patrick, but it's going to be a big loss for our league," Courteau said. "He had a big impact.
"People would go to games to see the Remparts, but also to see Patrick. He was very generous with fans across the league, taking time for autographs and pictures. It was the same as having a player like (former Rimouski Oceanic) Sidney Crosby."
There will likely be no player or coach with that kind of star power this season. Courteau said it will be up to the teams to make the show by playing good hockey.
Halifax went 58-6-4 last season and lost only one game in the QMJHL playoffs. The Mooseheads gave the league a third straight Memorial Cup after the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2011 and the Shawinigan Cataractes in 2012.
No team is likely to be that dominant this season.
The Baie-Comeau Drakkar, who lost to Halifax in the final, the always-strong Remparts and Charlottetown are among the favourites this season.
The Oceanic should also be strong. They had two players drafted in the first round ??? defenceman Samuel Morin was picked 11th overall by Philadelphia and big forward Frederik Gauthier was selected with the 21st pick by Toronto.
Rimouski also has a top prospect in goal in Philippe Desrosiers.
Another favourite is Chicoutimi, which bolstered an already strong lineup with the top pick in the QMJHL draft, six-foot-three forward Nicolas Roy. He demanded a trade after being selected by Cape Breton and got his wish last week when he was dealt for a package of draft picks.
"I know Roy from the under-17s for Team Quebec," said Charles Hudon, the Sags' top forward along with Laurent Dauphin, who was selected in the second round by the Phoenix Coyotes. "He wanted to do his high school in Quebec, so it's good for us and it's good for him."
Hudon feels his team, which also added Finnish forward Janne Puhakka, is now a contender.
"My feeling is good," he said. "We have two good goalies (in) Julio (Billia) and Domenic (Graham). I think it's the best duo in the league. And we have two power lines. So it's going to be a good year for us."
Charottetown went 41-23-4 last season but lost in the opening round of playoffs to the Val-d'Or Foreurs. The team led by Yan-Pavel Laplante should be even better this season after loading up on high draft picks the last two years.
Boucher begins his stint in Quebec with seven NHL-drafted players, including Adam Erne, Anthony Duclair and Fabrice Herzog.
In Gatineau, the Olympiques will have goalie Anthony Brodeur ????????? the son of New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur ????????? who played in recent years at Shattuck St. Mary's prep school. Brodeur was drafted in the last round by the Devils and will try to earn the starting job in Gatineau.
The Olympiques feature Emile Poirier, who was picked in the first round by the Calgary Flames.
Other games Friday night have Saint John at Moncton, Shawinigan at Victoriaville, Rimouski at Baie-Comeau, Sherbrooke at Blainville-Boisbriand, Rouyn-Noranda at Drummondville and Val-d'Or at Gatineau.