Memorial Cup: Voltigeurs preview

August 25, 2009, 3:10 PM

The Drummondville Voltigeurs emphatically put the finishing touches on their remarkable season which saw them go from worst to first. The Voltigeurs held the league’s worst record last season, finishing with just 14 wins and 33 points. Drummondville actually had a longer winning streak this season than 14 wins as they finished with the top record with 112 points, a league record 79-point turnaround.

The team made several additions to their lineup in the off-season and through trades in the regular season but a large core of their team remained intact, a true sign of the solid coaching done by Guy Boucher. Drummondville added Patrik Prokop and Yannick Riendeau by trade and picked up Dmitry Kulikov and Sean Couturier through the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft and the Québec Major Junior Hockey League draft.

While the team’s additions signaled this season would be different in Drummondville, no one could have predicted the Voltigeurs would be as good as they were. The team prides itself on their work ethic, a trait that has carried them far this season but their mentality shifted from a team hoping to win to one that knew they would win.

As Drummondville began pulling away from the pack late in the regular season, the question on everyone’s minds was which team, if any, could beat them? As it turns out, no such team had the ability to knock off the top team.

Drummondville swept all three of their first round opponents, including the Memorial Cup host Rimouski Océanic, before engaging in a heated final series with the Shawinigan Cataractes. Shawinigan was one of just two teams to have won the season series with the Voltigeurs and given their proximity and huge rivalry, the two battled in what will go down as one of the most memorable championship series in QMJHL history.

Although the Voltigeurs jumped out to a three games to one series lead, Shawinigan clawed their way back in it before Drummondville closed the series out at home in Game 7. Boucher warned Sportsnet.ca in a pre-series interview the series with Shawinigan could go seven and conclude in overtime. While Drummondville won 3-2 in regulation, the two teams were playing as if they were already in overtime in the final frame. The Voltigeurs ended up winning their first league title and earned the final spot in the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament.

Strengths: The Voltigeurs offence is one of the most feared in the CHL. Drummondville is led by Riendeau, the QMJHL’s playoff Most Valuable Player, whose impressive season earned him a contract with the Boston Bruins. Riendeau led the league in scoring in the regular season and finished atop the scoring charts once again in the playoffs with 29 goals and 23 assists for 52 points in 19 games.

A lot of Drummondville’s offence revolves around their star. Riendeau opens himself up for passes very well and is a constant threat on the power-play. He scored the championship clinching goal in the second period in Game 7, which was his second goal of the night.

Like Riendeau, Dany Massé earned a contract as an undrafted prospect with the Montreal Canadiens. Massé was banged up late in the playoffs but has incredible offensive vision. The team also has plenty of secondary scoring with Kulikov, Mike Hoffman, Gabriel Dumont and captain Marc-Olivier Vachon. Their power-play is downright scary at a lethal 35.7 per cent in the playoffs.

Drummondville plays a very strong puck pursuit game. The Voltigeurs are strong in pressuring the puck-carrier and eliminating his outlet lanes through strong positioning. They make it very hard to enter their zone and don’t give up many second-chance opportunities in front of their goal. Their cohesive team play might just be the best in the CHL.

Weaknesses: In some of the games they did lose, the Voltigeurs lacked the same consistency in their defensive game. Goaltender Marco Cousineau was solid for them since being acquired from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar at the trade deadline but sometimes struggled when he didn’t face many shots. His mental makeup was tested and it didn’t always bring favourable results, such as on the overtime goal in Game 6 against Shawinigan when he was beat by a wrist shot from the point. Cousineau has the ability to steal a game for his team and make some acrobatic saves but his consistency in this nature seems to waver.

The Voltigeurs may play big but their team is small, particularly at forward. Their rookie, Couturier, is the only player taller than six-feet at six-foot-three. Drummondville doesn’t participate much in the gritty play after whistles but that is more of a reflection of the team’s discipline. They began showing signs of wearing down against Shawinigan but have been successful against each team that has tried intimidating them physically.

Keys to victory: Special teams were a big factor for the Voltigeurs this season. The team received much of their headlines for their dynamic power-play but pride themselves in their penalty kill. Boucher surprises his opponents by changing his penalty killing tactics, making it difficult for team’s to adjust.

The Voltigeurs’ power-play can suffocate the opposition. Drummondville likes to pass the puck down low while their defencemen begin moving forward, opening up shooting lanes and second chance opportunities. If the Voltigeurs can continue their stellar special teams play and open it up offensively, they will be successful as their shooters tend to cash in on most of their chances.

Noteworthy: The Voltigeurs will be without Canadian world junior gold-medalist Christopher DiDomenico who broke his left femur and knee cap in Game 3 against Shawinigan. … Drummondville has never participated in the Memorial Cup prior to this year. … The Voltigeurs were last ranked third in the CHL Mosaik MasterCard Top 10 rankings. They were ranked in all but four of the 27 weeks, never placing higher than third. … The last QMJHL to win the Memorial Cup was the Québec Remparts in 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 Voltigeurs: Christopher DiDomenico, 6th round in 2007 (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Marco Cousineau, 3rd round in 2008 (Anaheim Ducks).

2009 NHL Draft Eligible players: Dmitry Kulikov, D; Gabriel Dumont, RW; Philippe Lefebvre, LW; Mike Hoffman, LW; Maxime Frenette, C; Marc-Erik Ouellet, D; Charles Landry, D; Olivier Hotte, D.

Regular season record: 54-10-0-4 (112 points)
League regular season ranking: First overall, first in Telus Central Division
Combined regular season and playoff road record: 33-9-0-1
Regular season goal differential: 345-189
Playoff goal differential: 109-47
Playoff record: 16-3
Memorial Cup appearances: One (1988)
Memorial Cup championships: None
League championships: One (2009)

Voltigeurs’ Memorial Cup Schedule:
Drummondville vs. Windsor, Saturday, May 16 – 4:30 p.m. EST / 1:30 p.m. PST
Drummondville vs. Kelowna, Monday, May 18 – 7:00 p.m. EST / 4:00 p.m. PST
Drummondville vs. Rimouski, 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

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