Rod Brind’Amour and Kent Manderville have a lot in common. They grew up on Vancouver Island, played for the Notre Dame Hounds, earned U.S. College Scholarships, and enjoyed long NHL careers. Both were also Victoria Cougars – and never played for the franchise.
Rod Brind’Amour played minor hockey in Campbell River and was considered a top prospect from a young age. In January 1985, his Campbell River team participated in a B.C bantam tournament at the Victoria Racquet Club. Campbell River won the championship, with Brind'Amour (playing as a defenseman) earning a selection to the all-star team. It would be the last time he ever played in Victoria. Next season, he went to Saskatchewan and enrolled in Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.
In January 1986, the Cougars were in the middle of a disappointing season that would see them finish last in the West Division. Looking to build for the future, they made a huge trade with the division-leading Kamloops Blazers. Victoria traded their starting goaltender Randy Hansch and defenseman Chris Tarnowski to Kamloops. In return, the Cougars received Will Andersen, Jim Kambeitz, Clayton Young, and Rod Brind’Amour. The fifteen-year-old Brind’Amour was on the Blazers protected list and held his Western Hockey League (WHL) playing rights.
It turned out to be a good trade for Victoria as Andersen, Kambeitz and Young each contributed over the next couple of years. Unfortunately for the Cougars, their prized prospect, Rod Brind’Amour, never joined the team. Instead, Brind’Amour remained with Notre Dame for the 1986/87 campaign, pursuing a college scholarship. Playing in the WHL would make him ineligible for American scholarships and U.S. college hockey.
Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, is a private high school emphasizing hockey and development. They are one of the most successful Canadian hockey programs, with over 200 Notre Dame Hounds drafted or signed by the NHL. Some of their alumni include Curtis Joseph, Wendel Clark, Vincent Lecavalier, Jaden Schwartz and Jordan Eberle.
Brind’Amour had a breakout year in 1986/87, scoring 88 points in 33 games. At the end of the year, Victoria continued pursuing Brind’Amour, hoping he would leave the Hounds for the Cougars. The following quote from the Times-Colonist in April 1987 shows the hype surrounding Brind’Amour from a young age.
And the Cougars, if they can convince him, may have Rod Brind’Amour next season. He has been impressing people at Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Sask. and is called a prospect destined to go all the way to the National Hockey League in style. He was even singled out as a peewee-aged player years ago in Campbell River (1)
The Cougars hoped that Brind’Amour would follow the same path as Russ Courtnall. After playing for the Victoria Racquet Club, Courtnall enrolled at Notre Dame when he was 16. After one year with the Hounds, Victoria acquired his WHL rights from the Calgary Wranglers. The Cougars convinced Courtnall to leave Notre Dame to start the 1982/83 season. He went on to play 92 games for the Cougars, drafted in the first round by the Toronto Maple Leafs, captained Team Canada at the World Juniors and appeared in 1,029 NHL games.
For his final year of junior, Cougars General Manager Al Patterson tried to convince Brind’Amour he would be better off playing against a higher level of competition in the WHL. Brind'Amour declined Patterson's offer and returned to Notre Dame, where he was named captain of the Hounds. They went on to win the 1987/88 SJHL championship and the 1988 Centennial Cup (Canadian Jr A Championship). He also earned a scholarship to Michigan State University. In June 1988, Brind’Amour was drafted in the first round (9th overall) by the St. Louis Blues. After one year at Michigan State, he made his pro debut with the Blues in the 1989 Stanley Cup playoffs, scoring a goal in his first game.
Brind’Amour appeared in 1484 NHL games, winning back-to-back Frank J Selke Trophies (awarded for the best defensive forward) in 2006 and 2007. He won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2002, and the Hurricanes retired his number 17 in 2011. Brind’Amour became Carolina’s head coach in 2018 and won the 2021 Jack Adams Coach of the Year award.
Kent Manderville is an alumnus of St. Michaels University School’s minor hockey program and the Victoria Racquet Club. The Victoria Cougars held his WHL rights, but instead, he joined the Notre Dame Hounds. After a successful 1988/89 season with Notre Dame, scoring 75 points in 58 games, Manderville earned a scholarship to Cornell University. “I’m not hurting myself going to college,” said Manderville in 1990. “I really feel good about it. In hindsight, with the Victoria Cougars doing the way they are, it’s been the best thing for me.” (2) At the time, the 1989-90 Cougars were on their way to setting a WHL record for futility by winning only five games all year.
Victoria’s gruelling travel schedule was another reason he never played for the Cougars. In a 2002 interview with Pittsburgh’s Post Gazette, Manderville talked about the reasons he pursued college hockey instead of the WHL.
Because that franchise (the Cougars) was based on Vancouver Island, west of the British Columbia mainland, simply getting to and from games would make the league's already gruelling travel even worse. The Cougars, Manderville said, would bus from wherever they had played to Vancouver, then spend the night at the ferry terminal before catching an early-morning boat across the Strait of Georgia. "That didn't appeal to me," he said.
The Calgary Flames selected Manderville in the second-round (24th overall) of the 1989 NHL entry draft. Instead of immediately turning pro, he enrolled in Cornell. In his first year, he was named the 1990 Eastern College Athletic Conference Rookie-of-the-Year. While attending Cornell, he won two gold medals with Team Canada at the 1990 and 1991 World Juniors.
On January 2, 1992, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Manderville, Doug Gilmour and three others from the Calgary Flames in a huge ten-player trade. He went on to the Winter Olympics in February 1992 and captured silver with the Canadian team in Albertville, France. After the Olympics, Manderville made his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 4, 1992. He went on to appear in 646 NHL games, retired in 2007 and was inducted into the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.
For the Cougars, it was a devastating blow to the franchise when Brind’Amour and Manderville spurned Victoria to play for Notre Dame. For most of the 1980s and 1990s, the Cougars struggled on the ice as they only won one playoff series in their last twelve years of existence. Their lack of success made other options more attractive for some of their prospects. Paul Kariya, Craig Redmond and Jeff Batters are examples of other players who went the U.S. college route instead of joining the Cougars.
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(1) “Next chance is next season” Dave Senick, April 12, 1987 (Page 9 of 48). Times Colonist (1980-2010) 1987 Apr 12(120):9.
(2) “Title highlights Manderville’s budding hockey career” Darron Kloster, January 15, 1990 (Page 15 of 24). Times Colonist (1980-2010) 1990 Jan 15(33):15.