Sunday marks the end of a stretch of four games in four days for the CHL on Sportsnet, and the first three games did not disappoint.
Thursday saw Team Orr defeat Team Cherry 3-2 in the BMO Top Prospects Game in Vancouver. Friday Night Hockey provided another one-goal thriller with a controversial win by the Edmonton Oil Kings over Brandon. A special Saturday night edition of the CHL on Sportsnet witnessed Victoria’s Matthew Phillips dominate the Kelowna Rockets with three points in a 4-1 win.
What could possibly be in store when the Gatineau Olympiques host the high-flying Val-d’Or Foreurs?
WATCH: The Gatineau Olympiques host the Val-d’Or Foreurs live on Sportsnet Sunday starting at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT || Broadcast Schedule
Val-d’Or has been the hottest team in the CHL, having lost just two games since Nov. 1, a stretch of 29 games. Of those 27 wins, the Foreurs have scored fewer than four goals just twice, so it’s reasonable to expect at least a four-goal effort from Val-d’Or. There is a core group of players still remaining from Val-d’Or’s President Cup winning team from 2014.
Etienne Montpetit has carried the bulk of the load in goal, spelled off occasionally by Dereck Baribeau. To paraphrase Julien Gauthier, Montpetit is better than good. He ranks first in wins (28), second in goals-against average (2.53) and second in save percentage (.910).
Val-d’Or has so much firepower up front and plays such a high-risk, high-reward game that getting offence from the back-end is not a priority. Olivier Galipeau leads all Foreurs defencemen with 31 points. Trade acquisition Filip Pyrochta has come over from Victoriaville to add a bit of punch. Carl Tremblay, Samuel Hould, Jack Van Boekel and Oliver Desjardins play top-six minutes. Charlottetown did David Henley right by trading him to his hometown Val-d’Or to support his family. Henley adds physical presence. Only 26 of Val-d’or’s 157 power-play points have been produced by defencemen, so you can expect a heavy forward presence on the power play.
Val-d’Or has plenty of weapons up front with which to do damage. Anthonys Beauregard and Richard continue to slug it out for the team’s scoring race. They have also flip-flopped within the top five of the league scoring race, but neither one of them will catch Moncton’s Conor Garland. Flyers prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel has come on strong of late, netting each of Val-d’Or’s last two game-winners. Top Prospects participant Julien Gauthier continues at almost a goal-per-game pace. Jan Mandat and Shawn Ouellette-St. Amant compliment Gauthier’s goal scoring abilities. Alexis Pepin, rookie Mathieu Nadeau and former Oceanic winger Francois Beauchemin also contribute significantly.
The Foreurs will push the pace regardless of opponent or situation. Special teams numbers aren’t what you would expect from such a high-powered team, as the power play is ranked seventh in the league, while the penalty kill is 14th. Having said that, the Foreurs have scored 16 short-handed goals, so don’t expect them to sit back on the kill.
Gatineau is an interesting study. Head coach and general manager Benoit Groulx is the godfather of the QMJHL and his teams are always in the mix. He maximizes his team’s potential and always makes tweaks along the way to improve his club. Groulx has become softer in his approach thanks to a mid-season survey he administered to his players requesting honesty and fairness in their assessment of the coaching staff. Since that time, practices have been crisper and more efficient as the players have a much better understanding of what the coaching staff is trying to impress upon them. Under this new approach, Groulx would not be considered a “softie,” but more understanding of his players’ needs.
The Olympiques have won seven of their last 10 games, and have been good on home ice, one of the most feared playoff buildings in the league. Fans are right on top of you at the Robert Guertin Centre; they’re young, vocal and educated. Plus, the low ceiling helps the noise factor. Unless they can put on a huge push to the end of the season, Gatineau looks to be land-locked into the five hole in the QMJHL’s league-wide playoff format.
One of the biggest surprises for the Olympiques is their goaltending situation, which was an unknown at the start of the year. Mathieu Bellemare has owned the net for most of the season. When Groulx picked up another rookie, Mark Grametbauer from Blainville-Boisbriand, it didn’t seem to make much sense, but Grametbauer is a perfect 5-0 since the trade deadline deal. The save percentages aren’t sexy for either netminder, but they do give Gatineau a chance to win on most nights.
Gatineau gets little offence from the back-end, but as a group, they defend well and understand the importance of protecting their two rookie goalies. Trade-deadline acquisition and Avalanche prospect Nicolas Meloche is outright nasty. Alexandre Carrier has a calming presence about his game. Alex Breton and Gabriel Bilodeau are steady, while former Oceanic Guillaume McSween adds experience and playoff pedigree. Marc-Olivier Crevier-Morin rounds out the top six.
Vitali Abramov made the most noise of any player leading up to NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings. He performed well in the BMO Top Prospects Game and remains Gatineau’s leading scorer. Nashville prospect Yakov Trenin has paired well with Abramov to provide one of the best import duos in the league. Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau was brought in from Chicoutimi to add offence and he’s done just that. Yan-Pavel Laplante is a speed burner and Alex Dostie a veteran. Those two have combined for 42 goals and 106 points. Centre Alexandre Alain is a wonderful story, and has won over 60 per cent of his face-offs.
The Olympiques are well rounded, tough to beat at home and play an in-your-face puck pressure style of game that routinely wins in the playoffs.
This game should provide an interesting battle between two contrasting styles.