Guy Boucher still isn’t smiling.
In spite of having every reason to be happy by his team’s accomplishments, the head coach of the Drummondville Voltigeurs remains consistent in his belief that his team can still improve. The Voltigeurs might not appear to have much room for improvement, sweeping their way to the Québec Major Junior Hockey League finals with a perfect 12-0 record through three rounds.
Given how close his team is to realizing their goal of a league championship, Boucher says the situation now is more of a reason not to smile.
"They’re trying to get me smiling," Boucher said of his players from the team’s bus Thursday. "I think the opposite. I think now is the time to be more vigilant and make sure we don’t get sidetracked because we’re so close. The other team is close, too."
Which other team that is remains to be seen. The Voltigeurs await the winner of the other semifinal between the Shawinigan Cataractes and Québec Remparts. The Cataractes lead the series three games to one with Game 5 going Friday in Québec City.
As Boucher explained, however, the winner of the other series means very little to his team in terms of preparation. The Voltigeurs will spend the weekend away from the rink and come back Monday to prepare for their next challenge, whether they know who they will be playing or not.
"Eighty per cent of the time we spend on ourselves and what we do best, not on the other team," Boucher explained. "Only 20 per cent of the time, I would say, we are concerned with the other team. Whether (their) series is finished or not, we’re going to try to improve on what we’re already good at."
One might point to the team’s electrifying power-play as the Voltigeurs’ biggest strength. Operating at a stunning 40.2 per cent efficiency rate, the Drummondville power-play is as lethal as they come.
But if you ask Boucher, their power-play isn’t even their best attribute.
"It’s funny that people talk always about our offence," he said. "We’re aware that’s one of our weapons but… we pride ourselves more on our defence."
Good offence, Boucher says, is stemmed from his team’s relentless work ethic and not the other way around.
"We believe offence comes from grinding and out of the grinding comes the skill, not the opposite," he said. "Everybody bought into that and our skill players don’t play skill, they play hard and they’re relentless."
Drummondville’s relentless style is an aspect of their game which is so hard to defend. Each player on the Voltigeurs team buys into Boucher’s system and is willing to sacrifice for the team’s success.
After finishing first overall in regular season play, the Voltigeurs were earmarked as favourites to win the league championship. Although they beat the Memorial Cup host Rimouski Océanic, as many thought they would, their impressive sweep was something not even the team foresaw.
"It came as a surprise to everyone, a big surprise," Boucher said. "(Rimouski) had lost two games in their last 30 and we had lost one in our last 26 so everyone thought this was the dream matchup. In a sense, it was. It just turned out our way but it was very hard."
So surprising was the sweep that the Voltigeurs hadn’t planned their return to Drummondville to prepare for Game 5 until Thursday. After having won the series, the team decided to stay in the host city before embarking on the four hour and 15 minute drive home.
The series against Rimouski gave the Voltigeurs two distinct advantages: becoming familiar with the rink they hope to play in for the Memorial Cup while also beating the host team.
"If we did want to win everything this year in Canada, you have to go through Rimouski," Boucher explained.
Now that the Voltigeurs have climbed the top of that mountain, Boucher is confident his team will be able to avoid complacency. A year ago, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies had also gone 12-0 through the first three rounds before losing in five games to the Gatineau Olympiques in the final.
Boucher is less concerned of becoming complacent than he is in respecting his opponent.
"We never take any game for granted and we really feel any team, whether it’s a top team or a bottom team, can beat us at any moment if we don’t show our work ethic on the ice," he said.
"Sometimes you get a little anxious because you’re close – that’s where you lose yourself so we’re very far from anxious. Our kids have been very down to earth, very humble about the success we’ve had. We didn’t even rejoice (Wednesday) after the game. We’re keeping very, very focused."
If his team is successful in their last playoff challenge, the players might finally see a smile on their coach’s face.