QMJHL Final

The Saint John Sea Dogs are two wins away from heading back to the Memorial Cup final, to be held from May 18 to 27 in Shawinigan, Quebec. They are facing the Rimouski Oceanic for the President’s Cup final, the third consecutive season the Sea Dogs have advanced to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship series.

The Sea Dogs and Oceanic met twice in the regular season, each winning at home. Saint John won 8-2 on Oct. 8 and Rimouski won 4-3 on Nov. 2.

The first two games were close, with the Sea Dogs winning both by a 3-2 score. The first game went into double-overtime with Zack Phillips netting the winner 10:18 into the second extra frame. Jacob Gervais-Chouinard made 41 saves in the losing effort while Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault registered 40 stops. He had a much easier time in Game 2 making 14 saves while Gervais-Chouinard made 29 saves.

Charlie Coyle and Tomas Jurco are leading the Sea Dogs with one goal and two points and two goals and three points respectively goal while Petr Straka, Alexandre Mallet and Alex Belzile have two points each for Rimouski.

The Sea Dogs, who led the QMJHL with 50 wins and 103 points in the regular season, have lost only one game so far in the playoffs. They swept the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the quarter-final then the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the semi-final before defeating the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in five games in the Eastern Conference final. Their only blemish so far is a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 3. It helps they have 15 players who returned from last season’s team.

By far the most dominating offensive team in these playoffs, the Sea Dogs have 11 players who have reached double digits in points in only 13 games. Charlie Coyle, (drafted 28th by San Jose Sharks in 2010), is leading the league with 15 goals and 32 points and Zack Phillips, (28th by Minnesota in 2011), has a league-leading 21 assists to go along with his eight goals. Stanislav Galiev, (86th by Washington in 2010), has 12 goals and 27 points and Tomas Jurco (35th by Detroit in 2011) has 10 goals and 22 points making the Sea Dogs the only team to feature four players with at least 20 points. The production from Galiev is especially great to see after missing the majority of the season with a broken wrist.

They also have three of the top six scoring defensemen in Kevin Gagne, Charles-Olivier Roussel (42nd by Nashville in 2009) and Nathan Beaulieu (17th by Montreal in 2011). Those six are also among the top seven in plus-minus. Goaltender Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault (102nd by Columbus in 2010) is second in the QMJHL with a 2.20 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.

The Oceanic have had a tougher time making the final, but are no slouches themselves. They finished seventh in the regular season with 40 win and 82 points and proceeded to sweep Val-d’Or Foreurs in the first round then beat the third-ranked Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in seven games, overcoming 2-1 and 3-2 series deficits. They then took care of the Halifax Mooseheads, who featured two of the five leading scorers in Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin in six games to set up the President’s Cup final.

Oceanic goalie Jacob Gervais-Chouinard has struggled at times, he has a .893 save percentage and 3.01 goals-against average, but has made the saves he needed to get Rimouski to advance. Halifax was tied for seventh in the league with 250 goals in the regular season, but he held them to just two goals in Games 5 and 6 in the conference final.

This is their best season since winning the President’s Cup and finishing as the runner-up in the Memorial Cup final back in 2004-05 when they were led by a young kid by the name of Sidney Crosby.

Oceanic coach Serge Beausoleil is just the 19th rookie coach to make it to the championship series; nine of the previous 18 have gone on to win. He has the right attitude in leading an underdog against a heavily favored team in the championship round. As he told Sportsnet.ca:

“Our goal was not to play in the finals,” Beausoleil said. “Our goal is to compete until the end. It’s not the end now so we’re ready to play against Saint John. That’s the best team in Canadian major junior hockey. That’s a big challenge for us, but we can play.”

Of course Gerard Gallant’s Sea Dogs have history on their side as the regular season champion have won in the final 23 times in the league’s 42-year history, including seven of 12 times since 2000. Gallant has the chance to set a record for most championships by a player/coach. He won as a player with the 1982 Sherbrooke Castors and the 1983 Verdun Juniors and of course coached the Sea Dogs to a championship last year. He is only the fourth coach to lead his team to the championship series in three consecutive years, joining Maurice Filion, Ghislain Delage and Michel Therrien.

The Sea Dogs are also trying to become the third team in the Q’s history to win back-to-back championships. The only two teams to accomplish that feat are the Quebec Remparts in 1970 and 1971 and the Trois-Rivieres Draveurs in 1978 and 1979.

The Sea Dogs were without captain Jonathan Huberdeau (3rd by Florida in 2011) for the first two games of the series as he serves a suspension for his hit on Charles Hudon in Game 5 of the semi final.

Prediction

The Oceanic have been resilient throughout these playoffs, but the Sea Dogs will prove to have too much depth. Sea Dogs in six.

 

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