Halifax Excelling on the Road

By Phil Laugher

Who would have thought that midway through the longest road trip of the season that the Halifax Mooseheads would also be building on their longest undefeated streak of the season?

As Halifax continues on their grueling nine-games-in-thirty-two-days road trip, which also happens to coincide with the QMJHL Christmas trading period, the competition will only get tougher. Halifax has games forthcoming against the vastly improved Montreal Rockets, the decent Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the abysmal Shawinigan Cataractes, and a swing through their Maritime division foes in Bathurst, Moncton, and Cape Breton, to end the road trip.

As the trade deadline approaches for all QMJHL teams on January 9th, 2003, the key question facing Halifax is whether to sell the farm, trading away their youth for impact 19 and 20-year-old players, or to stay the course with the team they have, making minor tweakage to the roster.

Several teams  who will no doubt comprise the toughest competition for the Mooseheads this year  have already jumped into the trading pool with both feet. The Bathurst Titan nabbed impact overage defenseman (and former Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick) Jean-Philippe Cote to reinforce their defenses. The Baie-Comeau Drakkar acquired overage playmaker Olivier Proulx. The Montreal Rocket picked up San Jose draft pick forward Ryan Clowe and Chicago draft pick defenseman Brent MacLellan. Memorial Cup hosts the Quebec Remparts nabbed offensive defenseman Aaron Johnson, and as hosts, you can only assume that they will add more stars to bolster their opportunity of winning as host team. And finally, the Sherbrooke Castors have already acquired forward Jean-Francois Plourde (the QMJHL goal leader), import Gabriel Balasescu, and checking forward Remi Bergeron. With this much activity, the few remaining impact players are at a premium, with high prices being demanded.

Herein lies the paradox: does Halifax trade away an Alex Picard, a Francois-Pierre Guenette, a Marc-Andre Bernier, a Petr Vrana, a Frederik Cabana, to pry away a rent-a-player for the shot at increasing their chance at advancing deeper into the playoffs, in a very strong conference, throwing away future chances and potentially hurting team chemistry, or does Halifax stay the course, building for next year and the year after, when the 16 and 17-year-olds who are already contributing will be that much better, and when the conference is weaker? To digress again, when is the next time Halifax will have such a formidable collection of impact players? Milan Jurcinas do not come along every day. Nor do Thatcher Bells and Brandon Benedicts. This is the key quandary facing the Halifax Mooseheads management.

What will be done? Who knows? No one knows, however the picture will become clearer within the next three tense weeks.

And Here Come the Trades

– Halifax made a two trades in the past week. First, they solidified their goaltending by trading for Shawinigan Cataractes backup goaltender, 19-year-old Guillaume Lavallee, shipping a 3rd round draft pick for the 2004 draft the other way. Lavallee had an abysmal record of 1-10-1 with Shawinigan, with a 4.54 GAA and a save percentage hovering around .850. These numbers did not dissuade coach Shawn MacKenzie, as Lavallee started his first game with the team less than 24 hours after the trade, picking up a 5-3 win against Hull.

– Halifax made another minor trade, when they traded the rights to 20-year-old forward Bruce Gillis to the Hull Olympiques for a 6th round draft pick in the 2003 Midget Draft. Gillis appeared in 3 games this season for Halifax before being released to play for St. Thomas University in he AUS league. Gillis reported to Hull, and in his first game, he picked up an assist.

Former Mooseheads news

– Former goaltender Pascal Leclaire was called up to the NHL for the first time in his young career by the Columbus Blue Jackets this past weekend. Leclaire dressed for one game as the backup for Marc Denis, as Jean-Francois Labbe continued his recovery from post-concussion syndrome. Leclaire was sent back to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL the following day.

– Also, former captain Ramzi Abid was recalled by Phoenix on December 17th for their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Playing on a line with Tony Amonte, Abid registered not only his first assist, not only his first goal, but also his second goal, in garnering the first star of the game and a three point night. His return to Springfield, at least in the near future, appears to be on hold. Congratulations, Ramzi!

Game Summaries

Game 32: Friday, December 6: Halifax 5, Rouyn-Noranda 2:

Halifax began a short two game home stand against the now Bob Mongrain-less Huskies. Jonathan Boutin got the start for the Mooseheads, up against Mathieu Poitras. Halifax once again picked up the first goal, as Francois-Pierre Guenette went coast-to-coast to net a beautiful short-handed goal. One minute later, Marc-Andre Bernier roofed a shot from the slot past Poitras to put Halifax up 2-0 eight minutes in. The two-goal lead was short-lived, as Jonathan Jolette brought RN back within one. Midway through the 2nd, Petr Vrana netted his 18th goal of the season. Milan Jurcina put Halifax up by three with a wrist shot from the point, sending the teams into the break in a 4-1 game. Dominic Deblois brought the Huskies back within two goals, but rookie Kyle Doucet put the game away a minute later. After a few middleweight scraps, the final buzzer sounded, with a Mooseheads 5-2 victory, and the first back-to-back victories since October.

Game 33: Saturday, December 7: Halifax 6, Val d`Or 4:

The first two games in this series have had all the makings of a potential playoff meeting somewhere down the line between these two teams, and this game would be no different. Jonathan Boutin would get the start again, up against Washington prospect Maxime Daigneault. Things did not start out well for the Mooseheads, as Francois Gagnon put the Foreurs up two-and-a-half minutes in. Two minutes later, Jonathan Charette deflected a shot off of a defender past Boutin, putting the Foreurs up by two, and chasing Boutin from the goal, to be replaced by Jason Churchill. The momentum turned with six minutes left in the first, as Milan Jurcina dropped the gloves for his first fight in three years, scoring a takedown victory. 12 seconds later, Francois-Pierre Guenette brought the Mooseheads within one. With 80 seconds left, Randy Upshall buried a howitzer top shelf to tie the game at 2 after 1. Jurcina completed the comeback, notching his 11th of the season to make it 3-2. 7 minutes into the 3rd, Jean-Francois Cyr put Halifax up by 2. The teams traded power play goals by Pierre Morvan and Marc-Andre Bernier, before Chaz Johnson brought the Foreurs back within one with a short-handed marker. Cyr put the game away with a late power play goal, to give the Mooseheads their third straight win. And so begins a 32-day road trip

Game 34: Friday, December 13: Halifax 3, Shawinigan 0:

The first of the Mooseheads nine consecutive road games would be in Shawinigan, against the Cataractes. Jonathan Boutin would be between the pipes again for Halifax, against Montreal prospect Olivier Michaud. Halifax got to Michaud early, as Petr Vrana notched his 19th goal of the season half a minute into the 1st. Halifax struck early in the 2nd as well, as Thatcher Bell picked up his 19th of the year on the feed from Brandon Benedict. Kyle Doucet added more insurance late with his 4th of the season, and Halifax coasted the rest of the way, giving Jonathan Boutin his 3rd shutout of the season, tying the single season record for the team, and before the halfway point. This was the fourth straight win for the Mooseheads, and they could not have asked for a better way to start the month-long road trip.

Game 35: Sunday, December 15: Halifax 7, Victoriaville 7:

Halifax looked to add to their four-game winning streak by heading into the unfriendly confines of Victoriaville. Jonathan Boutin would get the start against Daniel Manzato, but Boutin would have a short night. Victoriaville got to Boutin early and often. Mathieu Brunelle opened the scoring less than a minute into the 1st to get les Tigres the early lead. At the nine-minute mark, Pierre-Luc Chenier doubled the lead to 2-0. 1:40 later it was 3-0 on a goal by Benoit Duhamel. The hole got deeper three minutes later, as Guillaume Fournier put the home side up by four. Thatcher Bell brought Halifax back within three, but the lead became 5-1 shortly before the end of the 1st, on a goal by Robert Snowball. Jason Churchill started the 2nd period, and early on fared not much better, as the Tigres garnered a seemingly insurmountable 6-1 lead on the first of the year by Steve Holland. Cue the comeback, as Brandon Benedict scored on the power play to come back by four. Alexandre Picard would get his second of the year two-and-half-minutes later. However, Fournier put the home side back up big, 7-3 heading to the break. It stayed that way until 11 minutes left in the 3rd, when Petr Vrana buried the puck for his 20th of the season. Kyle Doucet notched his 5th goal 26 seconds later, and all of a sudden, Halifax was wi thin two. Brandon Benedict scored his second of the game with seven minutes left. With the goalie pulled, Halifax completed the comeback, as Francois-Pierre Guenette buried the rebound past Manzato with four seconds left, to send the game t o overtime. Both teams had numerous chances in the extra frame, culminating with Churchill stoning Brunelle on a breakaway with about half a minute left, but that was all. Halifax rallied from 5 down to salvage a tie.

Game 36: Tuesday, December 17: Halifax 5, Hull 3:

Halifax continued their road show on into the new amalgamated Gatineau region to face Hull. Newcomer Guillaume Lavallee would get his first start as Moosehead up against Eric Lafrance. Jason Churchill would be the backup, as Jonathan Boutin was given the night off. Halifax fell behind once again, as Renaud des Alliers scored with two minutes left in the 1st. Halifax got their offense in gear in the 2nd, with Jean-Francois Cyr tying the game at the halfway point of the period. Michael Couch put Halifax up 2-1 with his 1st of the season, followed shortly thereafter by a goal from Bobby Clarke, his 2nd of the year. Halifax gave up a late one to Francis Wathier, but still led 3-2. Halifax blew the lead fully in the 3rd, as Maxime Talbot tied the game with about eight minutes left. Cyr buried his second of the game shortly afterwards, putting Halifax up for good. Petr Vrana added some insurance, to give the line of Vrana, Cyr, and Francois-Pierre Guenette a 12-point night (five for Vrana, four for Guenette, three for Cyr), and extending the unbeaten streak to six games, in the midst of the longest road trip of the season.

Statistics

Bi-Weekly Stats (as of December 18, 2002):

PlayerGPGAPPIM
Guenette, Francois-Pierre5310130
*Vrana, Petr547116
Cyr, Jean-Francois5448
Gilbert, Patrick50772
Bernier, Marc-Andre52352

Season Stats (as of December 18, 2002):

PlayerGPGAPPIM
Benedict, Brandon3615304547
*Vrana, Petr3621234420
Bell, Thatcher2920224237
Guenette, Francois-Pierre3618244212
Cyr, Jean-Francois3313263910
Bernier, Marc-Andre3613213423
Gilbert, Patrick352192143
Picard, Alexandre362171927
Jurcina, Milan301171868
Kent, Derrick18581326
MacLean, AJ33471129
Upshall, Randy353710131
Labelle, Jonathan3627946
*Doucet, Kyle205386
*Cabana, Frederik3526849
*Sharrow, Jimmy3517826
Clarke, Bobby26246115
Preston, Jordie3624681
Couch, Michael&l t;td>3515674
*MacIntyre, Colby14101182
*Veinot, Nathan1201157
Boutin, Jonathan3001117
Lavallee, Guillaume10000
xWojcik, Adam30002
xGillis, Bruce300010
*Churchill, Jason40000
xDiLorenzo, Michael110000

Halifax is still on the road until the second week of January in 2003. While the current road trip has been very successful, there are still some tough teams to face before coming home, including a swing through the very tough Maritime division. A lot can go wrong on this road trip yet. This trip will definitely be a character builder for the rest of the season.

From behind the net, this is Phil Laugher, signing off for Hockey`s Future