Known in recent years as a team that has looked towards the collegiate ranks and Germany for its prospects, the Sharks still had a solid corps of players in major juniors in 2003-04, headlined by two of the QMJHL’s leading scorers, a defenseman for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships and an import goalie leading a weak club to the playoffs.
Although he was passed over for the World Junior Championships by Team Canada, Moncton Wildcats right winger Steve Bernier still had a very productive QMJHL season.
Thirteenth in QMJHL scoring with 82 points in 66 games, Bernier’s 36 goals tied him for 10th in QMJHL goal-scoring, while his 245 shots placed him 16th in the QMJHL. The 6’3” 225-pound Bernier was also a physical force in the QMJHL this season, leading all Moncton players with 169 hits playing a true power forward role for the Wildcats.
Bernier ended the season on an 11-game scoring streak entering the playoffs with four goals and 13 assists as Moncton finished with the third best record in the QMJHL. Despite this record, the Wildcats did not earn a first round bye as the team did not win the Dilio Division. However, the team did secure home-ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs, facing off first against Baie-Comeau.
Despite a solid season, Bernier’s production in 2003-04 was down markedly from the 49 goals and 52 assists he tallied in 2002-03. Bernier does have a chance to improve on his playoff production however, as an appendix infection limited the first round pick to only two playoff games last season.
|Moncton Wildcats: Monthly Breakdown|
Bernier’s QMJHL totals do not include CHL/Russian Re/max Challenge Games, where he registered one goal, an even rating, and four shots in two games played.
Like Bernier, Quebec Remparts center Josh Hennessy also had his production drop, but only because a broken collarbone limited him to 59 games. His 2003-04 season was in large part a breakout season though, as the speedster tallied 40 goals and 42 assists, two points less than the 84 points Hennessy amassed last season in 72 games.
Reaching the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his career, Hennessy provided leadership on top of scoring, as he served as the Rempart’s captain. Leading by example, he led the team in all offensive categories, finishing sixth in QMJHL goal-scoring, twelfth in points, eight in shots with 268, and seventh in faceoff efficiency among all players with more than 1500 faceoffs at 53.3 percent. Perhaps indicative of Hennessy’s contributions was the fact he was named one the “Three Stars of the Game” 21 times.
Despite missing Hennessy, Quebec still made the playoffs and faces Prince Edward Island in the first round. Although Quebec may advance out of the first round, Hennessy’s season may be over. Regardless, he will return to play in the QMJHL next season.
|Quebec Remparts: Monthly Breakdown|
Acadie-Bathurst Titan Jonathan Tremblay is expected to do one thing: fight. Any contribution on top of that is a bonus.
The right winger did not disappoint this season, amassing 316 penalty minutes, and the QMJHL does not count 10 minute misconducts towards league penalty minute totals. One of the most feared fighters in the QMJHL, the 6’3” 240-pound pugilist did tally three goals in 60 games.
Generally not considered a good defensive player, Tremblay was a -23 through his first 38 games, but was a minus rating in only four games after January 7 to finish at a -28. These totals were entirely Tremblay’s fault however, as the Titans failed to make the QMJHL playoffs.
Tremblay, a seventh round pick for the Sharks in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, will return to major juniors next season.
|Acadie-Bathurst Titans: Monthly Breakdown|
Last season the Sudbury Wolves missed the playoffs with the second worst record in the OHL with a 16-46-4-2 record. The 2003-04 season saw the Wolves make their way back into the playoffs with a record of 25-32-6-5, thanks in large part to German import goalie Patrick Ehelechner.
In his first season in North America, the young German national team staple posted a .915 save percentage and a 2.87 goals against average, despite a mediocre October. November forward Ehelechner’s save percentage was .924 and his goals against average 2.64, and had a .928 save percentage and a 2.48 goals-against from January 1 forward as Ehelechner progressively improved over the course of the season. Ehelechner also earned 22 of Sudbury’s 25 wins along with 6 ties and three shutout performances.
Similar to Hennessy, Ehelechner was named one of the “Three Stars of the Game” 22 times in 56 games, including being named a star in six of his nine games in January.
Ehelechner’s season also included playing for Team Germany at the Division I World Junior Championships, where the German netminder was named the tournament’s top goalie with a .924 save percentage and a 2.33 goals against average, helping Germany advance back to the World Junior Championships in Fargo next season.
However, Ehelechner’s OHL performances this year are the highlight of his season, and the Sharks fourth round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft will figure prominently in any postseason run the Wolves makes. Sudbury opens the playoffs against Eastern Conference leaders Toronto St. Michael’s.
|Sudbury Wolves: Monthly Breakdown|
|DI WJC Totals||4||180||2||0||2||92||7||.924||2.33||0|
A surprise third round pick by the Sharks in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Jonas Fiedler has improved incrementally each season with the OHL Plymouth Whalers the last three seasons.
Fiedler’s 2003-04 season saw the Czech left winger tally 18 goals and 28 assists in 63 games, thanks in large part to the 24 points Fiedler put up in 28 games January 1 to the end of the season. The lanky 6’2” 185-pound Fiedler is also known as a decent defensive player.
Plymouth, a perennially good OHL team, ended this season with 76 points in 68 games on a 32-24-9-3 record. The Whalers face the fourth seeded Kitchener Rangers to start the playoffs. Last season the playoffs were Fiedler’s highlight with five goals and nine assists in 18 games. Depending on how far Plymouth goes into the OHL playoffs, Fiedler could find himself with the AHL Cleveland Barons to end their regular season and into the playoffs.
|Plymouth Whalers: Monthly Breakdown|
An undrafted 6’0” 190-pound defenseman considered a tad small and maybe a step slow for his size, Josh Gorges has kept on proving detractors wrong his entire career, signing as a free agent with the Sharks after impressing in training camp in 2002, and playing for Team Canada at the 2004 World Junior Championships.
That said, Kelowna Rockets fans won’t be surprised, as Gorges has been a consistent contributor the last three seasons, with 2003-04 being no different. He was the Rockets top scoring defenseman with 11 goals and 31 assists in 62 games, ninth in the WHL in defenseman scoring, missing 10 games, mostly to represent Team Canada. Not just an offensive defenseman, Gorges’ defensive awareness helped him earn a +22 rating, one point behind Rockets team leader Shea Weber.
As Kelowna’s captain, Gorges helped Kelowna earn the top record in the WHL with a record f 47-21-4-0 with 98 points, six points ahead of Medicine Hat. Kelowna held the honor as the top team in the WHL last season as well, but with a much different style of play. Scoring 311 goals in 2002-03, the Rockets scored only 185 goals in 2003-04, losing players such as Jesse Schultz, Kiel McLeod, Tomas Slovak and Duncan Keith. However, the decline in offense was compensated with a WHL low of 125 goals against in 72 games.
Winning the WHL playoffs last season and earning a berth to the Memorial Cup, Kelowna is guaranteed a spot at the Memorial Cup as the hosts of the 2004 tournament. However, Kelowna could still win the WHL championship, with the team’s playoff effort beginning against the Kootenay Ice, one of only three WHL playoff teams to score fewer goals than the Rockets. Scoring three goals and 17 assists and a +17 in Kelowna’s playoff effort last season, Gorges will be hard pressed to improve those numbers: but don’t count him out.
|Kelowna Rockets: Monthly Breakdown|
Another undrafted Shark prospect, left winger Glen Olson joins Jonathan Tremblay as one of the Sharks potential future fighters at the pro level. Signed out of training camp, the former BCHL player played for the Kootenay Ice of the WHL this season. Breaking his hand in a training camp fight at the Prospect Tournament hosted by the Los Angeles Kings, Olson missed some early WHL action. He also missed games due to a wrist injury suffered mid-season.
Signed as a fighter, the 6”4” 225-pound Olson did just that for the Ice, totaling 126 penalty minutes in 41 games. Like the QMJHL, the WHL does not count ten-minute misconducts towards penalty minute totals, meaning Olson would have had 186 penalty minutes by NHL tabulations with his six ten-minute misconducts, three of which came in Mar. 13 against the Spokane Chiefs. Possessing decent hands for a fighter, when not butchered from fights, Olson had two goals and one assist on the offensive side of things.
|Kootenay Ice: Monthly Breakdown|
Kevin Wey contributed to this article