The Montreal Canadiens organization are set to officially unveil the colours and logo of the Laval Rocket, their new American Hockey League affiliate for the 2017-18 season. Rocket Countdown will be a historical journey looking at past Canadiens affiliates from the 1969 NHL expansion onward, and building up to the unveiling of the Laval Rocket on January 31.
Sherbrooke Canadiens (AHL, 1984-1990)
On the 9th of June 1984 a rather unusual press conference took place with representatives of the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, and the Montreal Canadiens jointly releasing an announcement of a major relocation of all of their farm teams.
The Oilers agreed to relocate their farm team from Moncton to Halifax, taking over an existing lease of the Metro Centre from the Canadiens organization who were tied down to the city for at least two more years.
The Jets folded their farm team in Sherbrooke. Just like the Oilers, they were also losing tremendous amounts of money every year.
The Canadiens would then relocate their operation from Halifax to Sherbrooke, and be the principle administrators of the farm team. The Jets agreed to provide 10 players to the team, while the Canadiens would provide 15, splitting the costs of player salaries.
The Nova Scotia Voyageurs became the Sherbrooke Canadiens. Ronald Corey, President of the Montreal Canadiens, was all smiles. The organization simultaneously renamed the junior team that they operated from Le Junior de Verdun to the Canadien Junior de Verdun. “The Canadiens will once again be one family, with the same colours and the same uniforms”, explains Corey, “It’s going to be a lot easier at every level, particularly in promoting our image.” Pierre Creamer, formerly from the Junior de Verdun, was named the head coach of the new franchise soon after.
One of the reasons for bringing the farm team back to Quebec was explained by Montreal Canadiens head coach Jacques Lemaire when he said that the players felt abandoned in Nova Scotia, whereas now the organization will be able to see them more often and give them regular feedback.
The Sherbrooke Canadiens played their first game on October 12th 1984, in a fitting match up against the newly formed Nova Scotia Oilers. The Canadiens won the inaugural game in a lopsided 9-0 rout, accentuated by three goals scored by Serge Boisvert. The other goalscorers were Larry Landon, Ric Nattress, Jocelyn Gauvreau, Brian Skrudland, Mike Lalor, and Randy Bucyk. Greg Moffett registered the shutout for the Canadiens in front of 3,012 fans at the Palais des Sports. The game finished off with a bench-clearing brawl.
The Canadiens finished the season in third place of the Northern Division tied with the Oilers. They qualified for the playoffs by a single point, just ahead of the Adirondack Red Wings. The Canadiens scraped their way into the playoffs by winning four out of their last five regular season games.
Montreal's farm team then faced the Fredericton Express in the first round of the playoffs. Despite taking a 2-0 lead in the series, they were reeling badly after Fredericton won game three easily, and was leading game four 3-0 in the second period. It’s at this moment that fate decided to intervene, changing the course of the franchise forever. With regular backup goaltender Paul Pageau missing the game due to his wife giving birth, the Canadiens turned to their third string goalie, an 18-year old named Patrick Roy to fill the void. When starter Greg Moffett has some equipment problem during the game, Roy unexpectedly was thrust into action, and the rest was history. The Canadiens won that game 5-4, and Patrick Roy quickly became the go-to goaltender for the remainder of the playoffs for the Canadiens. The ultimate victory came on May 24th when the Canadiens defeated the Baltimore Skipjacks in six games to claim the Calder Cup, with the winning goal being scored by Stéphane Richer, an up-and-coming rookie who just joined the team right after his QMJHL playoffs ended. Richer scored six goals in nine games for the Canadiens in those playoffs. This was the first and only time an AHL team from Québec won the Calder Cup.
Unfortunately, the team would fail to qualify for the playoffs next year for the first time ever, due to the massive exodus of players who graduated to the Montreal Canadiens, including Roy and Richer, as well as team captain Brian Skrudland. They would regroup the following year and make it all the way to the Calder Cup finals thanks to the strength of play of rookie goaltender Vincent Riendeau. Offensively it was Serge Boisvert who led the way with 18 points in 15 games. Boisvert was one of only four remaining players from the Calder Cup winning team from two season ago. The other players were Randy Bucyk, Bobby Dollas, and Steven Fletcher. Of those four, only the first two were Canadiens prospects, the latter two belonging to the Winnipeg Jets.
At the conclusion of the 1986-87 season the Jets ended their affiliation with the Sherbrooke Canadiens. In addition head coach Pierre Creamer left the team for a job with the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, and the team named former QMJHL Hull Olympiques head coach Pat Burns as his successor. However Burns would spend only a single season in the AHL before being promoted to the NHL where he coached the Montreal Canadiens for four seasons, including a Stanley Cup final in 1989.
Sherbrooke struggled to develop the next generation of players for the Canadiens after the initial influx of stars left Sherbrooke for Montreal. There were many highly-touted prospects who never achieved their potential once they played in the NHL. Boisvert, Bucyk, Claude Larose, Alfie Turcotte (first-round pick, 1983), Jose Charbonneau (first-round pick, 1985), Jocelyn Lemieux (first-round, 1986), Mark Pederson (first-round pick, 1986), and Gilles Thibaudeau were players whose careers peaked at the AHL. Among the most noteworthy graduates from the Sherbrooke Canadiens are Andrew Cassels, Tom Chorske, Brent Gilchrist, Mike Keane, Stephan Lebeau, Sylvain Lefebvre, and Lyle Odelein.
The farm team would remain in Sherbrooke for a total of six seasons before once again heading to the Maritimes after the 1989-90 season.
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