Sunday afternoon the Junior de Montreal played their second home game of the weekend. It was a weekend of Jekyll & Hyde for them. They would play one bad period followed by a good one. The afternoon before they played an uneven game, but were able to eke out a comeback 6-4 victory versus the Val D'Or Foreurs. You had to think that this kind of up-and-down play was certainly going to come back and haunt them. And it did on Sunday afternoon.
During this the height of the trade season in the QMJHL the Junior de Montreal, feeling that they have a legitimate shot at winning the league and going on to the Memorial Cup, were quite active. They made several trades on January 6th with the aim of fine tuning their roster. First was a trade with Shawinigan for left winger Raphaël Pouliot (11 points in 38 games) for 2nd and 5th round draft picks in 2011. Pouliot at 6'4" and 205 pounds will bring some size and sandpaper to the lineup. Next was a trade with PEI for 19-year-old defenceman Jean-Laurence Beauchemin. Beauchemin will also add size (6'4", 197 pounds) on the blue line. Alex Lemieux was obtained from Halifax for a 3rd round draft pick in 2012. Lemieux is an 18-year-old right winger who has 3 goals and 8 assists in 38 games. Finally the Junior gave up centre Denis Kindl and a 2nd round draft choice in 2012 and a 1st round draft choice in 2013 to Cape Breton for right winger Viktor Hertzberg. Hertzberg is an offensive player who had 36 points in 31 games so far this season.
With all these new players coming to the team you knew it would take a while for them to adjust and maybe that can explain the inconsistent play during the first two games. Hertzberg make his mark right away with 2 goals Saturday against Val D'Or, but unfortunately he was injured in the game and did not play against Gatineau. Winger Phillippe Lefebvre was also injured in the game, so Montreal was going into the game against Gatineau minus two important offensive players.
The Gatineau Olympiques also made a splash during the trade season by acquiring the league's leading scorer, Philip-Michaël Devos, from Victoriaville. He is always dangerous and the Junior paid particular attention to him by assigning the gritty Jérémy Gouchie to function as his shadow. It worked as Devos was pretty ineffective, only managing one assist in the game and that came on the power play. It wasn't one player who defeated the Junior on this afternoon or even the Olympiques as a whole, the defeat was a combination of bad luck and poor play. In other words the Junior defeated themselves.
Gatineau with the trade and their improved play lately has made it a four team race in the league. They have pulled in close to Montreal, Quebec and Saint John atop the standings. As a result of the fact that they were only 5 points behind Montreal this game had the feeling of a playoff game even before the drop of the puck.
Not responding to the playoff atmosphere, the 1st period of the game was possibly the Junior's worst of the season. They committed mistakes and defensive miscues one after another. It was ugly and very uncharacteristic of this usually steady team. By the 15 minute mark of the first the Junior were already behind by three goals. Goals by Tommy Tremblay, Mitchell Porowski and Jean-Gabriel Pageau on the power play gave Gatineau a 3-0 lead at the end of the period. Defensive lapses were happening left, right and center for the Junior in the 1st.
Things looked bleak as the home team was making mistakes and goaltender Jean-Francois Bérubé seemed to be playing alone at times. But as someone who has followed this team all season I should have known that they are capable of scoring plenty of goals and quickly. As bad as they were in the 1st period was as good as they were in the 2nd.
The comeback part two began early and just like that at 4:38 of the 2nd period the score was tied 3-3. Defenceman Charles Landry got it going with a rather lucky goal (isn't that usually the way). His shot was of the knuckleball variety and on the way in it struck the blade of a Gatineau defenceman and totally fooled Olympiques netminder, Maxime Clermont. A mere 17 seconds later Louis Leblanc, seemingly recovered from Canada's World Junior Hockey Tournament collapse, blasted one by Clermont and then Francis Meilleur scored on the power play at 4:38. Just like that the three goal lead had evaporated.
After all that action in the 1st and 2nd period the 3rd period started off quite quietly. The play was fairly even in the first 10 minutes with neither side seeming to want to take offensive risks.
As usually is the case in games like this the winning goal was a flukey one. Gatineau's Raphael Lafontaine went into the Montreal zone all alone and just flipped a backhand in front of the Junior's net with not a teammate in sight. Bad luck for Montreal occurred when this without a hope centering pass bounced off Xavier Ouellet's skate and past Bérubé. That was the straw that broke the Junior's back. They did not have another comeback in them. Gatineau iced it when an Adam Janosik wrist shot from the blue line made it 5-3 with just over 5 minutes remaining in the game. After the goal a portion of the good size crowd started heading for the exits.
This was a disappointing result after they had such a spirited comeback in the 2nd period. But it just proves that even the strongest of teams cannot play with fire too many times. It was a big win for Gatineau, who seems to really like playing in this building, as it brings them to only 3 points behind the Junior for 3rd place overall and 1st in the Telus West Division. The Junior do have a game in hand, however.
Next up for the Junior is a couple of away games later this week with them traveling to Rouyn-Noranda (January 13th) and then Val D'Or (January 14th) before returning home to face Halifax on Sunday, January 16th for an afternoon tilt.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Dominic Tessier and Frédéric Leblanc
Linesmen: Alexandre Dubuc and Julien Lavoie
-Goals: 1st Period:
5:32 – Gatineau – Tommy Tremblay assisted by Nicolas Deslauriers and Mathieu Gagnon
8:34 – Gatineau – Mitchell Porowski assisted by Taylor Burke and Adam Janosik
14:56 – Gatineau – (pp) Jean-Gabriel Pageau assisted by Nicolas Deslauriers and Philip-Michaël Devos
2nd Period :
0:39 – Montreal – Charles Landry assisted by Jérémy Gouchie and Trevor Parkes
0:56 – Montreal – Louis Leblanc assisted by David Rose and Francis Meilleur
4:38 – Montreal – (pp) Francis Meilleur assisted by Trevor Parkes and Jérémy Gouchie
11:30 – Gatineau – Raphael Lafontaine unassisted
14:53 – Gatineau – Adam Janosik assisted by Mitchell Porowski
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 25
-3 Stars: 1) Raphael Lafontaine – Gatineau
2) Francis Meilleur – Montreal
3) Nicolas Deslauriers – Gatineau
-Attendance : 3,004
-Final Score : Montreal : 3
Gatineau : 5