An interesting test early in this 2009-10 season faced the Junior de Montreal. On a cold fall night at the Verdun Auditorium they had as opponents the number one team overall in the QMJHL – Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts. The team from the province's capital came into the game with a 8-2-2-1 record and 21 points. To put it into perspective, that is 7 more points than the Junior. The Ramparts' line-up boasts 7 NHL drafted players, including the son of legendary Boston Bruin defenceman Ray Bourque, Ryan Bourque, who was drafted by the New York Rangers.
If there was any time to be intimidated this was it. Imagine being a player in the Junior line-up and looking over and seeing (besides the fact that you are facing the top team) a wily bunch of veteran players who are coached by Hockey Hall of Fame member and former Habs goaltender Patrick Roy. How would you feel? Nervous, I'm sure. Add to that the fact that you are currently riding a 2 game losing streak and that's nervousness
Now, the fact that the Junior did not play like an intimidated or nervous team has plenty to with its own coaching staff. Head coach Pascal Vincent is a veteran and knows how to motivate his troops. I'm sure after he tore a strip off of them due to their poor effort the previous game against Cape Breton he went back to work building them back up. This guy is no fool!
Speaking of being no fool, this year assistant coach and former NHLer Joel Bouchard is taking a more visible role with the team. He is now behind the bench at games. The more I see of this guy the more I think he is excellent coach material. Not only does he know the game like few others he is able to communicate his knowledge. Not many former players have this talent (see Mario Tremblay and Guy Charbonneau). Behind the bench he is quite active always talking to the players and constantly teaching. Besides the teaching he always has a pat on the butt for his players (did that come out sounding like I wanted it to?). He understands that a great way to motivate is to encourage and give confidence to. If you go to a game keep your eye on him.
With all the player movement that has gone on this week in the Junior camp you had to be wondering what the line-up would be like for this game. Winger Toni Ritter is gone, as is forward Evgeny Solomonov and defenceman David Foucher. Unfortunately due to some red tape newly traded for defenceman David Stich was at the game, but could not play. I'm sure goaltenders Allen and Bérubé are drooling at the thought of this big man in front of them clearing the way so they could see more pucks. It will happen soon enough. Coming back to the line-up after an injury was assistant captain Philippe Fontaine.
From the drop of the puck you could tell that this was going to be a completely different Junior de Montreal team from its last game. They were skating, hitting and putting plenty of second effort into their game. Coach Vincent's message about them being an average team unless they work hard obviously got through. Early in the game the Montreal team had the edge in play. They certainly were not playing like they were intimidated. Though they did not score (neither team did) in the 1st period they sent a message to their opponents that this was not going to be your typical 1st place team vs. 10th place team kind of game. Quebec was going to have to work for everything.
Even at the beginning of the 2nd period the Junior was still enjoying an advantage on the ice and the shot clock. It was a tight game with neither team really creating any clear cut scoring chances. The checking was tight and clean making for not much room out there for the offensive players. You began to think that this was the type of game where one mistake might make all the difference.
The tight checking play changed a bit about mid-way through the 2nd after there were a couple of big hits. As an aside, none of these big hits were given out by Junior rookie Trevor Parkes. For a guy with decent size he is a little soft, especially along the boards. Several times during the game the Junior were hemmed in their own end because he missed chances getting it out of his own end. He is noticeably a player who will not accept a hit to make a play. Something he can work on. One question I have for Coach Vincent is why use this type of player on the penalty kill? He is not the type to do the hard work and dish out hits, so why put him on while one man short?
Another player for the Junior that has something he can work on is Philippe Fontaine. He is a player who will dish out and take hits, but sometimes he doesn't use his head and lets his aggressive play get away from him. Fontaine has begun collecting silly penalties and putting his team in a tough spot. On this night he was assessed two minor penalties that allowed a team with a 26% percent success rate on the power play take a crack at it. Fortunately for Fontaine and his teammates the Junior penalty killing was super all night long. During the 2nd and 3rd period the Junior were assessed four straight minor penalties, but Quebec could not cash in.
The 2nd period ended with the game still scoreless, but the Remparts did have a glorious chance with about 1 minute left in the 2nd. There was a scramble in front of goaltender Allen and he lost sight of the puck hence he was flopping around. Thankfully, the puck popped almost straight up and over the empty net.
All game the defensive tandem of Hubert Genest and Xavier Ouellet played a strong game. And as such it was doubly worrying for the team when Ouellet left the ice about 4 minutes into the 3rd period clutching his hand/wrist. He never came back to the game and as a result Genest had to pick up the extra minutes. Genest was up to the task and played his strongest game for the team so far this year.
In the blink of an eye, suddenly the Junior had scored a goal when the game was just coasting along. A Remparts defenceman coughed up the puck behind his own net and quickly Pier-Antoine Dion (who had been invisible up until this point) passed it out front to an unmarked Louis-Marc Aubry. He buried it behind Remparts' goaltender Jean-Philippe Gagnon. Unbelievably, the home side had taken a 1-0 lead at 8:29 of the 3rd period.
The elation for the sold-out crowd did not last for very long as just over 3 minutes later the Remparts scored the equalizer. It came as a result of defenceman Vincent Bourgeois repaying the Remparts favour and giving the puck away himself behind Allen's net. Ryan Bourque slid a backhand under Jake Allen and the score was 1-1.
The game went back to being a tight checking affair with Junior goaltender Allen coming to the rescue on the two chances Quebec had over the last 8 minutes of the game. We were going to overtime!
A seemingly big break happened for the Junior when a brain dead Danick Paquette took a penalty at the 20:00 mark of the 3rd for a dangerous looking knee-on-knee hit on Genest at centre ice. Genest did not seem hurt, but the Remparts would play shorthanded for 2 minutes of the 5 minute overtime.
Despite the fact that there was plenty of space on the ice due to their 4-on-3 power play, the Junior could not muster any quality scoring chances. Their power play is really letting them down! Nothing much happened over the last 3 minutes of overtime, so the game would be settled in a shootout.
Now, with Jake Allen (one of the best goalies in Canada for his age) the Junior must feel like they have the advantage going into any shootout, but what they forgot on this night was that they would have to score to win.
Montreal shot first and Chouinard was stopped on a backhand deke attempt by Gagnon. Then Guillaume Asselin (Montreal) and Mikael Stefanovich (Quebec) were also both stopped. After Rempart Dmitri Kugryshev put a nice deke on Allen and then roofed a wrist shot over him the pressure was on Eliezer Sherbatov to keep his team in it. Amazingly (especially for a creative offensive player) Sherbatov tried to beat Gagnon with the same move that had not worked for Asselin and Chouinard. Quebec was victorious 2-1.
Yes, this was the team's third loss in a row, but it was a great effort against a much higher ranked team. There was plenty of positives to take away from the game. The Junior would not have much time to brood over the loss as they have a game on Saturday night in Gatineau against another strong team.
-On-Ice Officials: Referee: Jean Philippe Sylvain
Linesmen: Sylvain Losier and Stéfan Capano
-Goals: 3rd Period:
8:29 – Montreal – Louis-Marc Aubry assisted by Pier-Antoine Dion
11:35 – Quebec – Ryan Bourque assisted by Kelsey Tessier
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 35
-3 Stars: 1) Jean-Philippe Gagnon – Quebec
2) Jake Allen – Montreal
3) Ryan Bourque – Quebec
-Attendance: 3,780 (sold out)