The Montreal team, the Juniors that is, are playing much better lately other than the recent 7-3 demolishing at the hands of the mighty Drummondville Voltigeurs. Their opposition this cold Sunday afternoon (c'mon it's March already!!) were the Lewiston MAINEiacs.
Lewiston is one of the weaker teams in the league and was coming off a good showing at Gatineau. In the past the fact that a weaker team was coming to town would have made me nervous, as the Junior would play down to the level of their opposition and often lose games to weaker opponents, but lately this Junior team seems a lot different than the previous incarnation. They are all about team play and hustle lately, so I go into each game with more confidence than I previously had.
The atmosphere was great at the game for several reasons. This game was CKAC Sports Hockey Day and the promotion was that any kid under the age of 12 would get into the game free. It was not a sell out, but naturally the stands were filled with the best kinds of fans – young ones. To make matters even more lively Telus had handed out some fan-like noisemakers before the game which the kids used very effectively to cheer on the Junior. The young spectators along with the noisemakers made the Auditorium seem fuller than it was. The atmosphere was great. And with a tip of my hat to my fellow Junior reporter (Catherine), I have to say that the music selection has been improved upon. With less more modern songs and more classics ("Mony, Mony", "Smoke on the Water" and "We Will Rock You") the crowd is able to clap and dance along with the music lending to a much better atmosphere at the games.
I was confused for two reasons right at the start of this game: One being that the league had assigned only one referee to the game. Now, Lewiston might be a lightweight in the standings, but they certainly are not a team unfamiliar with the penalty box. Lewiston players like Danick Paquette (215 minutes), Maxime Gratchew (99 minutes), Samuel Finn (84 minutes), and Etienne Brodeur (80 minutes) all have become quite familiar with the sin bin. Captain Danick Paquette, while a very talented player with 49 points, is a very dangerous young man. He needs two pairs of eyes on him (at a minimum) to keep the opposition players safe. So I have to question the league assigning one referee to any game he is involved in.
Secondly, Coach Vincent had jumbled up his lines yet again and I guess that had to do with the fact that he was going with only 10 forwards instead of the usual 12. This might be a strategy he would rethink for the next game, but more about that later…
As a foreshadowing for things to come Lewiston's Paquette was his usual chippy self in the early stages of the game, which itself was choppy in that there were plenty of whistles to interrupt the flow. Paquette never missed a chance to agitate or cheap shot a Junior player. One of his favourite moves was laying the lumber onto the shins of a Junior defenceman as he was going off on a change. Totally unprovoked! And not necessary. He really doesn't seem like captain material to me.
Junior defenceman David Foucher had a tough start to the game and paid a physical price when got tied up with Lewiston's Maxime Gratchev along the boards and was knocked for a loop. You know you have had your bell rung when even your mouthguard goes flying. This kind of physical play and Montreal coming out on the losing side was a sign of things to come.
While the first period was a choppy one to say the least, Junior goaltender Jake Allen was marvelous. He made several sparkling saves, especially a great kick save from close in at the end of a Lewiston power play. Allen seemed to be on his game from the drop of the puck. He was making the first stop and then covering up the rebound. Looking less like the Carey Price twin (not a good thing lately) he has been lately, Allen was challenging shooters, using all of his 6'2" frame to block the net and staying on his feet more. He was always outside his paint and square to the shooters.
The only thing of note that happened in the first frame was when Junior captain Matt Fillier laid a heavy bodycheck on one of the MAINEiacs then Paquette answered with a dirty elbow…well, his elbow wasn't dirty, but you know what I mean. He got a minor penalty, but that obviously does not deter this guy. The abuse of Fillier continued when Etienne Brodeur pasted him while he was in a vulnerable position. Another penalty, but what was more worrisome was that Fillier got up very slowly and went straight to the dressing room never to be seen again. He is a character player that the Junior cannot afford to lose at this juncture.
In the second period the Junior responded to their goaltender's stellar play and the MAINEiacs cheap shots by scoring three goals in just over 1 minute. Darick Ste. Marie (2nd), Matthew Brenton and Nick Layton all scored before the second period was 4 minutes old. You could almost hear the air go out of the Lewiston tires. This, however and unfortunately, would make them all that much more dangerous a team.
Thankfully Coach Vincent had dressed an extra defenceman because he would soon need that cushion. Paquette came flying in, left his skates to pummel his elbow into the nose of Junior defenceman Frank Grzeszczak. Grzeszczak's nose exploded in a sea of red and he crumpled to the ground. Paquette was given a 5 minute elbowing penalty and a game misconduct. The danger was diminished, but now the Junior were down 2 players as Grzeszczak never returned.
On the ensuing power play Dmitri Kostromitin (one of the defenceman left standing) blasted a shot from the point past MAINEiacs goaltender Adrien Lemay for his fifth goal of the season. Lewiston finally got on the scoreboard on a flukey goal that changed direction after it bounced in off forward Alexander Beaton.
Another Junior defenceman went down early on in the third period after an knee-on-knee hit went unpenalized. Vincent Bourgeois left the ice not able to put any weight on his leg (never a good sign) and did not return. The Montreal bench now had plenty of room with only 9 healthy men left besides those (6) on the ice.
With a fifth Montreal goal at 4:17 by Guillaume Asselin (off a nice rush and feed from Alex Wall) on a power play and a 5-1 lead what now seemed paramount to the Junior was to get out of the game with no more injuries.
The game ended 7-2 (with two more goals by Kostromitin and Asselin) and there were no more injuries for Montreal. They had completely dismantled a weaker opponent, but at what cost? We will only know on Tuesday night when the team faces the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. Here's to hoping that the brutal play by the Lewiston team does not cost the Junior any more men lost to injury going into the playoffs.
Speaking of playoffs, rumour has it that Montreal Junior playoff tickets will go on sale this week, so keep your eyes peeled.
-On-Ice Officials: Referee: Mathieu Bergeron
Linesmen: Luc Voyer and Dominic Tessier
-Goals: 2nd Period:
2:11 – Montreal – Darick Ste. Marie assisted by Guillaume Asselin and Chris Thorne
2:18 – Montreal – Matthew Brenton assisted by Jérémy Gouchie
3:29 – Montreal – Nick Layton assisted by Matt Fillier and David Foucher
12:29 – Montreal – (pp) Dmitri Kostromitin assisted by Philippe Fontaine and Pier-Antoine Dion
15:37 – Lewiston – (pp) Alexander Beaton assisted by Denis Reul
4:17 – Montreal – (pp) Guillaume Asselin assisted by Alex Wall
12:12 – Montreal – (pp) Dmitri Kostromitin assisted by Nick Layton and Pier-Antoine Dion
17:15 – Lewiston – (pp) Etienne Brodeur assisted by Maxime Gratchev and Patrick Cusack
18:30 – Montreal – Guillaume Asselin assisted by Chris Thorne and Dmitri Kostromitin
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 41
-3 Stars: 1) Nick Layton – Montreal
2) Guillaume Asselin – Montreal
3) Dmitri Kostromitin – Montreal