Luke Adam is probably a very nice young man. Just don't expect anyone in Rimouski to believe it. The Montreal Juniors' centre appeared to be in a foul mood Thursday night at the Verdun Auditorium as he led the hometown team to a 4-2 win over the Océanic.
Actually, none of the Juniors were exuding much holiday cheer in their last home game before Christmas. The team was looking for a season-high fourth consecutive win and to a player they seemed bound and determined to get it. They blocked shots, fought doggedly for puck possession and hit anything in blue and white.
The play was back and forth until the three minute mark of the first period at which point Rimouski's Frédéric Desrochers made the mistake of hitting T.J. Brennan from behind. As Brennan, doubled over in pain, made his way to the bench, Montreal captain Matt Fillier decked Desrochers' halls much to the delight of the 3 277 fans who decided to forgo holiday shopping in favour of taking in a little shinny.
From that point on, Montreal was dominant. Rimouski goalie Maxim Gougeon was shaky on this night and but for the help of his teammates and his "red metal friends", the game would have been over early. In a six minute span, Adam had Gougeon beaten but was thwarted by a Rimouski player in the net, Brennan launched a rocket from the point that was just over the crossbar and Chris Thorne, left alone in the slot, hit the post stick side.
After all the spectacular near misses, it's a little ironic that the Juniors opened the scoring with a bit of a softie. Adam's fourteenth of the year, with assists from Brennan and Nick Layton made it 1-0 with four minutes to go in the first.
And can one say enough about Layton, the game's second star? Playing with the likes of Adam, Angelo Esposito and Jake Allen, the twenty year old has been quietly scoring at a pace of a little over a point per game. He leads the team in scoring and in +/- at +16. Then there are the intangibles. With the Juniors killing off a penalty late in the first period, Layton outmuscled his man for the puck, drove deep into the Rimouski zone and single-handedly killed off about twenty seconds of the Océanic power play. The icing on the cake was that he managed to generate a nice short-handed scoring chance in the process.
The Océanic tied the game up just 41 seconds into the second period when a shot deflected off a skate and in behind Allen. They hadn't even finished announcing the goal when Montreal re-took the lead on Benjamin Rubin's fifth of the campaign, from Alex Wall and Pier-Antoine Dion.
The Océanic scored their second of the night when Mathieu Asselin was left all alone at the edge of the crease. But his goal at 8:34 was all she wrote for the boys in blue. Montreal's team play was outstanding. The forwards did a good job supporting the defence, and each other. The defencemen made smart, simple plays and pinched to pressure Rimouski.
The ever-cool Jake Allen made two consecutive brilliant saves early in the third to preserve the tie. Adam continued to play like he'd just been told Christmas was cancelled, often opting to go through, rather than around, opponents. His physicality paid dividends when he was able to walk in on the Rimouski net four minutes in. He didn't convert, but he had Gougeon looking behind him. Layton hit the post a minute later.
Both players wound up on the score sheet again, but the credit for Montreal's third goal goes to defenceman Pat O'Keefe. He was nearly beaten at the Océanic blue line, but he fought off a Rimouski player to regain control of the puck. He dished off to Adam who set up Layton for his 13th of the season.
Less than a minute later, Guillaume Asselin was hooked as he crossed the Rimouski blue line. He scored a beauty on the resulting penalty shot, beating Gougeon cleanly to the stick side. It was the rookie's 11th of the season.
With a minute to go, Rimouski pulled Gougeon in favour of an extra attacker. It looked like Clément Jodoin's strategy had paid off when the Océanic appeared to score at 19:03, but the goal was reviewed and subsequently disallowed. The last flickering hope was extinguished when Adam blocked a shot at the Montreal blue line with 45 seconds to go.
The Juniors have a chance to extend their winning streak to 5 straight when they travel to Gatineau to take on the Olympiques Friday, December 19th. After that, the team has seven days off for Christmas before resuming play on December 27th with a three game post-holiday road trip that kicks off in Shawinigan. The team's next home game is January 2nd against Drummondville.
-Do you know any hockey fans on Santa's "nice" list? You may want to tuck a couple of Juniors' tickets into their Christmas stocking. It could be a very interesting new year.
– The Montreal Juniors teamed up with the Verdun Borough council, Transcontinental Media and 25 other local sponsors, including IGA Champagne, to host Verdun Hockey Day at the Auditorium. After moving to Montreal from St-John's over the summer, the team seems to be settling in and hitting its stride both on the ice and off.
-Right winger Toni Ritter is also settling in. In his tenth game with the Juniors, he was solid at both ends of the ice and his hard work, tenacity and determination were impressive.
-What is it with Section 23? They were once again the most vocal and enthusiastic bunch in the barn. Section 24 caught the fever in the third which must have made the evening that much more unpleasant for beleaguered Rimouski goalie Maxim Gougeon.
-The Golden Ice Bag Award goes to T.J. Brennan. He looked miserable as he left the ice after being hit from behind early in the first and whispers of "shoulder" rippled through the crowd. But he was back on the ice taking lethal shots from the point before the end of the period.
-And maybe a five-minute major for hits from behind would impress upon players just how serious an infraction it is. Just a thought.
1) Luke Adam, Montreal
2) Nick Layton, Montreal
3) Sébastien Piché, Rimouski
Shots on Goal:
On Ice Officials:
Referees: Dominic Franc, Christian Gothier
Linesmen: Bruno Forest, Harold Dorvil
16:04 Montreal Luke Adam assisted by T.J. Brennan and Nick Layton
0:41 Rimouski Sébastien Piché assisted by Phillippe Cornet and Alexandre S. Brunet
1:00 Montreal Benjamin Rubin assisted by Pier-Antoine Dion and
8:44 Rimouski Mathieu Asselin assisted by Francois Houde and Frank Grzeszczak
14:38 Montreal Nick Layton assisted by Luke Adam and Pat O'Keefe
15:25 Montreal Guillaume Asselin, unassisted (penalty shot)