Yvon Huard, 58, has been to every National Midget Championship game for the past 29 years.
From Hall of Famer Larry Murphy (1977), to team Canada captain Joe Sakic (1986), to teenage legend Sidney Crosby (2002), Huard has seen some of Canada’s best hockey players compete for a national title before hitting junior.
“I haven’t missed a game,” says Huard, sitting in the top row of the Charlottetown Civic Centre with his notepad.
“I’m retired now, its my trip of the year. Instead of going to the Caribbean I’d prefer to wait until April and go to each city (the TELUS Cup goes),” he said.
“Next year I’ll be in Red Deer, in two years I might be in Waterloo, Ontario.”
He keeps statistics to help him follow the tournament and keep a history he can look back on.
“I try to pick the best players from each team, who’s playing, who’s not,” he said. “I have two rooms full of stats back home. In a few years I can look back and see how players have improved and where their careers are going.”
Traveling to every host city of the TELUS Cup (formerly the Air Canada Cup) has taken Huard, who lives half an hour outside Quebec City, all over Canada.
“I’ve been coast to coast. I was in Victoria in 1982, and in 1989 I was in St. John’s Newfoundland . I’ve travelled across Canada many times, three times to BC,” he said.
Sidney Crosby in 2002 gave the best performance he’s seen in recent years.
“Four years ago I was in Bathurst to watch the championship. Sidney Crosby was only fourteen years old at the time. He was so dominating it was outstanding. He was the best player on the ice.”
Huard chooses the TELUS Cup over other hockey championships because it’s a chance to see quality hockey players before they’re making any money for playing. They’re still youthful and passionate, he said.
“Over the years I’ve seen a lot of really good players. We just mentioned Crosby, why not Steve Yzerman, why not Larry Murphy or Al McInnis, Patrick Roy. Many, many authentic players.”
It’s interesting to follow the careers of gifted players he’s watched play in the TELUS Cup, said Huard.
“Crosby and Yzerman played in the tournament as fourteen year olds. When you’re a natural, you’re a natural all your life.”
Huard started going to the tournament in 1978 because some people from his area were playing with Ste-Foye. He enjoyed the tournament so much he traveled to see the next one. In 1980, Huard watched the best Midget team he’s ever seen, the Notre-Dame Hounds.
“They had James Patrick on defence, who played over 20 years in the NHL, they had Gord Kluzak, who was drafted in the first round by the Boston Bruins. They had so many good players, it’s the best team I’ve ever seen in Midget.”
Many players and teams have caught Huard’s eye in the last 29 years.
He said Sylvian Cote, who had a less than impressive NHL career, was the best player he’s seen playing Midget.
“He won the best defenceman award in Victoria. When he was young, he’s still my favorite player even though I’ve seen Lemieux and Gretzky.”
Fifteen year old Al McInnis impressed Huard in 1982 with an outstanding slap shot, he said.
It’s easy to see when you watch the tournament every year that minor hockey is always improving. Players are always getting faster and goalies are always getting quicker, said Huard.
“The skills, the level of hockey has changed over the years mainly because they’ve got more time, more sports education. All the teams now practice in the afternoon and they’re well coached. It’s different from, lets say twenty years ago, when the coaches were fathers coaching their son. Now you get paid to coach Midget AAA.”
The best thing about the tournament is the passion shown by the players, said Huard.
“I like watching the plays and the players. I like watching that game right now, I love the two defencemen for the Toronto Junior Canadiens (Michael D’Orazio and Alex Pietrangelo) they’ll be drafted in the next OHL draft, first round for sure.”
He said Calgary’s Mike Connolly was one of his favorite players this year and commented on Prince Albert forward Matthew Robertson.
“He has the skills. Too bad he’s not 6’ 2 and 195 lbs, I’m sure you’ll hear of him in the near future.”
He said he hopes to be following the TELUS Cup as long as he can.
“I’ll be here as long as I can stay in good health and still have the passion to watch every game and enjoy myself. That’s what we say to the players, go on the ice, enjoy yourself, have fun. I’m having the same, I’m having fun watching the game.”