Rebuilding 'Piques have potential

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

It's a year of change for the Olympiques as they embark on another QMJHL regular season beginning tonight at the Robert Guertin Centre against Val-d'Or.

Coach Benoit Groulx, who took over the Gatineau bench in Dec. 2001, says it's a rebuilding year.

But the Olympiques have shown in the past that the team can win even while looking toward the future.

The squad will be led by three overagers who Groulx believes form the top group of 20-year-old players in the league: Goalie and Gatineau native David Tremblay, winger and last year's top scorer Guillaume Labrecque -- who attended Senators' rookie camp --and rugged winger Nick Fugere.

"When you have young players, it's important to surround them with good (overage) players," said Groulx. "They're all good guys, they're well respected and their work ethic is great."

The Olympiques made a big trade prior to the league and European import drafts, dealing high-scoring winger Olivier Labelle, import Petr Pohl, defenceman Nicolas Ranger, their first and third-round picks of the 2005 draft to Acadie-Bathurst.

In return, the Titan swapped order with the Olympiques in the European draft which enabled Gatineau to choose higher at eighth overall and select Czech winger Ladislav Jindrich.

Gatineau also received the third-overall pick of the league draft, which was used to pick American winger Colin Escott, and Bathurst's fourth-round pick in the 2006 draft.

Both Jindrich and Escott worked out with the Olympiques in training camp to mixed reviews.

Jindrich is finding the transition to North American hockey and lifestyle difficult, and has not had fellow Czech teammate David Krejci, who's in NHL camp with Boston, around to help.

"Right now, he's not struggling but he's not ready to play a major role on the team, but he needs some time," said Groulx about Jindrich.

"He feels quite alone here. Hopefully, he's going to feel more comfortable as time goes on. We've got to be patient with him because it's a big change for him, but we see him getting better in practices."

Escott hurt his back during the summer and joined the 'Piques' camp late, but has impressed the coaches with his skills.

"You can tell right away that he's got the offensive skills," said Groulx. "He still has to learn the system and to play at this level."

The Olympiques will be young on the blue line, but Groulx hopes goalies Tremblay and 19-year-old Olivier Laliberte to have big years to compensate for the lack of experience on defence.

"With those two, I think it's one of the most experienced tandems in goal we've had in years."

It adds up to another year where the Olympiques head into the season looking like a middle-of-the-pack squad.

But the 'Piques always seem to be hanging around at playoff time.

Said Groulx: "It's all about tradition. Guys are very proud to play for this organization. They know we're here to develop them in hockey, but we're also willing to win, so you never know what can happen."

IN THE CREASE: Tonight's game starts at 7:30 ... Groulx spoke yesterday with Krejci, who indicated he might be back in Gatineau from Boston for Sunday's game at the Guertin against Rouyn-Noranda (4 p.m.) ... Fugere is attending NHL camp with Nashville ... The 67's return to exhibition play tomorrow in Belleville before completing the pre-season schedule at home on Sunday against Kingston (2 p.m.).


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