From my first step inside the Verdun Auditorium on this Saturday afternoon you could feel something different in the building. First of all there were plenty of fannies in the seats for this game. It was one of the largest attendances of the season so far for the Junior de Montreal. You would have to think that it was due to the fact that this was to be the first game back in about a month for the team's star, Angelo Esposito. Guillaume Asselin and Toni Ritter were also making their returns to the team. In a classy move the Junior de Montreal had a pre-game ceremony congratulating these three players, with a spotlight on gold medal winning Esposito.
Angelo Esposito, Guillaume Asselin and Toni Ritter were all making their return to the team after extended absences. Toni Ritter was playing for Team Germany during the World Junior Championships. Guillaume Asselin was playing for Team Quebec in the U-17 World Challenge. Asselin ended as the top scorer for Team Quebec and was named to the tournament All-Star team. And of course, Angelo Esposito was returning from his stint with Team Canada during the World Junior Championships. It has been well documented how Esposito had been cut from this team three times and had finally made the team on his fourth try. He not only made the team, but played on the top line with future number one pick in the next NHL draft, John Tavares, and scored the gold medal winning goal in the final against Sweden.
Much has changed for the Junior rosterwise over the last month. Centre Taylor McDougall was traded for centre Jérémy Gouchie, centre Darick Ste. Marie joined the team, centre Chris Smith was cut this week, and forward Philippe Fortin was traded for at the trade deadline. Also for this game forward Benjamin Rubin and defenseman Mathieu Lavoie were left on the sidelines. After all this coming and going this was the first game we got to see the roster that is going to finish the year and continue on to the playoffs.
The very first moments of the game demonstrated that the Maineiacs could not keep up with the speed of the Junior, so they amped up the physical side of the game hoping to goad the Junior into some penalties. There were plenty of penalties awarded in the game (19), but the chippiness that Lewiston brought to the game also led to three fights (Wall vs. Bourgeois, O'Keefe vs. Brodeur, Thorne vs. Paquette). In between all this physical stuff there was some pretty good hockey from both sides.
Montreal dominated the first period with goaltender Jake Allen having a pretty easy time of it for a change. Unfortunately they were only able to come out of it with a 1-0 lead by virtue of a power play goal by Russian defenseman Dmitri Kostrimitin (2nd goal this season). Though they were outclassing the Maineiacs, Montreal was allowing them to stay in the game and you had to believe that it was going to come back and bite them in the butt later.
Despite the fact that they were being outplayed, a player that really caught my eye during the entire game was Lewiston forward Danick Paquette (who rumour has it the Junior de Montreal were interested in trading for, but it did not work out). This guy has plenty of offensive talent, is a great skater and plays with an edge. How many players do you know of that lead their team in goals and penalty minutes? He scored both of the Lewiston goals and dropped the gloves (in one of the longest fights I've ever seen) against Chris Thorne in the first period. An interesting player to watch play.
The rough stuff and penalties continued in the second period, but it was a little more challenging for Jake Allen. He managed to keep Lewiston off the scoresheet while his team was scoring two goals by Matt Fillier and Pier-Antoine Dion. You would think that a 3-0 lead was pretty secure with the way they were outplaying the opposition, but hang on…
Lewiston showed some character by coming back in the 3rd period and scoring 2 goals. It was now a tight collar 3-2 score with less than 5 minutes left. Lewiston pulled goaltender Peter Delmas (drafted by the Colorado Avalanche) with 0:56 left, but Montreal batten down the hatches and captain Fillier caused a turnover then fed Nick Layton for an empty net goal to seal the win.
Though it was a closer game than it should have been, Montreal played a decent game and did not play down to the level of a weaker team. I like the makeup of this team with plenty of speed and a bit more offensive talent going into the last two months of the season. Hopefully they can continue this positive play in their next game at home against division rival Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Eric Charron and Dominic Franc
Linesmen: Serge Carpentier and Stéfan Capano
-Goals: 1st Period:
8:18 – Montreal – (pp) Dmitri Kostrimitin assisted by Toni Ritter and Pat O'Keefe
8:39 – Montreal – Matt Fillier assisted by Matthew Brenton and Guillaume Asselin
16:06 – Montreal – Pier-Antione Dion assisted by Guillaume Asselin
4:26 – Lewiston – (pp) Danick Paquette assisted by Maxime Gratchev and Eric Gélinas
15:23 – Lewiston – Danick Paquette assisted by Eric Gélinas and Maxime Gratchev
19:53 – Montreal – (en) Nick Layton assisted by Matt Fillier
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 37
-3 Stars: 1) Guillaume Asselin – Montreal
2) Matt Fillier – Montreal
3) Danick Paquette – Lewiston