- THE WILDCATS
Wildcats – the first season 1996-1997
The Moncton franchise in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League had a new owner, a new name and a group of new young players to begin their first season.
Robert K. Irving was the owner and the astute Moncton businessman used a public relations firm to work with the fans to develop a team name that would best portray the image of a fiercely competitive organization. From thousands of entries, “Wildcats” was the name selected and the logo of a roaring cat with mouth open and claws extended sent a strong message to opposing teams and a reason for fans to applaud. The team sported new jerseys of red and white, with the powerful Cat as the dominant feature.
Knowing that goaltending is the last line of defence, Moncton drafted an outstanding Midget AAA prospect Jean-Francois Damphousse to be the team’s netminder. Along with JF, came a corps of young defencemen including the team’s first captain and Moncton native Mario Cormier. Other blueliners included, Weston Fader, Daniel MacLeod, Mathieu Létourneau and Alexandre Vigneault.
Damphousse, who became a favorite of the fans during his three year stay in Moncton, would go on to play in the AHL and the NHL. “The 1996-97 season is probably the one that I learned the most in my career. We were not the best team in the league but it wasn’t because of lack of effort. We worked very hard and became a big family.”
Coach Bill Riley supported by a scouting staff headed by Peter Nevin added promising forwards Christian Daigle, Rémy Boudreau, Vincent Dionne, Sébastien Roger, Simon Laliberté, David Comeau, Martin Pouliot, Jarrod Thomas and Stephen Quirk.
With 7,605 fans jamming the Moncton Coliseum, the Wildcats roared to life in the home-opener on September 22, 1996, defeating Victoriaville 9-6.
Unfortunately the first game victory was not an indication of things to come. The expansion Wildcats managed only 16 wins against 52 losses and 2 ties in their first season. Sébastien Roger played in all 70 games and was the Wildcats leading point scorer with 37 goals and 32 assists.
Out of the playoffs, the Wildcats licked their losing wounds and prepared for season number two, determined with experience and new talent to reach the post season in the second year.
Hockey fans in South-Eastern New Brunswick took the Wildcats to heart with 188,560 creating an attendance record.