It is nearly a month into the QMJHL regular season, and things seem to be coming together for the Halifax Mooseheads.
After ten games, Halifax has put together a solid record of 4-2-3-1. Most of those games have been against teams within the Dilio conferences Maritime Division, which is very strong, with incumbent superpowers, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, the up-and-coming Moncton Wildcats, and the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, who possess on their roster perhaps the best draft eligible goaltender in the world, in Marc-Andre Fleury. Despite these challenges, Halifax has gotten off to a great start.
All aspects of the Mooseheads game seem to be coming together. An already strong defensive corps just got stronger in the past week, as Milan Jurcina was returned from the Boston Bruins training camp. With Jurcina, Jimmy Sharrow, and Alexandre Picard leading the way, as well as defensive stalwarts Patrick Gilbert, Randy Upshall, Bobby Clarke, and Mike Couch, this defense has shown itself to be perhaps the greatest corps assembled in Mooseheads history, as shown by very low shots allowed totals. Between the pipes, Jonathan Boutin and Michael DiLorenzo have proven to be an effective combination, allowing just 22 goals in 10 games. Up front, the line of Thatcher Bell, Brandon Benedict, and Jean-Francois Cyr were already firing on all cylinders. Coach Shawn MacKenzie decided to tinker with the lines, moving sophomore forward Marc-Andre Bernier onto the top line, and bumping Cyr onto the second line with rookie Petr Vrana, and Francois-Pierre Guenette, and neither line has missed a beat offensively. Coupled with a solid group of checking forwards chipping in goals at opportune times, and things are definitely looking bright.
Game 6: Tuesday, September 24: Halifax 2, Cape Breton 2:
The Mooseheads hit the third game of their five-game road swing in Sydney. 19-year-old Michael DiLorenzo was between the pipes for the visiting Mooseheads, while prospect Marc-Andre Fleury was in goal for the Eagles. Mooseheads rookie Frederik Cabana opened the scoring late in the 1st period, netting his first career QMJHL goal. Cape Breton rallied in the second, putting two goals past DiLorenzo, the first by Grant Thomas, the second by Maxime Lessard, giving the Eagles a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes. Midway through the 3rd period, Czech import Petr Vrana netted his first career goal to tie the game, a result which would not be broken.
Game 7: Sunday, September 29: Halifax 3, Moncton 3:
The road warriors moved across the border into Moncton, New Brunswick for a matinee game, hoping to add to their 1-0-2 record on the first major road trip of the season. Also, they welcomed back import defenseman Milan Jurcina from the Boston Bruins training camp. 17-year-old Jonathan Boutin would get the start, while Matt Davis was in nets for the Wildcats. Fourth-liner Jordie Preston would open the scoring early in the first on the feed from defenseman Bobby Clarke. Moncton would respond with two quick goals later in the opening frame, from Michel Dube and Mathieu Betournay, which would chase Boutin from the net after the first period, to be replaced by DiLorenzo. The next goal in a wild span came with five-and-a-half minutes left in the third, as Jean-Francois Cyr banged in his third of the year to tie the game. Two minutes later, sophomore Marc-Andre Bernier was able to score his first career goal after over 50 games, getting a rather large monkey off his back in the process, and putting his team up by one. However, it was not to be, as off of a lost face-off, Moncton’s Karl Gagne banged the puck in past DiLorenzo, with less than two seconds remaining in regulation. Overtime would decide nothing, and Halifax extended its road unbeaten streak to four games.
Game 8: Tuesday, October 1: Quebec 2, Halifax 1:
The Mooseheads finished up their five-game road swing in Quebec City against the Remparts, and was the site of a goaltending duel, between Halifax’s Jonathan Boutin and Quebecs Benjamin McMullen. After numerous chances at both ends, it was not until barely two minutes were left in the game when Quebecs Josh Hennessy was able to put the puck past Boutin for the 1-0 lead. With the goalie pulled, 20-year-old sniper Thatcher Bell was able to put the team’s first shot past McMullen, sending the game to overtime for the third straight time. The Mooseheads would not be able to salvage a tie, as hulking defenseman Sebastian Bourgon was able to bury a shot past Boutin, giving Quebec the overtime victory. Halifax finished up the five-game road trip having not conceded a regulation loss.
Game 9: Friday, October 4: Halifax 5, Cape Breton 4:
Returning home, Halifax would face their provincial rivals from Cape Breton in the front half of a home-and-home series. Michael DiLorenzo was back in goal for the Mooseheads, and Marc-Andre Fleury was back in goal for the Eagles. An own goal 12 seconds in by Thatcher Bell (credited to George Davis) put the Eagles up early, and took the crowd out of it. A spirited tussle between Colby MacIntyre and Davis resulted in the momentum Halifax was looking for, as a flurry of goals would follow. Milan Jurcina netted two power play goals in a 21 second span, putting Halifax up 2-1. Kevin Asselin would tie the game 2 minutes later, but a further 51 seconds later saw Halifax regain the one-goal advantage with Brandon Benedict burying a loose puck. On a great individual effort, Thatcher Bell fought off two Eagles defensemen to flip a backhand over Fleurys shoulder to give a 4-2 lead before the midway point of the 1st, thus chasing Fleury from the game temporarily. Petr Vrana finished off the period with a power-play goal of his own, making it 5-2. Chippy play continued into the third period, and the Eagles began to rally. First Steve Dixon, then a second goal from Kevin Asselin brought them within one, but the Mooseheads were able to stave off a late flurry, to take the victory.
Game 10: Sunday, October 6: Halifax 5, Cape Breton 2:
The back half of the home-and-home saw the same goaltending match up, DiLorenzo v. Fleury, as the previous game, and also saw the early onslaught of goals. Sophomore Francois-Pierre Guenette scored his second of the season early on, and was followed shortly thereafter by a goal from AJ MacLean. Steve Villeneuve and Samuel Beland rebounded to make the score 2-2 at the 5:34 mark of the 1st, chasing DiLorenzo from the game. Halifax controlled the play for the rest of the game, putting the game out of reach with two goals in a 20 second span by Thatcher Bell and Derrick Kent. Brandon Benedict added another tally late, ensuring the victory.
Last two weeks:
Season: (as of Oct 6, 2002)
2003 Draft Watch:
Petr Vrana: Vrana had a breakthrough bi-weekly period, notching his first and second goals of his junior career. He has not been afraid to muck it up in the corners, digging for the puck, and has continued to show his defensive responsibility.
Marc-Andre Bernier: The snake-bitten Bernier is snake-bitten no more, as he notched his first career goal in Moncton. His play has steadily improved since the beginning of camp, resulting in a promotion to the top line, with Thatcher Bell and Brandon Benedict. This combination will do nothing but help Bernier’s improving offensive prowess.
Alexandre Picard: Picard has worked recently at quarterbacking the top power-play unit. His positional play has been excellent, yet he has not used his size to his advantage he just does not seem willing to throw his body around.
Jimmy Sharrow: Sharrow’s play has tailed off a bit recently. In training camp, his offensive skills were amazing for a player his age. His pinching in was creating great scoring chances. As of late, he has been more hesitant to pinch in at the point, and his defensive play has been down a bit, with him being caught out of position. The likely answer to his lowered play: he is a rookie, and rookies tend to make mistakes. No need to be worried in the least.
Jonathan Boutin: Thus far, in the battle for the number one goaltender, Boutin has been slightly ahead of DiLorenzo. Boutin’s goals against average remains a sparkling 1.33. While you cannot expect Boutin to maintain these excellent numbers, they certainly are encouraging.
Halifax will play four of their next five games in the friendly confines of the Halifax Metro Centre, and the upcoming games will prove to be a difficult test for the squad. In the next two weeks, Halifax faces the offensive juggernauts of Sherbrooke, Shawinigan, and Victoriaville, as well as perennial front-runners Acadie-Bathurst. The next few games will serve as a challenging test to this team that has been fairly successful thus far, and will serve as placing the measuring stick as to how well the Mooseheads rank up against the top teams in the league more clearly.
– Thatcher Bell has registered at least one point in all seven games he has played thus far.
– Recently demoted forward Adam Wojcik has scored 13 points in 4 games with the Halifax Oland Exports in the MJAHL.
From behind the net, this is Phil Laugher, for Hockey’s Future.