For those that might not necessarily want to partake in the festivities tonight involving two heated rivals fighting for the same ground in the Eastern Conference, good news! There is in fact an alternative for you–look no farther than Montreal’s backyard. The first game of the QMJHL playoffs gets underway tonight at the Verdun Auditorium, where 2009 first-round Habs’ choice Louis Leblanc, prospect Philippe Lefebvre and the Montreal Juniors host former Hab Bobby Smith’s Halifax Mooseheads in Game 1 of a first round best-of-seven series.
The Juniors finished second in the overall rankings of the league this season, whereas Halifax was 15th. It may look like a lopsided matchup, but what the Mooseheads lack in experience, they certainly make up for in youthful energy–and the fact that they’re getting their first taste of the postseason in three years. Headlined by Czech winger Martin Frk and Montreal-born Luca Ciampini, both 16, the Mooseheads are a confident team who’s been able to grate on the nerves of the Juniors in the past and seem ready to take on any challenge, no matter how steep.
Meanwhile, Leblanc had 58 points this season, in a year where many names shared the spotlight. Ten of their players have finished this season with 40 or more points to their record. Trevor Parkes, signed by the Detroit Red Wings earlier this year, ranks first in Juniors’ scoring with 33-29-62 in 60 games. Behind him is David Rose, with 22-38-60 in 62 games. Lefebvre, for his part, struggled to end the season on a highly offensive note, but in addition to his two-way strengths he has also been as far as the Memorial Cup in the past, with the 2009 President’s Cup champion Drummondville Voltigeurs.
Michaël Bournival, acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in the Ryan O’Byrne trade, finished fourth in Shawinigan Cataractes’ scoring, second in the goals’ column with 28-36-54 in 56 games. His team is set to take on the tenth-place PEI Rocket on Friday night. The Rocket are 7-2-1-0 in their last ten games to end the regular season and have a goaltender that not to many people want to run into in Evan Mosher. Shawinigan has had a slightly bumpier road to carry them into the playoffs, however, led by head coach Eric Veilleux, they always manage to turn up the heat once they get to the postseason. A side story in this series will prove to be the play of Benjamin Casavant and league journeyman Philippe Paradis, who were traded for one another, each proving to be an effective acquisition by both sides in their own right.
Due to travel considerations, both series will have the 2-3-2 format. Both the Cataractes and the Juniors have home ice advantage and therefore if necessary, will play the last two games of the series at their own respective arenas.
In another matchup, league powerhouse Saint John takes on Cape Breton. Canadiens Morgan Ellis captains the 16th place Screaming Eagles, who have not had it very easy this season. Saint John, meanwhile, is the polar opposite, only having lost 7 games in regulation and 10 out of 68 overall. Ellis has 36 points in 65 games, good for 4th place on his team.
Leblanc and Bournival are also up to receive some hardware at the end of the year. The Golden Puck Awards, set to take place April 6th at the Hyatt-Regency Hotel in downtown Montreal, features the Paul Dumont Trophy for personality of the year, that Leblanc is nominated for along with Sean Couturier and Jonathan Huberdeau. Meanwhile, the finalists for the Marcel Robert Trophy for TELUS Scholastic Player of the Year include Bournival, Nicolas Therrien, Jean-Philippe Mathieu, Guillaume Goulet and Pascal Amyot.
Round 1 Schedule
all times listed are EST
(2) Montreal Juniors vs. (15) Halifax Mooseheads
Game 1 – Thursday, March 24th – 7:05 PM (Montreal)
Game 2 – Friday, March 25th – 7:05 PM (Montreal)
Game 3 – Tuesday, March 29th – 6:00 PM (Halifax)
Game 4 – Wednesday, March 30th – 6:00 PM (Halifax)
Game 5 – Friday, April 1st – 6:00 PM (Halifax)*
Game 6 – Sunday, April 3rd – 3:05 PM (Montreal)*
Game 7 – Tuesday, April 5th – 7:05 PM (Montreal)*
(7) Shawinigan Cataractes vs. (10) PEI Rocket
Game 1 – Friday, March 25th – 7:00 PM (Shawinigan)
Game 2 – Saturday, March 26th – 4:00 PM (Shawinigan)
Game 3 – Tuesday, March 29th – 6:00 PM (Charlottetown)
Game 4 – Wednesday, March 30th – 6:00 PM (Charlottetown)
Game 5 – Friday, April 1st – 6:00 PM (Charlottetown)*
Game 6 – Monday, April 4th – 7:00 PM (Shawinigan)*
Game 7 – Tuesday, April 5th – 7:00 PM (Shawinigan)*
(1) Saint John Sea Dogs vs. (16) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Game 1 – Friday, March 25th – 6:30 p.m. (Saint John)
Game 2 – Saturday, March 26th – 6:00 PM (Saint John)
Game 3 – Tuesday, March 29th – 6:00 PM (Cape Breton)
Game 4 – Wednesday, March 30th – 6:00 PM (Cape Breton)
Game 5 – Friday, April 1st – 6:30 PM (Saint John)*
Game 6 – Sunday, April 3rd – 3:00 PM (Cape Breton)*
Game 7 – Tuesday, April 5th – 6:00 PM (Saint John)*