Toronto, ON- Inside the secluded bubble, away from the direct view of any fans, U SPORTS hockey found a more than a large sliver of success, as the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup after nearly three months in Canada. While the players celebrated at centre ice in Edmonton, the U SPORTS hockey community found excitement in the seven connections they had to the champions.
From the top of the organization, the Lightning were led by a duo of U SPORTS hockey alumni, with the hockey club’s CEO and Director of Hockey Operations both playing in the OUA in the past.
Steve Griggs, CEO: Former Laurier Golden Hawk
Steve Griggs earned an Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in Physical Education at Laurier in the late 1980s, while also splitting his study time with ice time as a student-athlete. Griggs was a member of the Laurier teams that won OUA championships in 1988-89 and 1989-90. He assumed his current position in Tampa Bay in 2010, a decade ago, after spending years in the NBA, the Minnesota Wild and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as a director of ticket sales.
While the crowded celebrations seen in Tampa Bay Monday night are not to be applauded in the time of a pandemic, the dedicated fanbase that has been built up for the Florida franchise can give huge credit to Griggs, who has been critical to building their brand in a non-traditional hockey market.
Mathieu Darche, Director of Hockey Operations: Former McGill Hockey Team
One of the key members of building the championship-winning roster, Darche has worked alongside Tampa Bay’s management to handle the salary cap, while also finding star players to lead the title charge. He joined the organization in May of 2019
While at the Montreal school, he studied marketing and international business, two skillsets that have aided him in his management of the now Stanely Cup champion roster. He has a hand in everything hockey wise, playing a significant role in budgeting and negotiating contracts to build the best team possible.
He played four seasons for McGill, before going on a journeyman professional career, that was topped off by playing for his hometown Montreal Canadiens. Of his time at McConnel Arena, his final seasons shines above the rest. That was the year the left winger scored 62 points through 26 games, a tally that still stands as one of OUA’s best.
His addition to the Tampa Bay front office has proven valuable so far, and he has a Stanley Cup ring for his success. However, his biggest challenge will come over the next few seasons, as the NHL’s finances have been thrown for a loop due to COVID-19.
Al Murray, Director of Amateur Scouting: Former uOttawa Gee-Gee Ast. Coach/ Regina Cougars Head Coach
Finding gems throughout the NHL Entry Draft and undrafted pathways were vital to the Lightning’s success, and former U SPORTS coach, Al Murray has been right at the forefront.
The former assistant coach with the Gee-Gees and Head Coach with the Regina Cougars oversees everything when it comes to finding young players. While finding a good NHL player in the highest round of the NHL draft is easier, the Lightning have become famous for finding valuable players in the later rounds.
Just look at some of his non-first round selections. There is Nikita Kucherov, who has won three NHL awards and has 547 NHL points after being plucked in the second round. Anthony Cirelli, the former OHL’er, was selected 72nd overall, he’s played 168 regular-season games at 23, or even Ondrej Palat, a seventh-rounder who played an important role on the banner winning team. These are just three players, but they show the value in finding gems outside of Round One, something Murray has been critical to.
With the Gee-Gees, Murray won the bronze medal at the 1981 U SPORTS (CIAU) championship, before going on to coach the Regina Cougars four three seasons.
Michael Boucher, Amateur Scout: Former uOttawa Gee-Gees Head Coach
While a former Gee-Gee’s coach from the 1980s is at the top of the amateur scouting hierarchy, Michael Boucher plays a vital role as well as an amateur scout.
Boucher, 69, has bee a part of the Lightning’s scouting staff since Al Murray arrived after spending time in the scouting staff of the Montreal Canadiens and Los Angeles Kings in the NHL. In addition to his time scouting for pro hockey, he has also scoured for talent for the Olympic Games, IIHF World Championships and junior hockey.
While at uOttawa, he coached the Gee-Gees to the 1985 U SPORTS final, where they lost to the York University Yeomen, bringing home the CIAU silver medal.
Frantz Jean, Goalie Coach: Former Moncton Aigles Bleu
The afformentioned Ottawa Gee-Gee connection played a major role in finding all-star goaltender Andrei Vasilevski, but it is another former U SPORTS mind who molded the Russian into the superstar he is today.
Over the last decade, Frantz Jean has helped Vasilevski adjust to the North American game, and also played a primary role in developing Ben Bishop who starred for the Lightning before moving onto the 2020 Stanley Cup runner-ups, the Dallas Stars. Both goaltenders have earned Vezina Trophy nominations, as well as multiple all-star game nods.
With the AiglesBleu, he played four and a half years, winning the 1994-95 U SPORTS championship, and was named to the 1992-93 AUS (AUAA) all-star team. Jean’s legacy at UdeM is well remembered, however, he was suspended along with four others in 1996 for attacking a referee in a game against UPEI.
Following his time at UdeM, he transitioned to goalie coaching, where he spent 12 years in the QMJHL, helping the Moncton Wildcats to a pair of league titles, before joining the Lightning in 2010.
Dr. Ryan Hamilton, Mental Performance Coach: UNB Reds
Winning a Stanley Cup without fans and away from the rest of the world is a situation no player has ever imagined, and being cooped up in a hotel for months is not exactly beneficial to anybody’s well-being.
Step in Dr. Ryan Hamilton. The UNB alumnus was inside the bubble witht the Lightning through their run, making sure everything that came up off-the-ice was taken care of in the best way possible. Recent years have shown the importance of mental health in sport, and Hamilton has been at the forefront of it all. He has spent much time around UNB athletes, and continues to do so, while also working for Tampa Bay and Hockey Canada.
There is a similarity between those three aforementioned orginizations: They are all winners, and Hamilton has been a big part of bringing those teams up to championship calibre.
Matt Hill, VP Premium Seating and Group Sales: Former SMU Huskies
Matt Hill’s job would have bee much more exciting if fans had been able to attend playoff games, however, his work prior to COVID-19 has been tremendous, helping the Lightning become one of the larger fanbases, despite being in a non-traditional hockey market.
“These last 10 years, it really has transformed with our new ownership. There’s been a buzz throughout the city and as the playoffs went on, the buzz just grew and grew. Obviously it’s not the same when you can’t have 20,000 people down at the arena celebrating together. It was done differently but I think it was something our community needed more than ever right now. It’s nice to have some good news these days.”– Matt Hill to the Cape Breton Post
As a student-athlete with the SMU Huskies, Hill was an important player in the 1990’s, where he was coached by recently retired Head Coach, Trevor Stienburg. Following his time with the Huskies, he played professionally in the Nethlerlands, before returning to the Maritimes as the Director of Hockey Operations for the Maritime Athletic Group.
Chris Paquette, RMC Paladins MHKY: Cousin to Lightning player, Cedric Paquette
Chris Paquette burst onto the U SPORTS scene in 2019-20 with the RMC Paladins, who nearly upset to Carleton Ravens in the opening round of the Queen’s Cup Playoffs. In his rookie year, Paquette scored 32 points in 28 games, earning himself OUA East MVP and Rookie of the Year honours, as well as national recognition bing named to the U SPORTS All-Rookie and Second All-Star teams.
Chris’ cousin is Cedric Paquette, who won the Cup with the Lightning, and while that is the only connection to the championship team, Chris was also selected by the organization in the 5th Round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Since he was selected, it means his name also came across the desk of the Lightning’s U SPORTS heavy amateur coaching staff.
Only a pair of former U SPORTS players were involved in the 2020 NHL Postseason on the playing side, however, the biggest value of U SPORTS talent came off the ice in the Tampa Bay Lightning. The last decade has been the story of “so close” for the Lightning, but in the oddest of circumstances, 2814 kilometres away from their home arena, the “Bolts” finally raised the Stanley Cup.
Cover Photo: Tampa Bay Lightning