The Montreal team was coming off one of their best outings of the season on the night before. They had totally dominated division rivals the Val D'Or Foreurs and won 5-1. Everything went right for them except for one thing. Being already low on extra bodies and on veteran presence the team lost their captain Nicolas Chouinard to an injury. This is a huge loss for the team and one that they cannot bear for too long. The team would replace Chouinard with Hugo Desharnais, but still be playing with only 11 forwards instead of the usual 12. To compensate 7 defencemen were dressed.
Whereas Val D'Or is one of the weaker teams in the QMJHL the Junior's opponents on this day, the Saint John Sea Dogs, is the best junior team not only in the QMJHL, but the entire country. Montreal would need another full team effort to make this a competitive game.
Now a win was not totally out of the question as Montreal previously defeated Saint John 7-4 at a home game. It started off difficultly as the Saint John team jumped out to a 1-0 lead only 3:34 into the 1st period. Scoring his 27th goal of the season on a pure goal scorer's goal, Nicholas Peterson put his team ahead. Fans in the stands must have been thinking "Oh, here we go" and that this was going to be a romp by the offensively gifted Sea Dogs. But the young Montreal team showed that they have plenty of character (even without Chouinard) and the confidence that they can compete against any team in the league.
The team might have thought that they caught a lucky break when Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant named Karel St-Laurent his starting goalie as opposed to Marco Cousineau, but they would have been wrong. St-Laurent was the number one goaltender until Cousineau was obtained recently in a trade and during the course of the game he showed his talent.
In this game Montreal has to do things a heartbeat quicker than they are used to or else the Sea Dogs will be all over them. Not only did the Junior understand this, but they reacted well to the heightened pressure. They withstood the early pressure by the Sea Dogs and then stepped up their own game. The Junior tied up the game at 14:38 on a goal by the suddenly hot Matthew Brenton. Sea Dogs goaltender St-Laurent was irate after the goal and maybe could see what was about to happen to his team.
Montreal's small forwards understand that they have to buzz around and chase the Saint John defencemen to try and wear them out. Their hard work paid off with an all-important and confidence boosting late period goal by Louis-Marc Aubry. Forward David Rose took a shot which St-Laurent saved, but lost sight of as it trickled through his 5-hole. Aubry found it first and drove it home.
It was the end of the 1st period and unbelievably the 12th place Junior were leading the 1st place Sea Dogs. The Junior were playing a good game and building on the strong outing the previous night. It is interesting that the young team is playing their best hockey after trading away veterans. Montreal is now a team that is doing the little things right. Being the 4th hottest team in the league with a 7-3 record in the last 10 games. Their strong play coupled with the fact that Saint John might be a bit tired as they had played against the Quebec Remparts the night before and then had to travel to Montreal equalled a good night for the home team and their fans. But not an easy one.
The Junior defence is protecting their line well and not coughing up the puck. It is easier to play well when you minimize your mistakes. It is nice to see a young team that is learning to play together and play the type of hockey they need to in order to be competitive.
Amazingly the offensively gifted Saint John team was having difficulty generating offence so far in the game. Montreal, on the other hand, had a few chances (Jérémy Gouchie and Trevor Parkes) to expand on their lead, but St-Laurent made big saves. At the other end of the ice, Jean-Francois Bérubé is playing with plenty of confidence.
Once again late in a period, this time the 2nd, the Junior score a goal. This time it is a shorthanded effort by Gouchie. Montreal has scored 7 shorthanded goals this season and Gouchie has 4 of them. The goal was created by Brenton when he picked the pocket of Steven Anthony then outwaited goaltender St-Laurent and slipped a pass over to Gouchie.
Montreal has been the better team for 2 periods. They are playing a smart game. It is almost like they are playing a road game at home. The Junior are not putting on a show for their fans, but limiting chances by the opposition. Bérubé has had a fairly easy night so far, but that was about to quickly change.
In the 3rd period with their backs up against the wall, the Sea Dogs showed their true colours. They have not become the number one team in the league without a large amount of talent. The Sea Dogs have scored 210 goals (the most in the league) and you knew that they were capable of what happened in the 3rd period. In short, they totally dominated the period.
The Sea Dogs completely controlled the play during the entire 3rd period. Somehow the Junior were able to hold on for the victory, but it was a bumpy ride. Even though David Rose scored to make it 4-1 for the Junior the result still wasn't guaranteed. Mike Hoffman with a great wrist shot made it a 2 goal game once again.
The Sea Dogs were all over the Junior and Bérubé was called on to make many good saves. He had a huge 3rd period as his team was greatly outshot (21-8). It continued to be a back and forth game with Brenton scoring a shorthanded goal to restore the 3 goal lead with under 3 minutes left in the game. But the game still wasn't over. Hoffman and Peterson scored power play goals with less than 2 minutes left to play to make it a 1 goal game (5-4) and it was nail-biting time for the Junior. The win for the Junior was only really cemented when Gouchie scored in an empty net with 0:01 second left in the game. A wild finish to an exciting game!
This was a monumental win for the Junior and a very successful weekend. With the four points they earned they are now ahead of Gatineau and holding on to home ice position in the first round of the playoffs. This confidence boost is just what they need as they head out on another road trip with two tough games coming up against the Rouyn Noranda Huskies.
This was the last home game of January for Montreal. They are leaving on a 5 game road trip and they will only be playing 5 home games during the month of February. It is going to be tough, but will go a long way towards showing us what this team is really made of.
And I for one think as the Black Eyed Peas say, "I got a feeling".
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Pierre-Luc Bédard and Pascal St. Jacques
Linesmen: Yanick Pothier and Francois Dussureault
-Goals: 1st Period:
3:34 – Saint John – Nicholas Peterson assisted by Mike Hoffman
14:38 – Montreal – Matthew Brenton assisted by Trevor Parkes and Jérémy Gouchie
18:38 – Montreal – Louis-Marc Aubry assisted by David Rose and Jonathan Narbonne
19:00 – Montreal – (sh) Jérémy Gouchie assisted by Matthew Brenton
5:45 – Montreal – David Rose assisted by Chris Thorne and Guillaume Bélanger
6:59 – Saint John – Mike Hoffman assisted by Simon Després
17:06 – Montreal – (sh) Matthew Brenton unassisted
18:22 – Saint John – (pp) Mike Hoffman assisted by Tomas Jurco and Simon Després
18:58 – Saint John – (pp) Nicholas Peterson assisted by Mike Hoffman and Stanislav Galiev
19:59 – Montreal – (en) Jérémy Gouchie assisted by Trevor Parkes
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 30
Saint John: 38
-3 Stars: 1) Matthew Brenton – Montreal
2) Mike Hoffman – Saint John
3) Jérémy Gouchie – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal: 6
Saint John: 4