The Moncton Wildcats will look to exact some revenge on the Rimouski Oceanic when they meet on Friday Night Hockey.
The Oceanic are the only team to shutout the Wildcats since the trade deadline, doing so at the Moncton Coliseum on Feb. 11. Rimouski won that game 2-0, their fourth game in six nights on a trip through the Maritimes. Oceanic head coach Serge Beausoleil knows the Wildcats won’t be taking them lightly this time around.
"Moncton will be better," he said. "I think they underestimated us and they thought it will be easier and it wasn’t, so I think they will be ready for this game for revenge and we have to be ready too."
Rimouski is in a battle with Baie-Comeau atop the Telus East Division standings. Although they’re leading their division and they lost in the league championship series to Saint John last season, the Oceanic are a younger team after some turnover on their roster, which is one reason they could take some teams by surprise this season.
"Even though they’re in second place (overall), for me, they’re a very underrated team and deserve a lot more credit and a lot more attention than they’re getting, particularly in the east," said Danny Flynn, the Wildcats’ head coach and director of hockey operations. "They’re a very good team and I think extremely well-coached and very disciplined in their game. And also, even though their team has a lot of young players, their skill level and their talent level is exceptional."
Rimouski will be battling through some adversity with injuries to defencemen Casey Babineau, Maxime Gravel and Samuel Morin, in addition to forward Michael Joly. They boast six players with more than 50 points this season, so they’ve got some depth to forge forward through the injury bug.
"It’s a big part of our success, for sure," Beausoleil said. "We have to work with the guys who are in the lineup and that’s very simple. We cannot deal with injuries; that’s not something we can control, so we have to deal with it."
THE STARS: The Wildcats are receiving plenty of scoring from the line of Phillip Danault, Dmitrij Jaskin and Ivan Barbashev. Danault referred to Jaskin as a NHL player, which may not be far from the truth considering he could be one of the league’s top rookies next season.
"He’s a young Marian Hossa for me," Flynn said. "He’s got that rare combination of size and skill and competitiveness. And he thrives in the physical games and the North American-style games."
Moncton acquired Danault from Victoriaville at the trade deadline, and since then he developed near instant chemistry with Jaskin.
"I just felt that if we could get (Jaskin) a real ‘A’ level player so they could play off each other, it would bring out the best in both Ivan and Dmitrij," Flynn said. "When that line is clicking and that line is going, they bring a lot of offence to our team."
Peter Trainor is tied for second in league scoring with 93 points this season. He had just 56 as an 18-year-old rookie last season.
"He’s a great shooter, he’s got good hockey sense and he’s really dangerous all around the net with his wrist shots," Beausoleil said.
The Oceanic dealt a package of picks that included a first-rounder to Saint John for overage defenceman Kevin Gagne before the trade deadline. The smooth-skating defenceman brings much more than his abilities on the ice to the young team.
"He’s so incredible," his coach said. "He’s bringing a lot of leadership and work ethic, good habits on ice and off ice. He’s leading the team right now, I should admit. He knows what to do to win. He’s a great leader."
|PLAYERS DRAFTED BY NHL TEAMS|
|Moncton||C – Phillip Danault||Chicago Blackhawks (26th overall, R1, 2011)|
|Moncton||LW – Dmitrij Jaskin||St. Louis Blues (41th overall, R2, 2011)|
|Moncton||D – Jonathan Racine||Florida Panthers (87th overall, R3, 2011)|
|Moncton||D – James Melindy||Phoenix Coyotes (88th overall, R3, 2012)|
|Moncton||RW – Yannick Veilleux||St. Louis Blues (102th overall, R4, 2011)|
|Rimouski||LW – Francis Beauvillier||Florida Panthers (174th overall, R6, 2012)|
NAMES TO WATCH: The Oceanic are a high priority for NHL scouts this season. Frederik Gauthier leads the list of talented draft-eligible players that also include defenceman Gravel, Morin and Czech rookie Jan Kostalek and goaltender Philippe Desrosiers. Gauthier boasts the size and two-way play that are making some teams consider him for their first-round pick, which is impressive given this is his rookie season.
"He skates well with a good wrist shot — we hope that he can use it a bit more, but he’s very young," Beausoleil said. "He got a lot of attention this year and a lot of pressure, so he (has) to deal with it. Right now, I have to admit, he’s in a little slump, a bit tired of all this attention, and I hope the playoffs will bring him a new energy because he did a lot of interviews and a lot of stuff like this, and that’s very, very demanding for him."
The Wildcats are more of a veteran team without any notable draft-eligible talent, but Barbashev is an intriguing prospect for the 2014 draft class.
"Ivan’s an outstanding young guy," Flynn said. "Even though he just turned 17, we think of him as a veteran player just because of his maturity and skill level. Dmitrij is like a big brother — they’re inseparable off the ice and the best of friends and they have been since we drafted them both in late June (in the CHL import draft)."
|POTENTIAL FUTURE NHL DRAFT PICKS|
|Rimouski||C – Frederik Gauthier||Eligible in 2013|
|Rimouski||D – Jan Kostalek||Eligible in 2013|
|Rimouski||G – Philippe Desrosiers||Eligible in 2013|
|Rimouski||D – Samuel Morin||Eligible in 2013|
|Rimouski||D – Maxime Gravel||Eligible in 2013|
|Rimouski||RW – Michael Joly||Eligible in 2013|
|Rimouski||RW – Vladimir Bryukvin||Eligible in 2013|
|Rimouski||RW – Simon Fortier||Eligible in 2013|
|Moncton||LW – Ivan Barbashev||Eligible in 2014|
THE GOALIES: Flynn noted that Alex Dubeau’s season was, essentially, a microcosm of the Wildcats’ season. He struggled out of the gate with a new team with many new faces, but since found his game and is providing the Wildcats with the dependable goaltending they need moving forward.
"Alex is such a competitor. He put a great deal of pressure on himself to come in and be dominant right off the bat and prove to everybody that he was capable of being an outstanding No. 1 goalie," he said. "We felt very confident all along that once Alex got comfortable here and found his game that he would give us rock-solid goaltending and that’s what he’s done here in the last little while."
Desrosiers just returned from a lower-body injury last week, and started his first game on Wednesday, a 2-1 overtime loss to Sherbrooke. He partnered with Mississauga Steelheads goalie Spencer Martin to record the first shutout in Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game history on Jan. 16.
"He’s always challenging the shots and he got a lot of character and that’s what we want from a goaltender," Beausoleil said. "We hope that he is going to get a good game (Friday)."
WHAT’S AT STAKE: The Oceanic lead Baie-Comeau by two points for the division lead, and are five ahead of Blainville-Boisbriand for third. As much as winning the division is appealing, Beausoleil puts a preference towards seeing improvements in his team’s game heading into the playoffs.
"We are always focusing on the performance and if we play a real good game, period after period, the result will take care of itself at the end," he said.
The Wildcats can’t catch the Halifax Mooseheads, who clinched first-overall in league standings, which means the best they can do now is finish with the highest spot among non-division winning teams in fourth. They’re six points back of Baie-Comeau for fourth, but only one up on Quebec for fifth.
"We’ve got nine games left and we’re trying to gain momentum and to try to be as sharp as we can heading into the playoffs," Flynn said. "We’re trying to edge up as high as we can in the standings but also insure that teams below us don’t overtake us and pass us. We’ve got a real tough stretch — most of our games are road games to finish up and this will be another really challenging weekend for us."