My first look at the new-look Chicoutimi Sagueneens proved to be very impressive.
Having John-Gabriel Pageau in the lineup for the second time as well as former Gatineau teammates Mathieu Gagnon and Christian Ouellet for the third time made for a rather dominating night for the visitors against Nathan MacKinnon and the hometown Halfiax Mooseheads.
I guess the trade worked out pretty well for Guillaume Asselin, who while playing alongside Pageau on the Sags powerplay, helped him earn the Canadian Hockey League player of the week.
Equally impressive is head coach Marc-Etienne Hubert, the youngest coach in the CHL at just 33-years-old. He’s got great vision and the confidence that allows him to feel comfortable with veteran Mario Durocher at his side.
Durocher has a wealth of experience in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, including a run to the Mastercard Memorial Cup title game, losing against Kootenay in 2002. Some felt that Durocher may have been a threat to the first year bench boss, but both Hubert and Durocher have benefitted from the relationship.
If Christopher Gibson can provide the same kind of goaltending he did for most of last season, the Sags will break some hearts come playoff time. Expect Gibson to be challenged by Francis Desrosiers along the way.
Second that thought for Etienne Brodeur. If he can regain the scoring touch that saw him lead the Q with 53 goals in 2010-11, an already potent offense will be even better.
For Halifax, Nathan MacKinnon showed some great bursts and ended up with a goal. He has a great set of skills and is a great kid to boot. SPORTSNET’s Rob Faulds was right when he quipped there must be something in the water in Cole Habour, Nova Scotia.
Trey Lewis looked anything like an 11 point player going into Friday Night Hockey, but he was brilliant on the Herd’s first goal and opened eyes on a few other rushes as well.
Martin Frk is something else. I know he wasn’t very good in his small pre-Christmas sampling coming off the concussion, but this guy can do it all. It was wise for Frk to pass on the World Juniors, as he’s rounding back into form. Can you say first rounder?
The best move Halifax made was splitting the roles of general manager and head coach. GM Cam Russell is a brilliant talent evaluator and very quiet when it comes to his ability to make moves. Coach Dominque Ducharme experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly while working as an assistant for the last three seasons in Montreal. His youth and exuberance is perfect for the resurgent Mooseheads.
Although he was pulled during FNH, 16-year-old goaltender Zachary Fucale may be showing some signs of fatigue. Starting in early October, Fucale played a stretch of 23 straight games. He’ll be a guy to keep an eye on for future Hockey
Canada endeavours, and a guy the young Halifax team can grow with. He’s got great poise, confidence, and has a bit of edge to his game.
Thanks to the Mooseheads, and the city of Halifax for their hospitality. It was great to be back out east. If there are nicer, more welcoming people in the world, I have yet to experience them.
Around the Q
Don’t look now, but the Cats are on top of the QMJHL table.
Shawinigan has put a nice little run together, thanks in large part to the services of Morgan Ellis, Jeremie Blain and Brandon Gormley.
Other news, the entire Sportsnet CHL crew sends its best wishes to former Chicoutimi forward Alexandre Beauregard, who was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
We got to know Beauregard last spring leading up to and during the Mastercard Memorial Cup. Several teammates pointed their fingers his way when asked who’s the biggest joker/funniest guy on the Sea Dogs. He’ll need every bit of his 6’3, 200 pound frame to fight this, and he’ll need a bit of that great sense of humour to lighten the mood on occasion.
Keep an eye on the Michael Matheson-to-Moncton situation.
Although the QMJHL did not have a coach on Canada’s world junior staff, expect Victoriaville’s Yanick Jean to be part of the program, maybe even as early as this summer as a member of the U-18 Ivan Hlinka team.
Andre Tourigny, hurry-up and get to 300 wins. You deserve the mark as the 16th coach in QMJHL history to achieve the feat.
Two games for Charlie Coyle with the Sea Dogs and he’s totaled two goals and ten shots. He may very well be a difference maker for an already great Saint John team.
Very interested to see how the Taylor Carnevale thing works out in Shawinigan.
Ontario Hockey League notes
Tough break, but a well needed rest for Niagara IceDogs centre Ryan Strome. He’ll be out four-to-six weeks with a facial injury. I really thought Strome was playing his best hockey at the World Juniors, and had seven points in his first four games back since winning bronze.
John Gibson has yet to play since returning from the World Juniors. There were rumours swirling earlier this season that he was dealing with a lower-back issue. Aside from that though, Kitchener has ridden the play of Frankie Palazzese who has gone 4-2, with a 3.74 GAA, and a .905% in January.
Although the numbers aren’t great, the Rangers are once again in the hunt for a Western Conference title. Dating back to December, Palazzese has gone 8-3 and is a big reason why the Rangers have quietly moved into the top half of the conference.
Give Greg Ireland and the Owen Sound Attack a ton of credit. No Joey Hishon all season, and the defending OHL champs have been without Arturs Gavrus and Jarrod Maidens for a long time. The Attack are still in the hunt for home-ice advantage in Round 1. Oh ya, and they dealt away Matt Petgrave and Geoffrey Schemitsh, two stalwarts from last year’s run to the Mastercard Memorial Cup.
Is Mike Halmo the next Andrew Shaw?
Belleville is 13-6 with Malcolm Subban, 9-14 without him.
Wandering the Western Hockey League
How about the Calgary Hitmen? Plagued by a few near misses and some inconsistency, Mike Williamson’s bunch has won eight straight.
Brett Connolly reporting to the Tri City Americans may not be completely out of the question. With conditional picks moved, Tri stands to lose only a 5th-round pick should Connolly stick it out with Tampa Bay. If Steve Yzerman is inclined to send Connolly back, it has to be by NHL trade deadline or he no longer is eligible, so keep your eye on Feb. 27.
I have a sneaking suspicion he will end up with Tri City, and here’s my thought process.
With the NHL having gotten so much younger, there remains a loophole in the underage player rule. If the Lightning fail to make the playoffs and Connolly’s season comes to an end on April 7, he will still be 19-years-old and according to the CHL/NHL agreement, he will not be eligible for play in the AHL.
If the Americans are still playing, Connolly would also be ineligible as he was not loaned back by the NHL trade deadline. So, ultimately we could have a 19-year-old player with no where to further is development, sitting at home on April 8th, while quite possibly both of his AHL and CHL teams are still playing. That just doesn’t make sense to me.
Somebody needs to come up with a rule or a threshold of games that deems a player in Connolly’s situation a full-time NHL’er. If things remain the same, Connolly is on pace to play 71 NHL games, but since returning from the World Juniors, his ice-time is slightly less than nine minutes per game.
I think a 19-year-old player should be extended every opportunity to continue to develop. He should be eligible to play in either the CHL or the AHL if Tampa’s season comes to an end on April 7. And in the case he may be returned to Tri, keep in mind Connolly has just five games of playoff experience.
Still wondering how Calvin Pickard didn’t get moved?
Two points separate third place and seventh place in the WHL’s Eastern Conference. Both the Portland Winterhawks and Saskatoon Blades are in the midst of nice runs.
Give Kamloops keeper Cole Cheveldave the Cy Young for January. He’s 6-0 with a 1.00 GAA, including two complete-game shutouts.
Upcoming FNH games
Jan. 20 – Owen Sound at London (7pm ET)
Jan. 27 – Sarnia at Ottawa (7pm ET)
Expect some announcements from the CHL in terms of injury issues with the CHL/NHL Home Hardware Top Prospects game.
For more on the CHL, be sure to check out Patrick King at sportsnet.ca. Join Patrick and I before every FNH game for our Skype chat at sportsnet.ca