For the second straight year, the Memorial Cup was won by a small-market QMJHL team with a hyphenated name. The 2018 Acadie-Bathurst Titan and the 2019 Rouyn-Noranda Huskies had quite a bit more in common than that, too: coach Mario Pouliot and star defenseman Noah Dobson, for example.
After guiding the Titan to its first national championship last year, Pouliot returned to his previous post in Rouyn-Noranda, albeit with an expanded portfolio as both coach and GM. “I was there for three-and-a-half years as an assistant coach, so it was nothing new for me,” Pouliot said. “I have a special relationship with ownership, and I know the Husky identity. I went there with Andre Tourigny, and he put the foundation in. After that, it was Gilles Bouchard, who won the President’s Cup in 2016, and for me, we’re here to keep the right team culture in the right place.”
The Huskies were pretty good in 2017-18, but when Pouliot looked at his new roster, there was a glaring hole that Dobson, the New York Islanders’ 2018 first-rounder, could perfectly fill. “We knew we needed a No. 1 ‘D,’ and we started with him,” Pouliot said. “It was a big price, but when you want a top player you have to pay for it. If you look at our run, we won the President Cup and he was MVP. At the Memorial Cup, he could have been the MVP, but it was Joel Teasdale, another guy we acquired at the deadline. It was important to bring top players, great people fitting with our group.”
Indeed, the Dobson trade with Acadie-Bathurst cost the Huskies three first-round draft picks and a second-rounder (two of which previously belonged to Chicoutimi), while the Teasdale deal with Blainville-Boisbriand meant giving up prospect Max Ledoux and five draft selections (including another first-rounder) at the trade deadline. But Teasdale, a Montreal Canadiens prospect, brought plenty of playoff experience from his time with the Armada, not to mention a solid game as a power forward. As for Dobson, having history with Pouliot was a big help. “He’s a great guy on and off the ice, and he has the experience,” Dobson said. “He knows how to win, and he deserves everything that has come to him the past two years.”
In the Memorial Cup final against Halifax, the Huskies took a calm, measured approach against the host Mooseheads, who were looking for revenge after Rouyn-Noranda beat them in the QMJHL final on Halifax ice.
Though the Mooseheads jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the Memorial Cup final, the Huskies never seemed rattled and evened the score late in the second period. With devastating speed, Rouyn-Noranda overwhelmed Halifax at the beginning of the third frame to take a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish.
Dobson didn’t have to play the 40 minutes he did against OHL Guelph in the semifinal, but he was out there a lot and his poise was a big help as the Huskies fended off Halifax’s desperate charge in the dying minutes. At this point in their relationship, Pouliot is never surprised at how many minutes Dobson can soak up. “He still has a ton of gas at the end of the game,” Pouliot said. “Look at the Guelph game, when he had his breakaway for a penalty shot (late in the third period). He’s an effortless skater, he’s really smart, he knows when it’s time to push and when it’s time to contain. For me, he’s the best player in the ‘Q.’”
But surely Dobson gets tired at some point, right? Based on the way he prepares, maybe not. “That’s why you put the work in during the summer, so you have the energy,” Dobson said. “I’ve always been a guy who can eat up minutes. My skating really helps me, and I’m able to move a lot out there.”
So far, it’s been a charmed junior career for Dobson, who took an intriguing path to his current perch. Born and raised in P.E.I., he went over to Austria at 15 to play for the Red Bull Akademie, where his teammates included future NHL draft picks Sampo Ranta (Colorado) and Martin Pospisil (Calgary). From there, he headed to Acadie-Bathurst, where he was a point-per-game player and a Memorial Cup champion in his second year. After a tough world juniors with Canada that saw his stick break on a wide-open shot in overtime in an eventual quarterfinal loss to Finland, Dobson was traded to Rouyn-Noranda for the stretch drive.
“Every experience is something you can learn from,” he said. “Playing in the world juniors on the biggest stage against other countries, you see their best players. I try to draw things from every experience and grow as a person.”
He also played through a lot of booing at the Memorial Cup, as Halifax fans jeered him every time he touched the puck. In the end, Dobson cheekily sympathized with the locals. “I guess I get the last laugh,” he said. “I won two championships here in the past two weeks.”