Halifax sits at 16-8-5-2 (39 points) in good for second in the Dilio Conference, one point behind conference leaders, the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. This is surprising for a team that before the season, looked like they may be in for a rebuilding year, especially after the losses of 60-goal man Jason King, emotional leader Robbie Sutherland, and 65-start netminder Dany Dallaire. However, Jonathan Boutin has provided more than adequate goaltending capabilities thus far, the defence has been rock-solid (more so than last season, and it was stellar then), and the most high-powered offence that the Metro Centre has seen in the team`s nine year history a history that has seen NHL stars Alex Tanguay, Ladislav Nagy, and prospects Ramzi Abid, Jason King, and Brandon Reid pass through its gates. Halifax has six players in the top 25 scorers, (Benedict, Bell, Vrana, Guenette, Cyr, and Bernier) and there are not many teams, past or present, that can claim that at this point of the season.
However, is this team going to be good enough to go all the way this season, to a Memorial Cup victory? Should the Mooseheads be reserving rooms in Quebec City in late May? Of course, it is far too early to tell at this point, for the official QMJHL trading period has not yet opened up. The standings are so close this season, that it appears as if nearly half of the league has a legitimate shot at packing their bags to join the Quebec Remparts in the Memorial Cup. The trading deadline is on January 9th this season, and you can be sure that there will be some major personnel movement in the period leading up to the 9th. Will Halifax mortgage the future to ice a team that could very well put them over the top, or will they stand pat, and go with the team they have, one that has had excellent chemistry, offensive firepower and defensive responsibility? Halifax goes out onto a nine game road swing (in lieu of the World Junior Hockey Championships being hosted in Halifax this year), and does not return home until January 8th one day before the trading deadline. Will the team have a vastly different look upon returning from that arduous road trip? The answer will become clear within the next month.
– Czech rookie Petr Vrana was named the QMJHL Rookie of the Month for the month of November. Vrana had 5 goals and 13 points in 10 games through the past month while centering the Mooseheads` second line. He beat out Bathurst forward Patrice Bergeron and Montreal forward Maxim Lapierre for that honour.
– Import defenseman and Boston Bruins prospect Milan Jurcina received an invite to the Slovakian junior team`s selection camp for the World Junior Championships for the third straight year. Jurcina was the Mooseheads only invite to any of the camps, and is a lock to make the team for the third season, for play in Pool B taking place in Sydney, starting December 26th. Petr Vrana (Czech Republic) and Jimmy Sharrow (United States) were not invited to their country`s selection camps.
OUT: Derrick Kent (Oct. 27) is still out with a knee injury. He is apparently shooting for a December return to the lineup, but the team is not rushing him. He has been out since a knee-on-knee hit from Quebec Remparts enforcer Curtis Tidball AJ MacLean (Nov. 24) suffered a minor hip flexor injury in Drummondville and is day-to-day.
BACK: Bobby Clarke (missed three games) returned from his second leg injury of the season against Hull Nathan Veinot (missed eight games) came back from a hand injury in the game against Moncton Patrick Gilbert (missed two games) returned after suffering a minor neck and back injury after a hit from behind at home against Drummondville.
Game 26: Thursday, November 21: Halifax 4, Moncton 1:
Halifax had only won two of their past five games heading as they continued their five game home stand against the Moncton Wildcats. Jonathan Boutin would get the call for the Mooseheads, up against Corey Crawford for the Wildcats. The Mooseheads would get to Crawford early, as Petr Vrana notched his 16th of the season before the five-minute mark of the 1st. Francois-Pierre Guenette would put Halifax up 2-0 four minutes later, and the score remained the same after 20 minutes. Any momentum Moncton picked up near the end of the first/beginning of the second was lost, when Milan Jurcina nailed Tampa Bay behemoth Evgeni Arthioukhine with a massive hit behind the net. Jean-Francois Cyr would put Halifax up by three at the midway point of the 2nd, and Thatcher Bell put a fourth goal up before the period ended. Sebastian Strozynski would get Moncton one back, but that was as close as they would get. 4-1 Mooseheads.
Game 27: Friday, November 22: Acadie-Bathurst 2, Halifax 1:
Halifax looked to win back-to-back games for the first time since October, but had to go through the mighty Titan en route to that feat, and as history has shown, that is no easy task. Boutin would get the call again, up against Adam Russo. Despite Halifax peppering Russo with 18 shots in the 1st, it was Bathurst who got the only goal, as defenseman Bruno Gervais beat Boutin with a point shot. Early in the 2nd, Bathurst would go up by two, as checking forward Nicolas Laplante would bury his second of the season, to head to the intermission up 2-0. Halifax came out wild in the third, controlling the play, but Russo would not break. Brandon Benedict did spoil his shutout bid with 41 seconds left after banging in a loose puck, but that was as close as Halifax would get, and they fell to the Titan.
Game 28: Sunday, November 24: Halifax 5, Drummondville 2:
Halifax would look to come away with a winning home stand against league doormats, the Drummondville Voltiguers. Boutin would get the start in his eighth straight game against Pierre-Olivier Girouard. Halifax came out flying against the Volts, as Milan Jurcina put Halifax up two minutes in. Marc-Andre Bernier doubled the Moosehead lead three minutes later. Drummondville responded with two quick ones, from Kevin Mailhiot and Vincent Tougas, before Brandon Benedict put Halifax back up, 3-2 after 1. Jimmy Sharrow scored his first career QMJHL goal off of a dump in, which hit a partition in the glass, and directed towards the net, going five-hole on a shocked Girouard. Bernier added a second goal in the 3rd period, clinching the 5-2 victory.
Game 29: Friday, November 29: Hull 6, Halifax 4:
Halifax headed out on the road for what appeared to be a relatively easy three game road trip. Boutin got the start again, against Eric Lafrance for the Olympiques. Halifax again got the first goal, on Petr Vrana`s 17th of the season, and led by one after one. Thatcher Bell put Halifax up by two early in the 2nd, but Dale Sullivan brought Hull back by one. Halifax blew the game open after this, with quick goals by Brandon Benedict and Kyle Doucet to make it 4-1. Halifax looked set to keep the same score heading into the intermission, but Francis Wathier scored with 27 seconds left to make it 4-2. Cue the collapse: Hull came back to tie the game midway through the 3rd on goals one minute apart by Philippe Dupuis and Chris Moher. Hull would complete the comeback, as Dupuis notched his second of the period to go up 5-4. Maxime Talbot scored an empty netter to end the game, causing just the second road loss Halifax had had thus far this season.
Game 30: Sunday, December 1: Drummondville 5, Halifax 4:
The Mooseheads took their road show into central Quebec against the Voltiguers. Jason Churchill would get his first career start against Pierre-Olivier Girouard. Halifax got off to a poor start, as Vincent Tougas beat Churchill 90 seconds in. Halifax would gain momentum, but that was lost after a glass-shattering slap shot from Milan Jurcina halted play for fifteen minutes. Two minutes after the restart, former Mooseheads forward Sebastien Laprise put the hometown Volts up 2-0. With two minutes left, Jean-Francois Cyr brought Halifax back within one. Thatcher Bell tied the game midway through the second period. The momentum turned again, as Frederik Cabana was ejected with a boarding major, giving Drummondville a 5-minute power play. While they did not score on the PP, Petr Preucil did score 15 seconds after it ended. Benoit Beauchemin put the Volts back up by two after 40 minutes. Boutin started the 3rd in nets for Halifax, and they gave him a quick goal, as Francois-Pierre Guenette brought Halifax back within one early in the frame, but Drummondville iced the game midway through the 3rd on a goal by Alexandre Demers. Thatcher Bell picked up a late marker, but it was not enough, and Halifax lost back-to-back road games for the first time in the season.
Game 31: Monday, December 2: Halifax 4, Montreal 3 (OT):
Halifax looked to salvage something from the road swing as they moved into the massive Bell Centre to face the Rockets. Boutin was back in goal for Halifax against Jonathan Cayer. Francois-Pierre Guenette picked up his 15th of the season three minutes in, but that lead was short lived, as Montreal captain Jean-Francois Soucy scored two quick goals. Things got bleaker midway through the second, as San Jose prospect Ryan Clowe put Halifax down by two goals, much to the delight of the sparse Bell Centre crowd. Alexandre Picard beat Cayer on a howitzer from the point for his first goal of the season, and Thatcher Bell tied the game late in the 2nd. After a scoreless 3rd period, the teams went to overtime. The extra frame lasted only 13 seconds, as Francois-Pierre Guenette raced down the right wing and roofed his second of the game, a bad-angle shot over Cayer`s shoulder, to win the game and salvage two points on the dismal road trip.
Season Stats: (as of December 6, 2002)
Halifax has two games at home, before heading out on a 9 game, 32-day road trip, as the World Junior Hockey Championships will be hosted in their home arena, the Halifax Metro Centre. This span will be a true test on the chemistry of the team, and will be the determining factor as to whether the Mooseheads stand pat for the rest of the season with the team they have, or whether they trade away the youngsters for veteran firepower, as they chase towards the Memorial Cup.
From behind the net, this is Phil Laugher, signing off for Hockey`s Future.