Henry continually reloads Gatineau

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

Amid the jubilation and chaos on the Dave Keon Arena slippery surface in Rouyn-Noranda last Friday night scrambled Charlie Henry, frantically assembling players, coaches, support staff and team owners for a fresh photo of the newly crowned QMJHL champions.

Missing from the picture, which now adorns the Olympiques website, is the man who concocted the winning formula in the first place.

That's right -- Charlie Henry.

"It's not a big deal for me," Henry, the Olympiques governor and director of hockey, said yesterday of his absence from the snapshot. "I've never made it a big thing to be up front. It hasn't changed. I'm not going to change now.

"I don't think in the 25 years I've been in a picture on the ice. I enjoy more making sure things are well done."

And at that, especially of late, he has few peers.

The Olympiques left yesterday for the Memorial Cup in Kitchener after capturing their seventh President Cup, symbolic of Quebec league supremacy. So much for the rebuilding process usually associated with junior teams. Remarkably, this is Gatineau's third trip to the national championship in six years.

How did the Olympiques blindside the prognosticators this time?

Their regular season, good if unspectacular, consisted of a third-overall finish with 93 points on a 43-19-6-2 record. Only Chicoutimi allowed fewer goals than the 209 surrendered by Gatineau, and with 272 goals the Olympiques had the fourth-best offence in the loop.

In the post-season, however, they sizzled. The 16-3 playoff record included a sweep of Halifax and five-game series wins over Shawinigan, Quebec and, in the league final last week, the first-place Huskies.

Garnering much of the credit is coach Benoit Groulx, who brought Gatineau to the final game of the Memorial Cup in 2003 and 2004 but is still looking for his first title. Best the Olympiques grab it for him now, as surely Groulx will be headed to the pro ranks next season.

GIROUX LEADS WAY

Leading the way on the ice has been Claude Giroux, a Flyers first-round draft pick who set a franchise playoff record with 51 points in 19 games and a QMJHL record by picking up at least one point in 10 consecutive contests. Fellow Ottawa resident Paul Byron has been nearly as sensational, scoring 21 goals.

But this is not a two-player show, everyone associated with the Olympiques insists.

"This is a very different team," said Henry, who first joined the organization in 1984 and has lasted through a list of owners that includes Wayne Gretzky, for whom he has also worked as a consultant with the Coyotes. "I don't think it's the most talented team we've had, maybe it's the least talented (of the championship Olympiques squads).

"You know this thing where you colour your hair in the playoffs? The veterans colour little spots and the rookies colour more, by degree of age? One of the veterans said, 'Hey, we're all in or we're not in'. So they all coloured their hair, the whole thing.

"It just goes to show how much they're in together. They believe they're going to win, we're going to win. Like I say, it is different than the other teams."

Henry acquisitions are playing huge roles. He obtained goalie Ryan Mior from P.E.I. last season, and the 20-year-old Newfoundlander has been as solid as a, well, rock. Upon losing two top-line defencemen to injury, Henry traded for Patrik Prokop and Joey Ryan.

Prokop finished tied with Matthew Pistilli -- the right winger on the Giroux-Byron line -- among the 'Q's' playoff scoring leaders -- recording two goals and 26 assists.

"In Shawinigan he was playing okay, but not enough to say he was a key player," explained Henry. "We needed to get him and he's playing like never before, but I think it's the coaching that has brought him around."

Henry, who also credits Groulx with making Giroux and Byron the dominant players they've become, refuses to predict how the Olympiques will fare against the Kitchener Rangers, Belleville Bulls and Spokane Chiefs. Much, he says, will depend on the play of Mior.


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