Last Friday, the Montreal Juniors built up a 3-0 lead against visiting Rouyn-Noranda then had to hold on for the win as the Huskies scored two goals to make a game of it. This Friday, the Juniors built up a 3-0 lead against visiting Gatineau then had to…well, you get the idea.
While a win is a win, coach and general manager Pascal Vincent is unlikely to be entirely satisfied with how his team went about collecting its two points. The Juniors were outshot 32-20. Their play was inconsistent and they allowed a divisional rival back in the game when they should have been slamming the door shut.
The odd thing is, until around the 14 minute mark of the third period, it looked like it would be a night of positives. Russian defenceman Dmitri Kostromitin made his long-awaited debut for the club and looked very much at home on the Juniors' blue line. He played the point on the power play and if he can improve the accuracy of his shot just a little, he'll have Montreal fans buzzing abut whole other kind of Russian Rocket. The 6'3, 200-pounder was also used in the last 20 seconds of a one-goal game, indicating Vincent has confidence in his defensive ability. He wasn't afraid to play the body and he showed some grit, coming back after being cut with a high stick early in the third period.
Sixteen year old sparkplug Guillaume Asselin scored the contest's opening goal at 4:36 of the first period and played a high energy game, generating something positive virtually every time he stepped on the ice. Line mate Louis-Marc Aubry, an old fogey at 17, assisted on Asselin's goal, scored two power play markers of his own and was flying all night. At this rate, Asselin and Aubry will be fighting it out for rookie of the year honours in the Q.
Defencemen Vincent Bourgeois and Pat O'Keefe set up both of Aubry's goals. O'Keefe did some particularly nifty work on what proved to be the game winner, working his way from the blue line to the high slot before dishing off to Aubry who snapped a shot past Gatineau goaltender Maxime Clermont.
Then there was goaltender Jake Allen. No one could blame him if he started thinking, "l'équipe, c'est moi". He made 30 saves, some of them from point blank range. Watching Allen at work, it's easy to see why he was named to the team that will face off against some of Russia's best prospects in November's ADT Canada-Russia Challenge. (And it's hard to see how he won't earn a spot on Canada's World Junior team.)
The Olympiques' first goal at 14:23 of the third was something of a fluke and came with the visitors on the power play. The puck trickled over the line in slow motion and the officials had to confer before finally calling it a goal. Their second goal came with 22 seconds left in the game and the teams skating four-on-four. It would be easy to suggest that, given the timing of Gatineau's goals and the fact that one was a little questionable, the only harm done was to Allen's goals against average and save percentage. (Oh, to be so tantalizingly close to his second shut-out in 11 games!)
What left a bit of a queasy feeling wasn't the final score. It was that had the Juniors been able to maintain their focus throughout the game, they might have been up by more than three with 6 minutes to go. Their team play was generally inconsistent and, at times, sloppy. It gave a feisty but clearly less able Gatineau squad more of a chance than they might otherwise have had.
But, hey. It was a Friday night win in front of 3 135 adoring hometown fans. The goaltending was solid, Asselin and Aubry are proving the kids are all right and Dmitri Kostromintin showed he's a welcome addition to the defence corps. And if playing "Groundhog Day" means the Juniors keep scoring points and climbing in the standings, maybe it's not so bad.
-The Juniors hit the ice again Sunday afternoon at 4:30pm against the Tigres de Victoriaville. After two games on the road, they'll be back home on November 5th for a Wednesday night tilt against the struggling Foreurs de Val-d'Or.
-The last three games at the Verdun Auditorium have been decided by 3-2 scores. The Juniors have two wins and a loss. The team is 8 and 7 on the season.
-Golden Ice Bag of the game goes to linesman Serge Carpentier who was injured early in the third period. From our vantage point, it looked like a lost tooth. After getting treatment from the Juniors' training staff, he came back out to finish the game. Honourable mention goes to Dmitri Kostromintin who was cut by an errant Nicholas Mayer stick at 7:19 of the third.
-The second period was physical on the ice, but the best action was in the stands. Minor hockey players in Section 21 got into a good-natured cheering war with some Gatineau fans in Section 23. Like their team, the Olympiques supporters gave a good effort in a losing cause.
-Centre Luke Adam played yet another strong game. He earned a penalty shot in the third when one of the two Gatineau defenders he had beaten hauled him down as he powered to the net. Maxime Clermont made the save.
-Or perhaps Adam was simply blinded by Clermont's orange pads, trapper and blocker. Gatineau's black, purple, white and orange road uniforms can charitably be described as garish. Factor in the pumpkin hues of Clermont's equipment and, well, Halloween came to Verdun a week early.
-Adam and centre Angelo Esposito will be joining goaltender Jake Allen at the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge.
-Esposito is nursing a broken left hand and is expected to be out two weeks. The crafty centre, who is not known for his physicality, sustained the injury in a fight with Cape Breton's Jan Piskacek. Esposito took exception to a knee-on-knee hit Piskacek had just delivered to Adam.
1) Louis-Marc Aubry
2) Jake Allen
3) Pat O'Keefe
Shots on Goal:
On Ice Officials:
Referees: Dominic Franc, Frédéric Leblanc
Linesmen: Bruno Forest, Serge Carpentier
4:36 Montreal Guillaume Asselin assisted by Pat O'Keefe and Louis-Marc Aubry
12:48 Montreal (pp) Louis-Marc Aubry assisted by Pat O'Keefe and Vincent Bourgeois
9:50 Montreal (pp) Louis-Marc Aubry assisted by Pat O'Keefe and Vincent Bourgeois
14:23 Gatineau (pp) Alexandre Touchette assisted by Alex Lamontagne and Alexandre Quesnel
19:38 Gatineau Hugo Laporte assisted by Paul Byron and Maxime Mallette