Canadiens, Remparts suffer from Fucale’s poor showing

Wednesday's game could not have gone worse for the Quebec Remparts against the Rimouski Oceanic. Sportsnet's panel elaborates.

One team in La Belle Province won last night and two lost in the final game of the round-robin at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.

The Rimouski Oceanic, the QMJHL champions, staved off elimination with a victory and really, for the final 50 minutes it never felt like there was any doubt.

The two teams that lost were the host Remparts and the Montreal Canadiens.

For the home team, defeat was in painfully plain view, a 4-0 loss to Rimouski. If the Remparts had managed to win this one in front of the home fans then they would have advanced directly to a semifinal against the Kelowna Rockets. Quebec has to face the Oceanic in the tiebreak game Thursday night, the ninth time the two teams will have met in the last three weeks.

For the Canadiens, their loss was somewhat abstract but real enough to hurt. Montreal’s brass was out in force this week hoping to see real progress from Zach Fucale, the Remparts netminder and the Canadiens’ second-round draft pick a couple of years ago. They can’t have liked what they saw in the latest instalment of the Autoroute 20 saga.

Fucale was pulled after the fourth goal on the 25th shot. One or maybe two goals weren’t entirely blameworthy, but at least a couple were troubling. The pressing question about Fucale is whether he is tall enough to be successful at the next level.

It was hard to give a confident answer in the affirmative after he was beaten high a couple times last night. And that was precisely the Rimouski shooters’ book on him — they had seen him a lot and went high at every opportunity. When Fucale dropped into the butterfly he didn’t have the net coverage you’d want to see in a NHL goaltender. He’s listed at various heights — 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2, but scouts think he might be a bare smidgen over 6-foot. It sure looked that way on the goals last night.

What’s more, you could see that with the puck on the perimeter he couldn’t look over top of the traffic in front of him. Instead he ducked low, bobbing and weaving until it came into view. A dicey way to operate.

I can hear Canadiens fans say: “What do we care? We have Carey Price, the best goaltender in the world today, and he’s ours for the next five years or so. Fucale’s an asset that we might never want.” Fact is, though, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin has been shopping Fucale this year dating back to the trade deadline and let’s just say that Fucale’s stock is taking a severe hit.

In fact, his stock has done nothing but erode since the Canadiens drafted him off a Memorial Cup championship with Halifax in 2013. Fucale was a disappointment in the first half of the season with the Mooseheads and then a question mark at the world juniors.

True, the Canadians won the under-20s with Fucale in the cage but it’s fair to say: 1. They didn’t win because of him; and 2. They almost lost the final against Russia because of him.

His play since joining the Remparts was not even mediocre before the playoffs began: An .877 save percentage in 17 games just doesn’t cut it. Fucale had his moments against Rimouski in the seven-game QMJHL final but still it wasn’t only a start on patching up the damage.

It will be an interesting call in the tiebreaking game, gut checks all around. Remparts coach Philippe Boucher has to ask himself whether, with the season at stake, Fucale can come back 24 hours after getting yanked.

Boucher could go with Callum Booth, who had been Quebec’s No. 1 before the Remparts traded for Fucale in January. The draft eligible Booth doesn’t have Fucale’s pedigree but he did go 23-12-2 with a .900 save percentage in the regular season and was spotless in relief Wednesday night. He’s a contrast to Fucale, a big kid whose play has scouts questioning whether he’s nimble enough to be a pro of any significance.

Either way Bergevin is holding on to a rapidly depreciating asset. There’s a dearth of next-generation five-star goaltending prospects out there and more than a few teams would be in the market for one, notably Toronto, Buffalo and Edmonton.

Right now it’s a buyer’s market on Zach Fucale.

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