Huskies coach Mario Pouliot has chance to make Memorial Cup history

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies head coach Mario Pouliot celebrates after his team beat the Halifax Mooseheads to win the President Cup. (Vincent Éthier/QMJHL Media)

Mario Pouliot is proud of several aspects of his Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, especially the scouting department and the family ties associated with it.

The Huskies head coach and general manager enters the 2019 Memorial Cup in Halifax with 20 homegrown players on his roster. And this year’s tournament offers an opportunity for Pouliot to not only win consecutive national championships, but also carry forward a legacy started by his son Raphael.

“My son drafted those kids because he believed in them,” his father said. “Having the opportunity to work with them (and) to end up with the President Cup, at the Mem Cup next week, is going to be special for me and my son and all the organization here.”

Raphael served as head scout for the Huskies from 2014-16 and has since joined the Vegas Golden Knights as an amateur scout.

Rouyn-Noranda begins its Memorial Cup on Saturday afternoon against the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm. The Huskies earned their place at the Canadian major junior championship when they reached the QMJHL final, and then defeated the host Halifax Mooseheads in six games.

It’s the second time in the past four years the franchise is appearing in the Memorial Cup. Their run in 2016 ended in heartbreak when Matthew Tkachuk scored the overtime winner for the London Knights.

Peter Abbandonato, who led the ‘Q’ with 111 points in the regular season, and defenceman Jacob Neveu and goaltender Samuel Harvey all return from that Rouyn-Noranda squad for a second chance at glory.

“For them, it’s a second opportunity,” Pouliot said.

Pouliot is a former assistant coach with the Huskies, serving for over a year from 2009 to 2010. He’s had several stints with the team over the past decade and re-joined them last summer — a move he calls a promotion — after Gilles Bouchard took a coaching job with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.

Pouliot made the move just over a month after he helped the Acadie-Bathurst Titan capture the 2018 Memorial Cup in Regina.

Rouyn-Noranda thrived all year and set a record for the most wins in a QMJHL season with 59. But Pouliot wanted to improve his defence and turned to his former club at the trade deadline to acquire 18-year-old defenceman Noah Dobson from the Titan.

“For us, it was a must to get the best on the market and it was Noah,” Pouliot said. “For me, he’s the best player in the Q.

“It was our first target.”

The Huskies went on a 25-game winning streak — tying a CHL record — and lost just once in regulation between January and the end of the season.

Eleven players have won back-to-back Memorial Cups with different teams and Dobson, who earned QMJHL playoff MVP honours, will try to join that special list. Pouliot, meanwhile, can become the first head coach in Memorial Cup history to win back-to-back national championships with different teams.

Getting to play in two-straight national championships with the same head coach is something Dobson says is “pretty cool.”

“You wouldn’t think of that happening too much,” he said. “Usually you go to the Memorial Cup one year and the coach is still in the same organization going through a rebuild.”

Pouliot, meanwhile, said he’s fortunate to have the opportunity to coach good players.

“For Noah and I, it’s going to be special to have the chance to win a second Memorial Cup in a row and for sure we’re going to use our experience from last year to prepare in the right way.”

The last time the QMJHL won consecutive Memorial Cup titles was in 2012 and ’13 when Shawinigan and Halifax were crowned champions.

Pouliot said last year taught him what it takes to be successful at the tournament. He’ll use a similar approach in Halifax, but with a couple of adjustments.

“Because at the end of the day, it’s going to be a long 10 days,” he said. “So you have to make sure the players will have some mental rest, will do some team activity, but they have to have their free moments too.”

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