As the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season approaches its end, the jockeying for final playoff positions has begun in earnest. The Halifax Mooseheads are in the thick of the mix, as they lead the Acadie-Bathurst Titan by five points in the Maritime Division, with three games in hand. Entering action Friday night, Halifax sat four points behind the league and conference-leading Baie-Comeau Drakkar, holding 94 points, compared to 98 for the Drakkar. With six games remaining, Halifax looks to reel in the Drakkar even closer, as they play provincial rivals the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, and division foes, the Moncton Wildcats twice, whilst finishing out a swing through western Quebec in Val d`Or and Rouyn-Noranda.
Halifax had gained ground on the Drakkar as of late, tearing off on a 14-game undefeated streak that was subsequently snapped after a 9-0 drubbing to the Drakkar in Baie-Comeau. Still, a second place ranking, should that be where Halifax finishes, would guarantee the Mooseheads home-ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the 2003 playoffs, and since Halifax has a formidable record at home, that could help go a long way in assuring a long playoff run.
However, the stretch run for the Mooseheads has seen some injury trouble arrive in the Mooseheads locker room again. Defenseman Steeve Villeneuve went down with a fairly serious ankle bruise which kept him out of the lineup for a couple of games, and has him listed as day-to-day for the remainder of the Mooseheads five-game road swing through western Quebec. Also, flu ravaged the locker room, as Milan Jurcina, Petr Vrana, and Alexandre Picard all came down with the illness during the past couple of games. With the flu bug gone from the locker room, and Villeneuve on the mend, Halifax should return to their full squad in no time.
16-year-old forward Frederik Cabana, who missed five games in the last couple of weeks, returned to the Mooseheads lineup for their game against Victoriaville. Cabana was a member of the Quebec under-17 hockey team that played in the Canada Games recently, hosted in Bathurst and Campbellton, New Brunswick. Team Quebec and Cabana earned a silver medal, bowing to the eventual champions in the Gold Medal match.
Two Mooseheads were honoured the Quebec League front offices for their performances during the month of February. 19-year-old goaltender Guillaume Lavallee was named the QMJHL Defensive Player of the Month. Lavallee put up a spectacular 8-0-1 record over the month, and played a large role in Halifax going undefeated for the entire month.
Also, second-line center, and 2003 NHL Draft-eligible Petr Vrana was once again named the QMJHL Rookie of the Month. Vrana notched six goals, nine assists, in thirteen games during the month, playing between Jean-Francois Cyr and Francois-Pierre Guenette, a combination who has proven to be perhaps the most dangerous, and most consistent line for Halifax in recent years. Congratulations to both players.
Game 61: Thursday, February 20: Halifax 6, Quebec 3:
Halifax began a three-game home-stand up against the Memorial Cup hosts, the Quebec Remparts. Guillaume Lavallee would get the start up against Jean-Michel Filiatrault. After a modest pre-game ceremony for Team Canada member Alexandre Rouleau, Halifax would come out on fire, picking up three goals before the eight-minute mark. The first goal came on an unassisted marker by Czech super-rookie Petr Vrana, his 33rd of the year. Three minutes later, Stuart Macrae ripped a power-play goal top shelf past Filiatrault. Then, barely a minute later, it was Marc-Andre Bernier notching his 25th of the year, from his new position on the 3rd line. Halifax did not let up in the second period, as their lead ballooned to 5-0 on the second of the game for Macrae, and the 10th goal of the year from AJ MacLean. Rouleau brought the Remparts back within four at the halfway point, but Steeve Villeneuve renewed the five goal lead shortly thereafter. Quebec picked up a couple of late goals from Jason Kostadine and David Masse, but it was not enough, as Halifax extended their unbeaten streak to eleven games.
Game 62: Saturday, February 22: Halifax 7, Chicoutimi 3:
Game two of the home-stand saw the Mooseheads go up against the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Jonathan Boutin got the start up against Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. Halifax returned to its traditional manner of starting games: by coming out flat. Halifax found themselves down by two goals before the midway point of the game, on markers from J-P Brihre and Nicolas Marcotte, chasing Boutin from the goal for Lavallee. Halifax got one back before the end of the period, by means of a Milan Jurcina slap shot. From then on, it was all Halifax. Halifax tied the game a minute into the second frame on a goal from Petr Vrana, in which Drouin-Deslauriers had to leave the game, after an apparent injury. Simon Daoust was welcomed to the game by two quick power-play goals from Thatcher Bell and Alexandre Picard, the latter of whom scored only his first goal on home ice all season. Francois-Pierre Guenette, Brandon Benedict, and Randy Upshall added late goals for the Mooseheads, as they kept on rolling.
Game 63: Sunday, February 23: Halifax 5, Cape Breton 1:
Halifax looked to sweep the three-game weekend home-stand, against provincial rivals, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Guillaume Lavallee got the nod, up against Team Canada goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who, like Rouleau, received a huge ovation from the Halifax crowd. Former Halifax defenseman Patrick Gilbert was honoured as well, given his former Moosehead jersey. But when the puck dropped, support switched to the home team. Halifax netted three first period goals past Fleury, on markers from Stuart Macrae, Marc-Andre Bernier, and Jean-Francois Cyr. The second period saw the Mooseheads pile on further, on goals from Francois-Pierre Guenette and Thatcher Bell. Former Moosehead Jonathan Labelle saved some face for the Eagles, netting a third period goal for them, but that was as close as they would come, as Halifax extended their unbeaten streak to thirteen games.
Game 64: Friday, February 28: Halifax 3, Chicoutimi 1:
Halifax headed out on the road again, starting a five-game road trip against in Chicoutimi. Guillaume Lavallee was between the pipes again, against a healthy Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers. The game was scoreless for the first 35 minutes, until Francois-Pierre Guenette broke the deadlock. Two minutes later, his line-mate Jean-Francois Cyr put the Mooseheads up by two on his 26th goal of the year. Halifax upped their lead to three goals early in the third on the 27th goal of the season for Marc-Andre Bernier. Chicoutimi rookie Mathieu Melanson brought the hometown Sags on goal closer, but that was all the offense they could muster. Halifax was now one win or tie away from equaling their longest unbeaten streak in team history.
Game 65: Saturday, March 1: Halifax 0, Baie-Comeau 9:
The two top teams in the league would meet in the Henry Leonard Centre in Baie-Comeau, as Halifax sought their record-tying victory or tie. It was not meant to be, and that was relatively obvious before the game was very old. Guillaume Lavallee got the call for the Mooseheads; up against Montreal Canadiens prospect Olivier Michaud. Halifax saw themselves down one early, on a goal by Olivier Proulx. In the second period, the wheels fell off, as the normally impenetrable defense, which was presently ravaged by injury (Steeve Villeneuve) and the flu (Milan Jurcina and Alexandre Picard) fell apart, giving up six goals in the period. Luis Tremblay, and a pair of goals from Robin Leblanc chased Lavallee from the goal. Jonathan Boutin got no help either, as Travis Antler, Joel Perrault, and Martin Mandeville made the game a stunning 7-0 after two periods. Baie-Comeau was not done, as Proulx added a second goal. The end of the game was marred by a series of fights, and a goal from BC enforcer Marc-Andre Roy, his first career goal in over 100 career games. Halifax was humbled, and their streak was over.
Game 66: Monday, March 3: Halifax 6, Victoriaville 4:
After being spanked at the hands of the QMJHL leading Baie-Comeau Drakkar two nights before, Halifax looked to rebound in a positive way against the Victoriaville Tigres. Lavallee would get the nod against Daniel Manzato. Halifax would strike early, as Jordie Preston scored a breakaway short-handed goal a minute-and-a-half into the game for his 4th of the year. Martin Kasik tied the game on the same power play, but Halifax would regain their lead shortly thereafter on a goal from Francois Pierre Guenette. Pierre-Luc Sleigher brought les Tigres back into a tie two minutes later. Halifax then exploded for two goals in twelve seconds, from Guenette and Thatcher Bell, to make it 4-2 after 1. Guillaume Fournier brought Victo back within one, but Bell picked up his second of the game to restore the two-goal lead. Victoriaville came back within one again with four minutes left in the 3rd, but Thatcher Bell picked up his hat trick with an empty-net goal, making the final 6-4.
Season Stats: (as of 03/03/03)
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From behind the net, this is Phil Laugher signing off for Hockey`s Future.