Facing the Victoriaville Tigres would be a stiff test for the Junior de Montreal on any night, but on a night where one of their top offensive players in Luke Adam was going to be missing would certainly make it that much more difficult. It would be a true test of character.
The Victoriaville team was coming in with a 27-27-1-1 record and was just ahead of Montreal in the overall standings by 1 point. Both teams needed a win, but maybe Victoriaville more as they had lost their last 4 games. This is a team with a long tradition and that has churned out NHL players like Yves Sarault, PJ Stock, André Racicot, Stéphane Fiset, Alexandre Daigle and present players like Matthew Lombardi and Mathieu Garon. The present team has such quality players like Maxime Tanguay (brother of Montreal Canadiens' Alex Tanguay), defenceman Joël Chouinard (drafted by the Colorado Avalanche) and Russian Kirill Tulupov (drafted by New Jersey).
In the you live you learn category, on this website we have been commenting on how lately that Luke Adam has looked out of sorts lately. Well, goes to show how you shouldn't always think that things are as they seem. Apparently he has had mononucleosis for the last little while, but it was undiagnosed and he continued to play. One of the effects that mono has on the body is that the spleen becomes swollen. An otherwise innocent bodycheck in the game against Baie Comeau caused the enlarged spleen to rupture. Adam was brought to the hospital and underwent emergency surgery. All this means that he will be lost to the team for 6-8 weeks. Which means that only if Montreal makes it to the second round of the playoffs will Luke Adam possibly be available to play. Tough break for the team and an even tougher break for the young man. We all wish him well.
Besides the absence of Luke Adam the team would also have to do without defenceman T.J. Brennan, who has been suspended by the league for 5 games for an attempt to injure. The game against Victoriaville would be his 2nd game sitting out.
Montreal dressed 17-year-old Anthony Courcelles to replace Adam on the roster. The game started off well for the Junior, though there was no scoring in the 1st period, they outshot the Tigres (9-6) and did not allow them any offensive chances really. In the 2nd period Pier-Antoine Dion opened the scoring with his 12th goal of the season off his own rebound. Victoriaville's goaltender, St. Leonard native Antonio Mastropietro, seemed to be fighting the puck all night. Montreal was aware enough to take advantage of that by throwing as many pucks at him as they could from any angle. While Dion was in the box serving a tripping penalty the Tigres tied up the game on a Maxime Tanguay power play goal.
The big story of the game, besides the Montreal win despite being shorthanded, happened in the 2nd period when Montreal's Angelo Esposito was carrying the puck through the centre ice area and was hit by Victoriaville defenceman Olivier Hinse. It was a big, but clean hit and Hinse fell awkwardly on Esposito's leg. The trainers had to come out to the Junior star forward and while he was leaving the ice he could not put any weight on the leg. That is never a good sign. While he was off the ice the training staff looked at the leg and assessed it was a serious knee injury and sent him off to the hospital for x-rays. The whispers around the team are saying that they fear it is an ACL injury, but after what happened to Luke Adam I don't know what to believe. Even if it is not the ACL it is thought to be a long term injury that will deprive the Junior of their star forward for an extended period of time.
Early on in the 3rd period Victoriaville went up 2-1 and the cause seemed lost for the Junior. They seemed demoralized by the goal and their on-ice body language wasn't the best. Showing some gumption after it seemed like they were down and out, the Junior struck for two quick goals within 40 seconds of each other in the middle of the 3rd period. Dion scored his second of the game and then Darick Ste. Marie scored his first of the season and in the QMJHL shortly after. Now the shorthanded Montreal team had to defend its lead with 9 minutes still remaining in the game.
Victoriaville really began to really press during these last 9 minutes. As a result, though, Montreal ended up getting some odd-man rushes (3 on 2's and 2 on 1's), but could not salt the game away. Montreal was showing signs of fatigue during the 3rd period as several players were asked to play minutes they were not used to due to the injuries.
With just under 1 minute to play Victoriaville pulled their goaltender and Coach Vincent called a timeout to give his players a rest before the final onslaught. Montreal ended up with a chance to score in the empty net when Nick Layton, who could have scored himself, set up teammate Pier-Antoine Dion for his hattrick goal. Despite the fact that the goal was empty and Dion was uncovered he missed the net! Unbelievable! He could not even believe it and threw his hands up in the air à la Ryan O'Byrne. You had a feeling that this miss might come back to haunt the Junior.
Fortunately, Jake Allen was like the Jake Allen of old in that he was coming up with the big stops when called upon. None better than the one he made with 3 seconds left in the game. Victoriaville really crashed the net, even knocking it off its moorings, but Allen kept the puck out. Or did he? The play went to video replay and a longish delay ensued. Thankfully it was ruled no goal and the Junior had a big win.
For a team that has been accused of a lack of intensity at times they had every reason to fold up their tent after Esposito got hurt, but they didn't. Dion, Anthony Courcelles and Philippe Fontaine played strong games. It was the game of the year for Pier-Antoine Dion, who showed plenty of leadership.
Will be interesting for the Junior on Friday night when they receive another good team in Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts. Without Luke Adam and Angelo Esposito the team is really short of forwards and offensive spark. Players like Guillaume Asselin and Pier-Antoine Dion will have to pick up the slack. Will they call up someone from their protected list? Former Montreal Junior Chris Smith, who is now playing Junior AAA? They need a warm (and healthy) body as they have 7 games over the course of the next 3 weeks.
-On-Ice Officials: Referee: Marc Muylaert
Linesmen: Bruno Forest and Stéfan Capano
-Goals: 2nd Period:
2:28 – Montreal – Pier-Antoine Dion assisted by Vincent Bourgeois
17:57 – Victoriaville – (pp) Maxime Tanguay assisted by Jonathan Bonneau and Maxime Robichaud
4:29 – Victoriaville – Travis McIsaac assisted by Chad Earle and Kevin Dupont
9:54 – Montreal – Pier-Antoine Dion assisted by Dmitri Kostomitin
10:34 – Montreal – Darick Ste. Marie assisted by Philippe Fontaine
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 29
-3 Stars: 1) Pier-Antoine Dion – Montreal
2) Maxime Tanguay – Victoriaville
3) Darick Ste. Marie – Montreal