KAMLOOPS, B.C. — The turning point that led to the Quebec Remparts' dominant season dates back just over a year.
Head coach Patrick Roy pointed to last season's Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoff semifinal loss to eventual league champion Shawinigan Cataractes on June 1. Quebec fell 3-2 in the five-game series after having held a 2-1 edge.
"Losing Games 4 and 5, I think it was a little bit of a slap in the face," said the Hall of Fame goaltender. "Made us realize that we had to be better and I think that's what our guys did.
"They came into the season on a mission and determined to do it."
Remparts forward Zachary Bolduc, however, believes the team's true turning point arrived during a late-season slump, when Quebec dropped five of six games between Feb. 23 and March 7.
The Remparts followed it with an eight-game winning streak to close the regular season.
"When we're all together and we play as a unit of five, good stuff will happen," said Bolduc, who became just the sixth player since 2000 to record consecutive 50-goal campaigns in the QMJHL.
"I think for us, that's all we realized through that losing streak and I think that made us a better team."
Winger James Malatesta — the Guy Lafleur Trophy winner as the QMJHL's playoff MVP — figures the slump was the best thing that could have happened to the team.
"We had a little rough patch where we were on a little losing streak and I think that helped us because we all really came together," he said.
"We're always in it no matter what, if we're on a big winning streak or losing streak … we're always hungry and we always want more out of ourselves."
After finishing the regular season with the best record in the QMJHL, the Remparts swept their first three playoffs series before taking down the Halifax Mooseheads in six games to claim their first league title in 47 years.
At its first Memorial Cup appearance since 2015, Quebec defeated Kamloops and Seattle by a combined score of 11-4 to earn a berth into Sunday's final. The Remparts then closed out the round-robin stage with a 4-2 loss to Peterborough on Tuesday.
While Quebec has enjoyed strong play from its defence corps and goaltender William Rousseau, the team's forwards have truly excelled in terms of production.
During the QMJHL playoffs, Justin Robidas was third in points (27), Malatesta was tied for first in both goals (14) and game-winning goals (five), Theo Rochette was second in assists (17) and first in power-play assists (10), while Bolduc was tied for second in power-play goals (four) and tied for third with three game winners.
The quartet are each tied for fourth in Memorial Cup scoring with four points across three games.
"I'm very pleased," Roy said of his group's production. "All year we were talking about playing the 200-feet game and that's what we focus on."
Robidas is the newcomer of the group having been acquired in a package deal with the Val d'Or Foreurs in December.
"It was tough in the beginning, I was used to something different in Val d'Or," he said. "Going to Quebec, they already had their core players and their pieces and I was more of a complementary player.
"I feel like I managed well, throughout the season it got a lot better."
Robidas has enjoyed some great chemistry with Malatesta, with the former assisting on three of the latter's tournament-leading four goals.
"We're two guys that skate very well and skate pretty fast so it's kinda easy to find him on the ice," Robidas said. "He's more of a shooter, I'm more of a passer, so it's fun to just give him the puck and I know he'll put it in the back of the net."
Seattle advanced to the final with a 4-1 win over Peterborough on Friday. The Remparts will be ready for their opportunity to win the franchise's third Memorial Cup title and first since 2006.
"It will be the perfect ending for me," said Bolduc, a 2021 first-round pick of the NHL's St. Louis Blues. "I'll play my last junior game here on Sunday, so I wanna finish on a win.
"Like I said when I came back from St. Louis at the beginning of the season, I want the three cups. We won the season cup, we won the playoff cup and there's the last cup that we want.
"We're gonna be ready on Sunday to compete."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2023.
Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press