All over Shawinigan there are posters promoting the 2012 Mastercard Memorial Cup that show hockey legend Guy Lafleur patting the back of Cataractes star forward Michael Bournival.
Bournival, a Montreal Canadiens prospect, is being looked upon to lead Shawinigan to its first Memorial Cup title at the 10-day tournament, where the host Cataractes will face the winners of the three major junior leagues – Saint John Sea Dogs, London Knights and Edmonton Oil Kings.
It is a tall order for the Cataractes, who finished second to Saint John in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and then were bounced from the playoffs in the second round by the Chicoutimi Sagueneens a month ago.
Some wonder if the pressure to lead played a part in a sub-par postseason for Bournival, a 30-goal scorer in the regular season who had one goal and six assists in 11 playoff games.
“It’s a new start, a new tournament,” Bournival said Friday as the team prepared to meet the Oil Kings in the tournament opener at the Bionest Centre. “It’s a short tournament, so every game is important. We’re all just thinking about the team.”
Bournival, who turns 20 on May 31, is known as a hard-working two-way centre who can help his team with his energy and defensive play even during stretches when he is struggling to put up points.
At this year’s world junior championships, he had only one assist in six games, but was solid in a defensive role as Canada won bronze.
If he tried too hard in the QMJHL playoffs, coach Eric Veilleux said he is over it now.
“Maybe at the start when the poster came out and all that,” said Veilleux when asked about the pressure on his top centre. “Maybe even in the payoffs a bit, but we had a full month to chat about it.
“A lot of things were said or were written. I don’t think it bothers him any more. He’s over it. I honestly believe he’s more than ready for the tournament.”
Bournival was a natural pick to be on the poster. The 6-foot, 180-pounder was born and raised in Shawinigan and spent in entire four-year junior career with the Cataractes.
This season, despite being limited to 41 games by a shoulder injury and world juniors duty, he had career highs in goals and points.
“It’s an honour for me just to be beside Guy Lafleur,” he said. “He’s one of the best players of all time.
“My father loves him. When they said I need to do that poster with Guy Lafleur I was proud of that. I couldn’t say no.”
The Cataractes will be underdogs, but will have the home crowd on their side as they try to make the most of the second chance the Memorial Cup represents.
They were the league’s stingiest defensive club this season, but will also need leaders on attack like Bournival to be at their best.
“The past is the past now, it’s useless for us to talk about what happened before and how [Bournival]felt and all that,” Veilleux said. “It’s how he feels now.
“He practised extremely well. He started shooting the puck like he did at the start of the season and he’s feeling very comfortable and confident.
“We need him to just be himself. Play with grit. Go to the net. Shoot the puck. That’s how he plays. Not be a hero. We don’t need a hero now. We’re a solid hockey club when we play as a team. With the players we have, we don’t need to rely on one guy.”
Bournival was drafted 71st overall in 2010 by the Colorado Avalanche, but his rights were traded to the Canadiens a few months later for defenceman Ryan O’Byrne.
Montreal is only 90 minutes away and the Canadiens will be watching the tournament closely. Their co-owner and president, Geoff Molson, is honorary president of the event.
And their four prospects in the tournament is more than any other NHL club. Beside Bournival and Shawinigan defenceman Morgan Ellis, there are Saint John rearguard Nathan Beaulieu and London defenceman Jarred Tinordi.
Bournival is set to graduate into pro hockey next season, possibly with the Canadiens but if not, with their AHL team in Hamilton. The Memorial Cup will be his last hurrah in junior hockey.
But he’s not thinking about any of that these days.
“For sure, I want to go to another level, but right now, I’m with the Shawinigan Cataractes and I want to focus on that. It’s the biggest two weeks of every player on every team. I want to focus on the right things.”