Athletes are a ritualistic bunch. They cling to their habits and routines. Change makes them nervous. So when you change something as crucial as the start times of games from late afternoon or evening to early morning you risk having your team come out flat. What do they do about their usual pre-game meal or nap?
Those in charge of the Junior de Montreal have made it a priority to reach out to the young fans. They have gone so far as to schedule two games this season in the morning allowing school aged kids to attend. Now for most of us scheduling hockey games at 10:35 in the morning seems like a ridiculous thing. This game against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan was the second morning game of the season with the Junior winning the first game against Drummondville 5-1. It was a success with a victory and the stands filled with excited young people, so why not try it again?
Kids from many different Montreal area schools were bussed in for the game. And they were obviously thrilled to be there rather than at school. The young crowd, which was applauding the Junior even before the team took the ice for the pre-game warm-up, added much energy to the environment and the home side seemed to feed off of it to start off with.
On this morning the Junior were facing goaltender Olivier Roy, one of the goaltenders for silver medallist Junior Team Canada in the past World Championships. Roy has a strong 2.78 G.A.A., .911 save percentage and a 24-12-1-0 record. The 5th place overall (12 points behind 2nd overall Montreal) Titan are not merely a one faceted team as they have several players who can put the puck in the net. Gabriel Lévesque (32), Sébastien Trudeau (29), Jonathan Lessard (31), and David Gilbert (23) all are goal scorers who the Junior were going to have watch closely. The diminutive, but offensively dangerous Lévesque is the 4th leading point getter in the QMJHL with 84 points in 59 games. Montreal has no one in the top 20 which can be explained by the fact that they roll four lines with no one line getting the bulk of ice time and all the injuries the team has gone through this season.
This was one of the first games this season where the Junior have their complete line-up on the ice. It was actually my first time seeing Viktor Hertzberg, acquired at the trading deadline, play as he was out for a long span with a concussion. He is on the defacto number one line with Louis Leblanc and David Rose. Not a very physical player Hertzberg is not going to go into the corners and dig a puck out, but he is a marvellous passer with wonderful vision on the ice.
In order to combat teams taking physical advantage of his speedy talented team, Coach Pascal Vincent acquired two players to bring some size to the team. Raphael Pouliot and defenceman Jean-Laurence Beauchemin are both big boys. Pouliot has been inserted on a line with the robust Nicolas Chouinard and Louis-Marc Aubry, which is the Junior's most physical line. Acadie-Bathurst is a physical team with three players with over 100 minutes in penalties. This robust play got them in trouble right off the hop. Defenceman Jérémie Blain was assessed a hooking penalty a mere 0:50 into the game. Montreal took advantage of the early power play by scoring the game's first of many goals to come at 1:15. Leblanc scored it with a shot along the ice that eluded Roy and assists went to Hertzberg and Francis Meilleur.
The early goal seemed to give the Junior wings as they were all over the ice making the Titan look like a vastly inferior team. Just over two minutes later the Junior scored another one. This one was by Charles Landry from Trevor Parkes and Xavier Ouellet.
This early onslaught prompted Titan head coach Réal Paiement to call a time out right after the second Junior goal. It didn't seem to work as Jérémy Gouchie and Charles-Olivier Roussel went in on a 2-on-0 break shortly afterwards and even though Gouchie did not even get a shot off it was a strong scoring chance. Then Leblanc also went in on a break, though it did not pan out as he was on the end of a long shift, they were both symbols of the complete dominance by the Junior.
The game was barely 10 minutes old and the Junior could very well have a 4-0 lead. It was at this point that a disturbing trend reared its ugly head. The Junior's normally strong penalty killing showed some big cracks. The only time that the visitors were able to exert some pressure on the Junior was during the numerous power play opportunities they were afforded.
By the end of the game the Titan had scored 5 goals and they were all on the power play. A game that seemed like it was going to be a cakewalk for the Junior turned out to be a slim one goal lead (6-5) going into the 3rd period. Every time the Junior pulled ahead they allowed the Titan back into the game by taking a silly penalty and allowing them to score on the man advantage. It just showed that no matter how much you were dominating 5-on-5 if you allowed an offensively talented team a multitude of man advantage efforts you will get burned.
Due to the amount of goals allowed both starting goalies were pulled and replaced by their back ups. Etienne Marcoux and Robert Steeves both played strong games once they entered in relief after the starters had each allowed five goals. Once down 5-2, the Titan came all the way back to tie the game up at 5-5.
The 3rd period was a lacklustre affair. The Junior did not have the same jump in their step and as a result of the lack of moving their feet they found themselves hemmed in their own zone on a couple of occasions. They, however, were not able to beat Marcoux, who with every opportunity he is afforded keeps showing his maturation process, for the tying goal. He answered the call and shut out the Titan for the rest of the game making some difficult saves through screens.
With one minute left in the game Steeves was pulled for the extra attacker, but it was unsuccessful as the only goal scored was by Trevor Parkes (who came back to the game with a full face mask after being struck on the cheek by a Roussel point shot) into an empty net.
The Junior did win 7-5, but it was not a good win. Their penalty killing was exposed to not be as good as thought, Bérubé was not able to make the big saves when the team needed it, a lack of discipline lead to numerous power plays for the opposition, and they allowed too many shots against (34). Though the Junior is a top calibre team there is still work to be done.
Next game for the Junior is Friday night (February 25) at home versus the Rimouski Océanic.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Dominick Bédard and Nicolas Dutil
Linesmen: Harold Dorvil and David Taveroff
-Goals: 1st Period:
1:15 – Montreal – (pp) Louis Leblanc assisted by Francis Meilleur and Viktor Hertzberg
3:32 – Montreal – Charles Landry assisted by Trevor Parkes and Xavier Ouellet
14:34 – Acadie-Bathurst – (pp) Jéremie Blain assisted by Gabriel Lévesques
15:41 – Montreal – Jérémy Gouchie assisted by Trevor Parkes and Philippe Lefebvre
0:46 – Montreal – Philippe Lefebvre assisted by Jérémy Gouchie and Trevor Parkes
2:02 – Acadie-Bathurst – (pp) Sébastien Trudeau assisted Zach O'Brien and Gabriel Lévesques
5:56 – Montreal – Charles-Olivier Roussel assisted by Louis Leblanc and Viktor Hertzberg
9:28 – Acadie-Bathurst – (pp) Zach O'Brien assisted by Gabriel Lévesques and Vincent Arseneau
11:23 – Acadie-Bathurst – (pp) Christophe Losier assisted by Gabriel Lévesques and Garrett Clarke
13:53 – Acadie-Bathurst – (pp) Zach O'Brien assisted by Gabriel Lévesques and Jonathan Lessard
15:04 – Montreal – Viktor Hertzberg assisted by Louis Leblanc and Charles-Olivier Roussel
19:54 – Montreal – (en) Trevor Parkes assisted by Viktor Hertzberg
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 38
-3 Stars: 1) Gabriel Lévesques – Acadie-Bathurst
2) Zach O'Brien – Acadie-Bathurst
3) Trevor Parkes – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal: 7