Friday Night Hockey Preview: Gatineau vs. Rimouski

Rookie Vitalii Abramov was fifth in QMJHL scoring. (Francois Laplante/Getty)

Friday Night Hockey returns to the QMJHL, where there’s plenty to be determined as we move into the final portion of the regular-season schedule. The Gatineau Olympiques make their second appearance on Sportsnet this season and will host the defending President Cup champion Rimouski Oceanic.

The Olympiques have been on a tear since the middle of December, having won 19 of 26 games to become one of just three 80-plus point teams in the league. Unfortunately, the other two (Val-d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda) are also in the West Division. Rimouski has managed the difficult task of remaining highly competitive while getting younger, selling off valuable pieces and acquiring assets. In fact, with 11 games remaining, the Oceanic are still a threat to win the East division.

Gatineau Olympiques; Rimouski Oceanic; Friday Night Hockey; CHL; QMJHL

Rimouski Oceanic

The Oceanic have held true to the age-old adage, win a majority of your games on home ice and play .500 on the road. When you consider the turnover from a group that won the President Cup a year ago, it’s amazing to think the Oceanic are still within reach of a division title. It could mean the difference between starting on the road or having home ice advantage for at least two rounds of the playoffs.

Head coach and GM Serge Beausoleil is a thinking-man’s coach constantly looking for new ways to motivate and communicate with his players. He has a psychology background and his office is full of books and sayings. He’s done a masterful job handling the dual role.

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One of the main holdovers from last year’s team is goaltender Louis-Philip Guindon, who is near the top in every statistical category except for goals against, where he ranks eighth. He has even been brilliant in the shootout, having won five of seven games. Unlike last season, playoffs and the MasterCard Memorial Cup, Guindon is the clear-cut No. 1, which has likely elevated his confidence.

On defence is the only place you’ll find an NHL-drafted player for Rimouski, and that’s Montreal sixth-rounder Simon Bourque. He’s quiet, yet confident and logs mega minutes on a blueline that’s not intimidating, at least on paper. Rimouski’s defence corps also includes some talented youth in rookies Dominic Cormier and Charle-Edouard D’Astous. Jeremie Beaudin has been a good add from Cape Breton. Guillaume Rioux-Legault is well tenured in the league and Andrew Picco has plenty of experience from last season. When Beau Rusk is healthy, he adds size and grit.

Rimouski Oceanic          
32-19-4-2 (12-12-1-2), 2nd East Division, 7th QMJHL          
Individual Stats          
Top Scorers GP G A PTS Note
Dylan Montcalm 57 20 31 51  
Antoine Dufort-Plante 50 20 29 49  
Tyler Boland 56 16 24 40  
Simon Bourque 55 11 29 40 7th Q Def Pts
Samuel Laberge 52 17 22 39  
In Goal          
Louis-Philip Guindon (28-14-3-2, 2.72, .911%)          
Team Stats     Rank    
PP 56/235=23.8%   6th    
PK 53/280=81.1%   3rd    
GF/gm 3.03   14th    
GA/gm 2.8   4th  

Deven St-Hilaire is having a similar season to last, where he started in Tier II but forced his way into Rimouski’s lineup. At any given time, the Oceanic will play seven rookies up front including the Czech import duo of Matous Belohorsky and Nicolas Werbik.

Leading scorer Dylan Montcalm has found a comfortable home in Rimouski’s lineup after bouncing back and forth from junior AAA each of the past two seasons. The Oceanic's offence has also received contributions from Hunter Moreau and rookies Raphael Bastille and Carson MacKinnon.

Keep in mind, this has all been done in a season when Rimousi has moved top producers Michael Joly, Anthony Chapados, Francois Beachemin and the reliable Guillaume McSween on defence.

NHL Drafted/Signed Players

Simon Bourque (MTL, 177th 2015)

NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings

Nicolas Werbik, No. 191
Charles-Edouard D’Astouds, No. 209

Under The Radar
Originally a sixth-round pick in the Q draft, Dylan Montcalm has finally cemented himself on a roster after having spent half seasons in the junior AAA league the past two years.

Gatineau Olympiques

Gatineau is right back to being a serious playoff contender. At the end of last season, it was assumed head coach Benoit Groulx would be off to greener pastures. When no suitable pro job materialized, ownership welcomed him back with open arms. Groulx has undergone a change in philosophy, becoming less of a dictator and more of a communicator. He has always gotten the best out of his teams, but like most veteran coaches, evolving your style is necessary to keep up with the challenges of today’s youth.

Gatineau is a feisty team, not afraid to play on or over the edge when the situation calls for it. Because of that hard-nosed approach, Groulx feels his team is built for a long playoff run. Could we witness the same masterful coaching from Groulx that we did when he surprisingly took his 2008 team all the way to the Mastercard Memorial Cup?

The Olympiques’ goaltending situation is extremely unique in that they are one of three CHL teams to feature two rookie netminders. What makes it more unique is that both have a sub .900 save percentage on a team that boasts the best goals against in the league at 2.59. That can only mean one thing: Gatineau allows the fewest shots per game, allowing just over 25 per contest. Mathieu Bellemare has played more than Mark Grametbauer, but the team’s style of play doesn’t differ based on who starts.

Gatineau Olympiques          
40-16-2-1 (21-6-2-0 Home), 3rd West Division, 5th QMJHL, 8th CHL BMO Top 10          
Individual Stats          
Top Scorers GP G A PTS Note
Vitalii Abramov 58 36 51 87 3rd Q Pts
Alex Dostie 47 22 45 67 19th Q Pts
Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau 53 27 37 64  
Yan Pavel Laplante 56 31 28 59  
Yakov Trenin 49 23 28 51  
In Goal          
Matthieu Bellemare (25-11-1-1, 2.47, .899)          
Team Stats     Rank    
PP 54/258=20.9%   12th    
PK 45/279=83.9%   1st    
GF/gm 3.59   8th    
GA/gm 2.59   1st  

Defensively, Gatineau is lead by Nashville prospect Alexandre Carrier, an excellent puck mover with a real knack for controlling the play. Mid-season acquisition Nicolas Meloche plays with serious bite and his shot demands respect on the power play. Guillaume McSween adds stability and championship pedigree, while Alex Breton, Gabriel Bilodeau and Marc-Olivier Crevier-Morin round out the top six.

Up front, smallish rookie Vitalii Abramov has been a real find. He hasn’t gone more than three consecutive games without scoring a goal and Groulx says he plays with grit and passion. He was a revelation at the BMO Top Prospects Game in Vancouver.

Gatineau Olympiques; Nashville Predators; 2015 NHL Draft; QMJHL; CHL
Yakov Trenin is fifth in Olympiques scoring with 51 points in 49 games. (Getty Images)

Alex Dostie has been a consistent point producer since coming into the league three years ago. Gabryel Paquin Boudreau is an interesting study whose numbers are down since coming over in a trade from Chicoutimi, but his 13.6 shooting percentage is impressive. Yan Pavel Laplante has great speed and has finally found some consistency in his game while Yakov Trenin is good on faceoffs and is a hard-nosed, two-way player. Alexandre Alain is an amazing story in that he is even playing competitive hockey let alone thriving for the Olympiques. Two former OHLers, Tristen Elie and Chiwetin Blacksmith, have found success in Gatineau’s lineup.

NHL Drafted/Signed Players
Nicolas Meloche (COL, 40th 2015)
Gabryel-Paquin Boudreau (SJ, 49th 2013)
Yakov Trenin (NSH, 55th 2015)
Yan Pavel Laplante (ARI, 62nd 20130)
Alexandre Carrier (NSH, 115th 2015)

NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings
Vitalii Abramov, No. 56
Gabriel Bilodeau, No. 156

Under The Radar
Alexandre Carrier never panics and has a unique ability to control a game. He plays in all of Gatineau’s important situations and logs more than his fair share of minutes.