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20Apr/120

2012 QMJHL Playoffs: Second Round

The third round of the 2012 QMJHL playoffs starts tonight, so here's some closing thoughts on the last two weeks of playoff hockey in the QMJHL.

  • Obviously the big story is that between the first two rounds, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th seed were all eliminated. With so many teams breezing through the opening round with sweeps, it was interesting to see what teams were properly prepared for the second round, especially with three hard fought series going the full seven games.
  • The team with the biggest question marks has to be the Memorial Cup hosts, the Shawinigan Cataractes. Eliminated in seven, they now have to wait a month for the Memorial Cup to start. How prepared will they be when they finally get back on the ice?
  • There are some rumours floating around that Shawinigan could even toss their coach, Eric Veilleux between now and the Memorial Cup start in mid-May. The GM has been quoted as saying he built a team that he felt was a winner. The blame for failing to live up to expectations could fall on the coaching staff.
  • Though a little unorthodox and definitely risky, replacing your coach between playoffs and the Memorial Cup isn't unprecedented. When Halifax hosted in 2000, they were eliminated in the second round and opted to replace Bob Mongrain with Shawn MacKenzie. Halifax was eliminated that year in the semi-final.
  • The last time the QMJHL hosted the Memorial Cup, host team Rimouski bowed out in the third round and then lost the tie-breaker for the semi-final matchup.
  • When this year's Memorial Cup host was decided, most felt it came down to either Shawinigan or Saint John. While Shawinigan is now sitting out for a month, Saint John breezed through their second round matchup versus Baie-Comeau and looks very much like the team to beat not just in the QMJHL, but the entire CHL.
  • Saint John is the defending Memorial Cup champions. The last time a team won two back-to-back championships, it was 2009/2010 with the Windsor Spitfires, but the last time a QMJHL team won was back in 1980/1981 with the Cornwall Royals. The star of that Cornwall squad was Dale Hawerchuk.
  • With 44 goals scored so far in the playoffs, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens are seventh among goals scored which puts them last among the remaining teams. How did they get to the third round? LA Kings prospect Christopher Gibson has a lot to do with it.
  • I know I've talked about him before, but Gibson has faced 411 shots in 13 games so far, the most among all QMJHL goaltenders. He'll be tested even more against a Saint John squad that is averaging almost eight goals a game so far this playoffs.
  • A lot can be written about the Halifax Mooseheads and their come-from-behind victory over Quebec. To be down three games and then claw their way back is truly remarkable, especially for such a young team. And then, to be losing in the deciding game and come back to win it in overtime is close to incredible.
  • Although a lot of credit goes to Mooseheads captain Cameron Critchlow for his four goals in game 7 to keep pace with Quebec and send the game to overtime, 16-year-old goaltender Zachary Fucale deserves equal attention. I talked with a scout this week who noted that when Halifax was down 3-1 in the game, Fucale made a number of big saves to prevent the fourth goal from happening and keep the Mooseheads in the game. Great poise by a 16-year-old who is only getting better.
  • At the other end of the ice, Coyotes prospect Louis Domingue has probably played his last junior hockey game. The day after the Remparts were eliminated by Halifax, Domingue headed to Phoenix to join the team on their playoff run. Such a quick turn-around drew the ire of a few radio personalities who questioned whether the 20-year-old knew about the call-up prior to the game and if it was a distraction. Domingue responded to the criticism on Twitter, basically saying it is ridiculous.
  • It would be interesting if the Phoenix Coyotes do end up moving to Quebec and Domingue once again plays in front of that crowd. But with the way Mike Smith is playing, coupled with Mark Visentin and possibly Marc Cheverie ahead of him on the depth chart, not to mention the increased rumours about the Coyotes staying in Phoenix, it is hard to say if that would ever come to pass.
  • Despite rampant speculation, Mikhail Grigorenko denied that he was injured in the playoffs. Thought to be one of the top prospects eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Grigorenko's ten points in eleven games placed him sixth on the Remparts in scoring after leading them during the regular season.
  • Grigorenko appeared to be moving less dynamically and playing more of a perimeter game. Frankly, it looked like he was trying to avoid contact. He'll no doubt be asked about it more at the draft combine and it will be interesting to see how that affects where he gets selected.
  • In a press conference today, Patrick Roy mused that it might be better for Grigorenko if he spends another season in the QMJHL. Should he return, that sets up quite a strong team full of young talent next year in Quebec. And they'll be looking for revenge against Halifax, who should also have an extremely competitive squad.
  • But who will be coaching the Remparts? Roy continues to play coy in the face of speculation that he might be the next man to step behind the bench for the Montreal Canadiens. Just a hunch, and I have no information to back it up, but I think he waits to see what happens with a possible NHL team in Quebec.
  • There have been five coaches in Montreal since Roy retired in 2003 (including Bob Gainey, who filled in twice). If Roy opts to not make the jump this time, I don't think it completely rules out the possibility in the future.
  • The Rimouski/Halifax series features one of the more dangerous powerplays in the league with Rimouski's Jerome Gauthier-Leduc versus one of the least penalized teams in Halifax. Halifax won the season series with a record of 2-0-1.
  • After Gauthier-Leduc, Rimouski might not have the star power that a team like Halifax has, but their roster is fully of veteran players who play a smart disciplined game. Guys like Alex Belzile, Alexandre Mallet and Jean-Philippe Mathieu are all much more experienced than their Halifax counterparts.
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6Apr/120

2012 QMJHL Playoffs: First Round

The second round of the 2012 QMJHL playoffs starts tonight, so here's some closing thoughts on the last two weeks of playoff hockey in the QMJHL.

  • First things first, the division of talent and the schedule. Only one team in the league (the PEI Rocket) did not qualify for the playoffs and seven of the eight opening series were sweeps. Not a lot of exciting playoff action for the fans.
  • From what I understand, the playoff format won't change next year, but there will be the addition of Sherbrooke, upping the number of teams who don't see the playoffs to a grand total of two.
  • Trying to find a new way to do a playoff structure in a 18-team league isn't easy, as most brackets operate on multiples of 8 to work out properly. The best suggestion I saw was to give first round byes to the three division winners and then have five playoff series (10 teams, so 13 teams qualify for the playoffs each year) in the first round. The five winners then join the three division winners (and are re-seeded appropriately) for the regular eight team/four playoff series second round.
  • This year, that would have Saint John, Shawinigan and Blainville-Boisbriand would have the byes. The other first round matches would not have changed.
  • Not sure how division winners would like taking a week off, but for a team like Shawinigan, it might mean they'd have Brandon Gormley for their whole playoff run (not like they missed him in the first round)
  • Have to think that some of the reasoning has to do with playoff dates for smaller market teams.
  • I heard some grumbling about Sportsnet airing Game 1 of Saint John vs. Cape Breton for the Friday Night Hockey and how that disparity of talent would have reflected poorly on the QMJHL (Saint John won 13-4). From what I understand, Sportsnet's camera crews were already in Fredericton for the CIS hockey championships, so the decision was more logistical than anything else.
  • Keeping with Cape Breton for a second, I talked to a scout who compared goaltender Philippe Trudeau to Saint John's goalie Mathieu Corbeil. Both are 6'6 and move well in the net. Like Corbeil was with the Mooseheads, Trudeau is going through a trial by fire to begin his QMJHL career and seeing a lot of rubber. The key to Trudeau's future, according to the scout was not only his mental fortitude, especially in a tough situation, but also improving his core strength to control his movements in the crease better.
  • Last year, Victoriaville pulled a big upset against the higher-seeded Acadie-Bathurst. This year, the roles reversed with 4th-ranked Victoriaville being upset by 13th-seeded Baie-Comeau. Meanwhile, 9th ranked Bathurst took 8th ranked Chicoutimi to six games (including 3 overtime matches) in the closest matchup of the first round.
  • The two big keys to success for Victoriaville last season was captain Philippe Danault, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect and goaltender David Honzik, a Vancouver Canucks prospect. Danault had two goals, six points in the four game sweep last year and only had three assists on the losing end of the sweep this year. Honzik went from a 2.67 GAA and .930 SV% in the Bathurst series to a 5.33 GAA and a .804 SV% versus Baie-Comeau this year.
  • Big question for Victoriaville this off-season is what to do with David Honzik. He's supposed to have one more season of major junior hockey, but this season was a definite step back. Meanwhile, rookie Brandon Whitney put up better statistics in the regular season and they turned to him for the final game against Baie-Comeau. Whitney is now going on to play for Canada at the Under-18 World Championships.
  • Victoriaville paid big during the trade period to acquire veteran defensemen in Jeremie Blain, Matthew Hobbs and Daniel Milan. Gamble simply did not pay off and none of them are expected back next season.
  • Victoriaville falling to Baie-Comeau isn't as much of a huge upset as it appears. The team fired their coach with three games left in the season and the gamble seems to be paying off.
  • Big beneficiary from the coaching shuffle in Baie-Comeau might be 2012 draft eligible Raphael Bussieres. He has four goals and nine points in six games since the change. Only had three goals and four points in the previous 20 games.
  • But Bussieres will miss the first two games of the next series against Saint John due to suspension (also missed the deciding game against Victoriaville).
  • Baie-Comeau also getting great results from a 16-year-old rookie goaltender in Philippe Cadorette. He's eligible to be drafted in 2013 and might be a name to watch.
  • Chicoutimi might have had some trouble against Bathurst, but I still feel that if they're healthy, they could be a dangerous adversary. Goaltender Christopher Gibson (Los Angeles prospect) played extremely well and if forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau (Ottawa prospect) is at 100%, he could be a game-changer. He missed the first two games against Bathurst with injury.
  • Chicoutimi's second round matchup against Shawinigan does them no favours either though. Especially if Brandon Gormley (Phoenix prospect) is back in the lineup.
  • Moncton's James Melindy really opened some eyes during their first round series against Halifax. He's inherited the bulk of the minutes after Gormley and Milan were dealt around Christmas and matched up against Halifax's top line all series long. He's draft eligible this year.
  • Series to watch next round seems to be Quebec versus Halifax. While the main storyline is obviously the youth on both sides with MacKinnon, Fr, Drouin and Fucale versus Grigorenko, Duclair and Erne, there's some other things to consider as well. Quebec's two trade acquisitions in Logan Shaw (Florida prospect) and Gabriel Desjardins have identical stat lines of four goals and six points in four playoff games. Desjardins was actually traded from Halifax with Brendan Duke going the other way. Duke is playing a key second pairing defensive role on a finally healthy Halifax blue line. Alexander Grenier (Vancouver prospect) is another Moosehead who played with Quebec, having been acquired in the offseason.
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