There’s never a dull moment in the QMJHL, in part because of the many outspoken and colourful characters the league seems to attract.
The latest controversy in the Quebec league surrounds comments made by Acadie-Bathurst Titan owner Leo-Guy Morrissette, in which the long-time lightning rod alleges his fellow QMJHL owners are using their riches to help entice high-profile players to join their teams.
Saint John Sea Dogs owner Scott McCain seems to be Morrissette’s biggest target, though Quebec Remparts owner Patrick Roy as well as the Moncton Wildcats, Rimouski Oceanic and Shawinigan Cataractes are also name-dropped in his accusations.
"They use money because they have money," Morrissette told Peter McGuire, sports editor of the Telegraph-Journal. "They have more money than me for sure. Mr. McCain is a nice guy but his organization uses that money. They use too much money. They can have more (NHL) first-round picks on their teams, European and American players. Mr. Coyle is a very good player, eh. . . . You need a lot of money for that. Patrick Roy, Shawinigan, Mr. McCain . . . other teams can't fight with this."
“Mr. Coyle,” better known in Saint John as Charlie Coyle, was a big free agent acquisition for the Sea Dogs in December, when he decided to leave Boston University and sign with the defending Memorial Cup champions. Since joining the Sea Dogs, the Minnesota Wild prospect has been on a tear. In Saint John’s four-game sweep of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Coyle scored nine goals and added four assists. So the rich got richer, so to speak.
It seems like time has not tempered Morrissette’s ire since he was equally displeased when Coyle was signed, telling Le Nouvelliste reporter Steve Turcotte: “Une équipe qui achète les championnats, ça n’a pas d’affaire dans notre ligue!” or roughly translated: “A team that buys championships, has no business in our league!”
Allegations of players receiving “impermissible benefits” have been around forever – in all three branches of the Canadian Hockey League – but what makes this most interesting is that this is coming from a team owner and not some scuttlebutt heard around the rink or posted on a message board. The idea of owners turning on each other is no doubt causing headaches for QMJHL commissioner Giles Courteau and CHL president Dave Branch. As we’ve been told ad nauseam, the CHL is a beacon for all that is good, safe and decent in junior hockey. Under-the-table payments and shady dealings – that only happens in the NCAA, right?
Understandably, Sea Dogs owner Scott McCain was none too pleased to have Morrissette air the league’s alleged dirty laundry in the press. Although, in a league with Morrissette, Patrick Roy and Cataractes GM Martin Mondou, the public airing of grievances is almost a daily occurrence.
"It is somewhat disturbing that [Morrissette] would make these statements," McCain wrote in an email to the Telegraph-Journal. "It's not good for owners to be critical of each other in public. If Leo-Guy has a concern, he can call me directly and voice his opinions. Being critical towards my ownership of the Saint John Sea Dogs does nothing to promote harmony in our league and it is truly unfortunate.”
Sure, it would make for better business to keep these kinds of accusations private, but that wouldn’t be much fun, would it? One thing that has always made the QMJHL most interesting – from a media perspective, at least -- is the fact that many of their owners, general managers and coaches aren’t afraid to speak their minds for fear of fines.
This year alone, Patrick Roy has paid the QMJHL $12,000 in fines because of his comments. Of course that’s a drop in the bucket, because as Morrissette has already noted, Patrick Roy is rich.
The odd thing about this, though, is the fact that the Morrissette family (Leo-Guy and his five brothers) were always accused of bending the rules when they were owners of teams in the QMJHL during the mid-1990s. Rumours of trading elite players amongst themselves for playoff runs, at a heavy discount, were always rampant back when Leo-Guy Morrissette was running the Titan franchise in Laval.
In 1998, the year Morrissette moved the team to Acadie-Bathurst, N.B., the Titan were involved in one of the biggest scandals in QMJHL history over a trade with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. The convoluted deal involved more than 10 players, prospects, draft picks, and cash -- which contravened the league’s bylaws. Courteau spent six weeks investigating the transaction and found both teams guilty of collusion, fining each franchise $100,000 and taking away their first-round draft picks for the following two years (2000 and 2001). Morrissette denied any wrongdoing and threatened to take the league to court.
It’s hard to believe that more than a decade later, Morrissette is now the Robin Hood figure trying to fight against the rich teams on behalf of the QMJHL’s poor ones.
“It’s a bit funny to see that because he used to be one of the kings of the league,” said veteran QMJHL reporter Stephane Leroux of RDS. “Now he’s not the king anymore and that’s why he’s crying. But I can understand, because he’s playing in a small market and he can’t fight equally with all those other teams, that’s for sure.”
And while his brothers eventually left the QMJHL, Morrissette has stayed on in Acadie-Bathurst, one of the smallest markets in the league. No longer having the same kind of clout in the league might be taking its toll on the long-time owner.
“He’s like a supporting actor in a movie,” said Leroux, who has been covering the QMJHL for RDS since 1990. “He’s not the big star now, so he’s tired of not getting the chance to have the big Europeans like the Radulovs or the Grigorenkos. He doesn’t have the money needed to afford those big European players that are coming over to play here. He’s tired of that and he’s complaining about it.”
Like some of his newer QMJHL counterparts, Morrissette has never been one to shy away from controversy. Back in their heyday, the Morrissettes were nicknamed "The Daltons” by long-time Journal de Montreal scribe Marc Lachapelle, after the outlaw brothers in the Lucky Luke cartoons.
“He’s from the old school,” said Leroux of Morrissette. “That was the old junior stuff of the 1990s in the league, but it’s not like that anymore. Leo-Guy is coming from that time when he used to have control, and he doesn’t have that anymore.”