The Rimouski Océanic’s season had as many ups and downs as a yo-yo. The team was expected to contend for the league crown after being awarded the MasterCard Memorial Cup, a decision some questioned as the Shawinigan Cataractes were also in the bidding for this year’s tournament.
Some questioned the team’s talent after the franchise was decimated following their 2005 Québec Major Junior Hockey League championship. The Océanic set about rebuilding their franchise by tanking several seasons and obtaining promising prospects in the draft. Rimouski became one of the hottest teams in their league to finish last season, stunning the second-seeded Baie-Comeau Drakkar in five games in the opening round.
Injuries plagued the Océanic early this season with several key losses, particularly those of captain Olivier Fortier and Keven Veilleux, who were both out for a couple months at the same time. The holiday break provided lots of promise as the team loaded up by adding many high-profile veterans such as Logan MacMillan, Marc-André Bourdon and Maxime Ouimet. The team traded 14 draft picks, including two first round picks and another four in the second round. A rebuilding season or two in the near future appears inevitable.
But for now, the Océanic set their focus on winning their second Memorial Cup championship after being crowned the Canadian Hockey League champions in 2000. That team was led by future National Hockey League star Brad Richards.
Rimouski was one of the hottest teams to close out the regular season. The Océanic had won 28 of their last 30 games, regular season and playoffs included, before running into the eventual league champion Drummondville Voltigeurs in the semifinals. Drummondville swept Rimouski, ending their bid for a league title in stunning fashion.
Strengths: The Océanic are a deep offensive team that can roll several lines. Veilleux is their go-to sniper but has had bouts with inconsistency throughout his junior career. His head coach, Clément Jodoin, challenged him to perform or watch from the bench in March. Veilleux awoke and turned into the dominant, big body presence with soft, supple hands the team thought to have acquired from Victoriaville last season.
The team also boasts a power-forward in the draft eligible prospect Jordan Caron. A potential first round pick, Caron is at his best when he’s getting his nose dirty and driving to the net. MacMillan also plays a gritty game with high-end offensive upside. Unlike the traditional QMJHL teams from the past, this team likes to mix it up and play a physical brand of hockey which will be beneficial to them in this tournament.
Their defensive core and overall team defence is strong. Rimouski has several defensively-oriented forwards such as Fortier and Canadian world junior gold-medalist, Patrice Cormier. Their defensive core is active in leading the rush and has good vision of the ice, particularly Bourdon and Sébastien Piché. Veteran Ouimet brings stability and depth but the team will rely on him more for his defence.
Weaknesses: Their goaltender, Maxim Gougeon, has to have a short memory and strong rebound control. Opposing teams targeted his substandard rebound control by firing from every angle. While he is generally strong on the first shot, far too many second chance opportunities were given out. In a tournament with such talented offensive teams, controlling rebounds is a must for Gougeon.
When Gougeon is on his game, he is an exceptional goaltender. However, as was seen in last year’s playoffs when he was a member of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, Gougeon seemingly has difficulty regaining composure when he is rattled. A lot of his team’s success in this tournament will fall on his shoulders.
Keys to victory: Rimouski has more than just home ice working in their favour. Although the team hasn’t played in three weeks, there’s no excuse for the Océanic not to be prepared for their opponents through advanced scouting. Jodoin is one of the top coaches and excels in terms of preparation and motivation. His team knows the ins and outs of their building and will need to use them.
One example is how Rimouski took advantage of the opposite side benches, springing their men for breakaway feeds in the second period when the defensive pair from the opposition has farther to skate to get in position. A physical game with strong goaltending could go a long way in helping them realize their dream of hoisting the Memorial Cup on home ice.
Noteworthy: Clément Jodoin won the league title with the Lewiston MAINEiacs two seasons ago. His team was the first eliminated in Vancouver, B.C. in the 2007 tournament. Piché, who is signed by the Detroit Red Wings, was a defenceman on that team … Rimouski was the runners-up to the London Knights in the 2005 tournament. The Océanic were then led by Sidney Crosby. Crosby is one of two Océanic players to have gone first overall in the NHL draft after being picked first by Pittsburgh in 2005. Vincent Lecavalier is another Rimouski grad, going first overall to Tampa Bay in 1998. … Rimouski defeated the Barrie Colts of the OHL in the 2000 Memorial Cup final. … Rimouski was ranked fourth in the CHL’s Mosaik MasterCard Top 10 Rankings before the season began, but never placed in the top 10 since. … The last QMJHL to win the Memorial Cup was the Québec Remparts in 2006. … The last host team to win the Memorial Cup was in 2007 when the Vancouver Giants hoisted the championship on home ice. … Two of the last three Memorial Cup champions did not win their league (Vancouver, 2007 and Québec, 2006). … Seven QMJHL teams have won the Memorial Cup since 1972 when the tournament originally introduced the format which included all three leagues.
NHL Drafted Océanic: Logan MacMillan, 1st round in 2007 (Anaheim Ducks); Keven Veilleux, 2nd round in 2007 (Pittsburgh Penguins); Olivier Fortier, 3rd round in 2007 (Montreal Canadiens); Luca Cunti, 3rd round in 2007 (Tampa Bay Lightning); Patrice Cormier, 2nd round in 2008 (New Jersey Devils); Marc-André Bourdon, 3rd round in 2008 (Philadelphia Flyers); Philippe Cornet, 5th round in 2008 (Edmonton Oilers).
2009 NHL Draft Eligible players: Jordan Caron, RW; Ilya Silik, LW; Patrick Delisle-Houde, LW; Gleason Fournier, D; William Plourde, D; Ryan Kavanagh, D.
Regular season record: 44-23-1-0 (89 points)
League regular season ranking: Sixth overall, second in Telus Eastern Division
Combined regular season and playoff home record: 29-10-1-0
Regular season goal differential: 267-223
Playoff goal differential: 43-42
Playoff record: 8-5
Memorial Cup appearances: Two (2000 and 2005)
Memorial Cup championships: One (2000)
League championships: Two (2000 and 2005)
Océanic’s Memorial Cup schedule:
Rimouski vs. Kelowna, Friday, May 15 – 7:00 p.m. EST / 4:00 p.m. PST
Rimouski vs. Windsor, Sunday, May 17 – 4:30 p.m. EST / 1:30 p.m. PST
Rimouski vs. Drummondville, Wednesday, May 20 – 7:00 p.m. EST / 4:00 p.m. PST
Memorial Cup Tie-breaker (if necessary), teams TBD, Thursday, May 21 – 7:00 p.m. EST / 4:00 p.m. PST
Memorial Cup Semifinal, teams TBD, May 22 – 7:00 p.m. EST / 4:00 p.m. PST
Memorial Cup Final, teams TBD, May 24 – 4:30 p.m. EST / 1:30 p.m. PST