QMJHL playoffs underway
I would definitely have bored you with this subject earlier, but the playoffs is the time of year that piques the most interest among followers so I've tried to give myself more hope. Plus, I like to think my game previews (at Hab It Her Way) are rather efficient in giving you the whole What You Need to Know with side bonus details sprinkled in over top. I will attempt, but by no means promise, to be equally brief here.
The format used in the Q is new to even me, but each division forms seeds and plays within itself before merging onto a single scene and playing much like the conferences in the NHL do. In other words:
West Telus: Rouyn (1) vs. Val D'Or (4) (hey, that'll be pretty simple in terms of voyage!) and Montreal (2) vs. Gatineau (3)
Telus Centre: Drummondville (1) vs. Lewiston (4) (don't ask me, I didn't decide Maine could be considered 'centre'.) and Victoriaville (2) vs. Shawinigan (3)
East Telus: Quebec (1) vs. Bathurst (5) (this one's a weird one. Bathurst got more points than Baie-Comeau, who is actually in the East Telus division whereas Bathurst is in the Atlantic. But the Atlantic has six teams whereas every other division only has four, and the two worst teams in the whole league are cut from the playoffs. Still with me? I hope so.) and Rimouski (2) vs. Chicoutimi (3)
Atlantic Division: Saint John (1) vs. PEI (4) and Moncton (2) vs. Cape Breton (3).
And thennnnnnnnnnn (in my best Chinese takeout from Dude Where's my Car? accent) whoever emerges from the first round as the top seed overall plays the last seed overall and so on. The lowest-ranking "favourite" is Montreal and the highest is Saint John. Thus, barring upsets, those two would face each other in the second round (and I would be forced to bring my notes and books to the Verdun Auditorium in studying for finals because there's no way I'd miss that).
So who should we be looking out for?
The aformentioned Sea Dogs took over the league this year with their 22 game winstreak earlier in the year enabling them to sit atop that first seed throne. They form a stable hybrid of youth and veterans, and boast two champions from Drummondville's squad last year in sniper Mike Hoffman, drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the fifth round last draft as a 19 year old, and goaltender Marco Cousineau, playoff MVP of 2008-09 and Anaheim Ducks prospect. Workhorse defensemen Yann Sauvé and Simon Després provide an influx of offense in addition to their future-NHLer poise/defensive mad skillz (I know, I sounded almost credible until that point) and European forwards Stanislav Galiev and Tomas Jurco each finished with strong numbers in their rookie campaigns.
The Moncton Wildcats made a flurry of moves to bolster their roster and inform the rest of the league they're serious in their bid to re-live the days of the Keith Yandles and the Martins Karsumses and even the Josh Tordjmans. (Excuse my nostalgia, but it's the first President's Cup run I followed in its entirety.) Goaltender Nicola Riopel, despite only having played about a third of the season, has come up with some solid wins between the pipes for the Wildcats, and Nicolas Deschamps, acquired from Chicoutimi, finished tied for first in the league in points (there is some debate he can snatch away the "tied" part and claim the Jean Beliveau trophy from Sean Couturier but I'll bite my tongue about that for now).
The Victoriaville Tigres are the darkhorse of this top-4 it seems, but have also had a very strong campaign under bench boss Yanick Jean. They threatened Drummondville for tops in the West Telus Division for a time and also made several statements with their acquisitions over the Christmas break. They will look to surprise everybody with their efficiency in both kinds of special teams and capacity to upset the big guns on every squad.
(I've waited as long as I possibly could before claiming bragging rights, so keep that in mind.) From worst to first to second isn't too shabby for a Voltigeurs' squad that last year had Yannick Riendeau, Dany Massé, and the aformentioned Mike Hoffman doing all their scoring. 17-year old Sean Couturier (might) have the scoring title in just his second campaign. The Phoenix/Bathurst native is on his way to turning lots more heads en route to what looks like a top-3 position in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Chris DiDomenico is back from the broken leg he suffered during the last playoffs and has fared very nicely since his return. Habs' prospect Gabriel Dumont has the goal-scoring title in the Q with 51, and teammate/future teammate Philippe Lefebrve didn't fare too badly himself with 26 goals and 29 assists. Meanwhile, in nets, once crucified by Canadian hockey fans for bringing back silver (oh, the horror), Jake Allen now boasts the lowest goals-against average in the QMJHL and the CHL at 2.20 and has convinced his teammates and surely the rest of the league that he will be the go-to guy in the bid to bring Drummondville another title. I have a myriad of other Jake-isms for you, including his almost-record shutout streak of 188 minutes and 47 seconds, but I suspect you get the idea.
*photo cred: lhjmq.qc.ca, my Sea Dogs Newsletter that joyfully brightens up my inbox each Friday, and Journal L'Express Drummondville.