The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) won’t be changing its name despite a third of its teams playing home games outside la belle province.
Commissioner Gilles Courteau has toured each of the league’s 18 cities this season as part of the circuit’s 50-year anniversary. One of his final stops was Charlottetown last week.
Courteau said the issue was raised with him in the past during a question-and-answer session in Halifax. At the time, he said there were no plans to look at a name change and said the response has been overwhelmingly favourable since then.
“Don’t touch it because it means a lot to us, being a part of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League,” Courteau said was the main message he received. “This is a league with a history, this is a league with great branding, this is a league where big star players came through.”
While the league is celebrating its golden anniversary, the Halifax Mooseheads is celebrating its silver. Moncton joined the league the following season (1995-96) followed by Cape Breton (1997-98), Acadie-Bathurst (1998-99), P.E.I. (2003-04) and Saint John (2005-06).
Courteau said the league has developed something nice in the Maritimes.
“When we’re talking to younger players or younger coaches, (they say), ‘One day I want to play in the Q’; ‘One day I want to be part of the Q’,” he said. “I’m proud of what’s evolved since we brought the Maritime teams in our league.”
During the playoffs, a questionable call will often bring fans to saying the league doesn’t want to see Maritime teams win.
Courteau quashed the sentiment, saying the games are called based on the rules.
“There’s no divide at all,” he said.
“There’s no difference in the way that we call the game. . . We are one league and we are very proud of having 18 teams.”
Courteau made a trip to Charlottetown two seasons ago as the Islanders made their first of back-to-back trips to the league semifinal. He had visited the city for an AHL playoff game when the P.E.I. Senators called Charlottetown home. He said the fans are used to a good calibre of hockey.
“They’re passionate. They really behind their team,” he said.
Since the sale by the Savard family to a group of local owners, Courteau said the organization has done a good job on all sides of the business.
“The population seems to really appreciate the amount of work that it’s been doing,” he said. “The atmosphere in the building, too, is very good, very positive. It’s loud. They’re very supportive of their team.”
Midget-age players have been using the NCAA card as a bargaining chip for years to get to their desired destination in the QMJHL.
Courteau worked as a general manager of the Quebec Remparts in the early 1980s and saw the issue first-hand. A player told him he was going to the NCAA, so Courteau passed on him. Sherbrooke drafted him and the player reported.
“I said to myself, and to all our scouts, it doesn't matter if a kid is telling me, ‘No, I’m not going’,” Courteau said. “If . . . he’s the best player available, we’ll draft him.”
It's the same message he gives teams to this day. And then it is up to the team to try to convince him to come and play.