The Montreal Juniors lost a tough one on Friday night at the Verdun Auditorium, dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.
The two are scheduled to meet in the first round of the playoffs and it was clear from the opening face-off that this was more than just a game. It was an opportunity to send messages and to set the tone for the upcoming series. The teams are well matched and when they play with the energy and enthusiasm they brought to the first period, it makes for entertaining hockey. There was speed and flow and while the teams had their chances, the first ended 0-0.
The Huskies opened the scoring at 5:42 of the second. With 6'3 Pier-Luc Giguère making a pest of himself in front of the net, Sergey Ostapchuk beat Juniors' goalie Jean-François Bérubé to score his 13th of the season.
Shortly there after, the game entered the Don Cherry Twilight Zone with three fights breaking out in the space of 31 seconds. First to go were Matt Fillier and Jean-Sebastien Bérubé at 9:07. They turned out to be the under card for the title bout which erupted at 9:13 and featured a very feisty Samuel Grenache, back after missing 50 games with a shoulder injury, and Alexandre Beauregard. Finally, Chris Thorne took on Ben Miller at 9:38.
Two more fights broke out two minutes later with Pier-Antoine Dion inviting Pier-Luc Champagne to dance at 11:33 and David Foucher squaring off with Benoit Gervais at 11:48.
Almost lost in all the unpleasantness was the fact that Nick Layton notched his 28th of the season at 9:53 to tie the game at 1.
All the players in the box at virtually the same time meant that those left had to play major minutes. Nowhere was the effect more important than on the Montreal defence corps. While six D dressed for the game, Frank Grzeszczak didn't play a shift due to injury. T.J. Brennan, David Foucher, Dmitri Kostromintin, Pat O'Keefe and Alex Wall were left to carry the load on the blue line. Matters got even more complicated when Foucher got five for fighting, leaving the Juniors with only four defencemen. Led by veteran Pat O'Keefe, they did a yeoman's job, playing a smart, simple game.
Credit also has to go to Jean-François Bérubé. Replacing an injured Jake Allen, Bérubé wasn't overly busy, but he was reliable. His save on a point blank shot with 12 seconds to go in the second was critical. His teammates looked like they were skating in slush and a Huskies goal at that point would have been a spirit breaker.
With all the fighting out of their systems, the teams got back to hockey in the third. The Juniors had some nice chances but were unable to beat Rouyn's Antoine Lafleur. By the end of the period, both teams looked exhausted but neither was able to score so with most if not all of the loud and enthusiastic crowd of 3 493 still in the building, it was off to overtime.
With the Huskies on the power play, Nicolas Deslauriers netted the winner at 2:20 of the fourth period. He managed to avoid a sliding Jérémie Gouchie and rang one in off the post, past Bérubé. The latter had no chance on the shot and certainly deserved a better fate.
While a win would have been nice, the one point for a loss in over time allowed the Juniors to clinch home ice advantage in their first round series against the Huskies. The best of seven starts Friday and fans would be wise to "attacher vos tuques". It's going to be a good one.
-Beware the Ides of March: The Juniors play their final regular season game Sunday, March 15th against lowly Val D'Or. While the Foreurs are in a pitched battle with Halifax for last place in the league, this one won't be a cakewalk. The Juniors lead the season series 4-3, but have dropped the last two games, 3-1 in Val D'Or and 5-3 at home. The puck drops at 4:30 at the Verdun Auditorium.
-Gone to the Dogs: The Huskies took the season series, winning five of their eight meetings with the Juniors.
-Watching Matthew Brenton skate in the warm up is worth the price of admission.
-The Quiet Man: Playing with, and often in the shadow of, the likes of Angelo Esposito, Luke Adam and Jake Allen, Nick Layton has discreetly amassed 28 goals and 50 assists and leads the team with 78 points.
-The Golden Ice Bag Award goes to the game's second star Layton. Injured late in the second, he returned with 12 minutes to go in the third. Obviously not 100%, the Juniors' assistant captain worked hard looking for the game winner. He left everything on the ice, to the point that he was unable to come out for the traditional turn on the ice when they announced the three stars. Honourable mention goes to Frank Grzeszczak. Still contending with the effects of an upper body injury, he wasn't able to go, but sat on the bench as insurance and to support the team.
-Bella Donne! With a beautiful tone and soaring harmonies, the a cappella group Concerto de la Nonne delivered what was far and away the best rendition of the national anthem so far this season.
-And the Beat Goes On: Patorica, a ten member Bazilian percussion group, patrolled the rink beating out a constant tattoo. It gave a decidedly soccer stadium feeling to the old barn on LaSalle boulevard.
1) Nicolas Deslauriers, Rouyn-Noranda
2) Nick Layton, Montreal
3) Matt Fillier, Montreal
Shots on Goal:
On Ice Officials:
Referee: Frédéric Leblanc, Jonathan McIsaac
Linesmen: Mathieu Chenier, Stéfan Capano
5:42 Rouyn-Noranda Sergey Ostapchuk assisted by Étienne Boutet
9:39 Montreal Nick Layton assisted by Philippe Fontaine and Darick Ste-Marie
2:20 Rouyn-Noranda Nicolas Deslauriers, assisted by Benoit Gervais and Sergey Ostapchuk