Making Oceanic waves

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

The Rimouski Oceanic were such a joke just two seasons ago they weren't only the laughing stock of the QMJHL, they qualified as the punchline for junior fans from coast to coast.

Likewise, there were some snickers at the 2003 Entry Draft when the Edmonton Oilers used their first pick to select Marc-Antoine Pouliot, a slight and soft-spoken centre, from the feeble Oceanic instead of highly regarded U.S. collegian Zach Parise.

Pouliot not only survived 2002-03 - the Oceanic won just 11 games and endured a 38-game losing streak - he kept showing up and managed 73 points. That said plenty about his character. Still, to take the best of the sad sacks over Parise was a gamble.

Jump ahead two seasons, add Sidney Crosby to the mix, and the Oceanic have only the underdog Halifax Mooseheads standing between them and a Memorial Cup berth.

These days, nobody is dissing the Oceanic or Pouliot, who earned his keep beside Crosby by finishing third in QMJHL scoring with 114 points, although Oilers GM Kevin Lowe is smiling a lot.

'A LITTLE DIFFERENT'

He who laughs last . . .

"I can say it's a little different," understates Pouliot, who had three assists in a 9-4 laugher against Halifax to open the QMJHL final.

"You can say I'm enjoying things more than two years ago. That was a very frustrating experience, but I knew it was going to pay off."

The Oilers liked Pouliot's persistence enough to pass on Parise and move down from 17th pick to take him 22nd in Music City. Back then, Pouliot was the lone bright spot for the woeful Oceanic, who emptied the cupboard for the playing rights to Crosby.

"He's the best player," said Pouliot, who has been playing alongside Crosby. "I've never seen a guy fast like this. He's always moving. He creates scoring chances. It's fun to play with him.

"He deserves all the good things people say. He's got pressure every game and he deals with it. Every game, he has two or three points. He's a leader for us on and off the ice."

This season, Pouliot scored 45 goals for the Oceanic, who went 45-17-5-3 and enjoyed a gaudy 35-game unbeaten streak spanning the regular season and playoffs.

"That's the kind of development you want to see," said Lowe. "Our scouts saw him a lot in his draft year. He was on a bad team, but the thing we liked is he never had any quit in his game.

"One of our guys talked about seeing him in a game and it was 9-0 or 10-0, something like that. He was playing every shift like it was still 0-0."

Pouliot, who celebrates his 20th birthday May 22, hasn't forgotten the lean times. As lessons in intestinal fortitude go, they don't get more succinct. "It was frustrating, for sure, but we were all young," said Pouliot, one of eight holdovers from 2002-03. "There can't be a worse season than that. You can't quit, though. You do your best."

Still a rake with just 192 pounds on his six-foot-two frame, Pouliot will end up in Edmonton next season - perhaps with the Oilers, pending a new deal with the NHLPA, but more likely with the AHL Road Runners.

ADDED TO TEAM USA

Parise, by the way, already has an AHL season on his resume. Taken 17th by New Jersey, Parise spent 2004-05 with Albany and tallied 18-40-58. He was added to Team USA for the World Championships Wednesday.

For now, Pouliot is neither looking ahead to Edmonton nor back at the outhouse-to-penthouse journey he's made. Here and now, getting to the Memorial Cup is where it's at.

"We're not finished," said Pouliot, who went into action yesterday with 16 points in 10 playoff games.

"We're not satisfied. Everybody wants to win. I want to win. Getting to this point is all we talked about two years ago when things were so bad.

"Now, we have to make the most of it."


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