Strong goaltending the backbone of Quebec Remparts success this season

William Rousseau says a single morning skate last season altered the trajectory of his junior hockey career.

Rousseau was struggling in net for the Quebec Remparts during a trip through the Maritimes, and goalie coach Pascal Lizotte was unavailable because he was unable to travel with the team.

Seeing that Rousseau needed some pointers, head coach Patrick Roy put him through a training session instead and changed the way the young goalie approaches his play.

"I think there's a switch that has been flipped in me," Rousseau recalled. "He stepped on the ice with me and did a couple of reps with shots, testing my patience and teaching me to not go down too quickly. That really helped me with that."

Roy, a Hall of Fame goaltender who won four Stanley Cups and three Vezina Trophies over 19 NHL seasons with Montreal and Colorado, doesn't typically coach the Remparts goaltenders directly. But seeing that Rousseau was struggling at that point in the 2021-22 season, Roy consulted with Lizotte and then designed the session to help Rousseau's mindset.

"I just tried to share my feelings, my opinion, on different things," said Roy, who is second on the NHL's all-time wins list with 551 and has a career 2.78 goals-against average. "My career, from the outside, looks like it was a really nice one. But I also had some down moments and I could share what I was tried to do when I was going through tougher times and how in good times I tried to stay in the zone.

"That's the best I can do."

Rousseau said Roy's best had a tremendous impact on him.

"(Roy) knew what I was capable of doing," said Rousseau. "He helped me prove it. He didn't hesitate to to get me on the ice and give me that advice."

Roy's belief in Rousseau is paying dividends this season.

Rousseau's 2.08 GAA is the lowest of any starting goaltender in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the second best in all of Canada, behind only Austin Elliott (2.00) of the Saskatoon Blades.

The only other QMJHL goalie that comes close to Rousseau's success this season is Remparts backup Quentin Miller. The rookie's GAA dropped to 2.08 on Wednesday night following an impressive 11-2 victory over the Baie-Comeau Drakkar that kept Quebec atop the standings.

Both Rousseau and Miller said that it's an honour to play for Roy, but he insists that the pleasure is all his.

"It seems to me that we've been doing a pretty good job drafting goalies," said Roy. "William and Quentin are playing really well for us and we're very lucky to have both of them.

"But I will say this to you, it's also an honour for me to have them playing in front of me."

Miller said that with guidance from Lizotte and Roy, as well as the support of Rousseau, he's been able to thrive in his first QMJHL season.

"William helps me to become a better goalie and he sets a great example for me," said Miller before the win over the Drakkar. "He gives me gives me a lot of tips to become a better goalie, and, of course, we have a great team."

Rousseau agrees with Miller, also giving their Quebec teammates credit for making the goalies' jobs easier in net.

"We don't allow lots of scoring chance and we really play the game the right way," said Rousseau. "So yes, sometimes it can be not too exciting and it's not always a skills game, but when the guys need to get those skills out, they get it out.

"When we need to go simple and just chip in the puck to limit the turnovers, I think the boys are capable of doing that too."

Quebec (33-6-3) is first overall in the QMJHL, eight points ahead of the Halifax Mooseheads and nine ahead of the Victoriaville Tigres heading into play Thursday night. The Remparts are in Rimouski on Friday night against the Oceanic (24-18-2).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press