LONDON, Ont. — When Val d’Or defenceman Guillaume Gelinas fell after Guelph’s Chadd Bauman kneed him earlier this week, it looked like the Foreurs’ best blueliner was going to have to watch the rest of the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament from the sidelines. It was hard to watch the sequence on replay, the type of blow that shreds ligaments and puts you on crutches for the summer. Bauman was deservedly suspended but that figured to be no consolation. Without Gelinas, a truly vital cog, it looked like the QMJHL champions’ stay in London was going to be brief.
Just about everyone in the arena was surprised when Gelinas stepped on the ice for the warmup before the Foreurs’ final game of the opening round against Edmonton Tuesday night. It turned out that his knee wasn’t torn asunder—he had suffered a charley horse. Still, no one was surprised when he limped off and was in his street clothes when the puck was dropped. Despite Gelinas’s absence, the Foreurs managed a come-from-behind double-overtime win over the Oil Kings to punch their ticket to the semifinal. Not a small upset.
Then on Thursday, Gelinas limped out of the dressing room and skated, gingerly, with his teammates. When you saw that you knew he was going to take his shot on Friday night in the semi.
As it turned out, Gelinas’s performance was one of the more inspirational ones you’ll see in any major-junior season. It would be safe to say that even if he hadn’t scored with 36 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime. And it’s safe to say even though Edmonton’s Curtis Lazar scored on a tip-in to give the Oil Kings a 4-3 victory a couple of minutes into triple overtime, putting to an end the longest game in the history of the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament.
Early on it was clear that Gelinas could shift into third gear but not higher. He wasn’t going to be able to bring it the way that he did during the regular season when he scored 23 goals and racked up 69 assists in 67 games. No matter. He was able to pick his spots to make breakout passes as needed. His radar blipped every time the Oil Kings tried to run him, which they did early and often. Gelinas took big hits from Edgars Kulda and Brett Pollock in the first eight minutes. Anyone pulling for the Foreurs had to be holding his breath but each time Gelinas skated away. He even managed to dish out the most spectacular hit in the game, laying out Riley Kieser with a clean hip check that resulted in a one-and-a-half layout full gainer.
Gelinas didn’t seem to be suffering for his art. He made it seem like fun. At one point he managed to mug for the cameras during a stoppage in play, pointing up to his image on the scoreboard’s video screen. Given his gutsy performance you expected a young man with a hard-rock look. Nope. He might be a 21-year-old overage player but he could pass for 16, maybe younger the way he smiled when he realized he was on camera.
Throughout the game, Gelinas made the puck do the most of his work, picking up Val-d’Or’s speedy forwards on breakouts. In the offensive zone he picked his spots, skating in from the point.
Exactly how many minutes Gelinas logged will come out later I’m sure, once the chief statistician is rehydrated. It had to be close to 27 minutes of ice time through three periods. It seemed like Gelinas was on for well over two minutes at the end of regulation.
Gelinas’s goal in the 60th minute was a play executed as drawn up on the erasable board by coach Mario Durocher. With over-worked goaltender Antoine Bibeau pulled in favour of an extra attacker, Louick Marcotte won a faceoff in the Oil Kings’ zone, Anthony Mantha shoveled the puck back to Gelinas. For his part, Gelinas didn’t exactly hammer the puck but it found an open seam and managed to miss the occasionally dodgy Edmonton netminder Tristan Jarry.
Any lingering pain from the charley horse disappeared completely in the celebration. The pain returned before the teams made it to the dressing room for the third intermission -- just at the buzzer, Edmonton left winger Mitchell Moroz hit Gelinas who had trouble just making it off the ice. It looked like he wouldn’t be available for overtime. And yet he barely skipped a beat. Late in the second overtime he stood in front of a Griffin Reinhart slapshot and took another bullet for the team.
Gelinas wasn’t on the ice when Lazar finally put the game to an end more than four-and-a-half hours after the puck was dropped. For the native of Quebec City it wasn’t a perfect end to Val-d’Or’s season or his own major-junior hockey career. Still, Gelinas covered himself in glory. For him, it was the stuff that he can look back on with pride and anyone in attendance will recall with respect and awe.