REGINA — If the way the tournament has gone is any indication, expect Sunday’s Mastercard Memorial Cup final to be a high-flying, offensive affair.
The host Regina Pats and QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan are the two highest-scoring teams at the tournament with 19 and 14 goals for, respectively. The Pats have played four games to the Titan’s three.
And look no further than the teams’ round-robin game last Sunday — a 8-6 win by the Titan last Sunday.
With speed to burn, the Titan built up a 7-2 lead early in the third period.
“Bathurst is the fastest team I’ve ever played against,” Pats over-age centre Matt Bradley said. “They transition like no other.”
Although the Pats scored four unanswered goals to pull the Pats close, coach John Paddock said afterwards that “the third period disguised a whole bunch of crap.”
He knows his team needs to be better in the final.
“If we play again like we did on Sunday, it won’t be much of a game,” Paddock said.
After the 8-6 victory, the Titan weren’t feeling too good about themselves either though.
The Pats came in waves, overwhelming their defence with their speed.
They almost blew a five-goal advantage. That’s history now.
“We learned from that,” Titan coach Mario Pouliot said. “We know exactly what went wrong.”
“They have a really heavy offensive team,” goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve just gotta make sure I see every puck and I think everything will be fine.”
These teams have allowed the most goals in the tournament. The Pats have surrendered 17, whereas the Titan have given up 12.
There will have to be quite the change of pace for things to be much different in the final.
Regina’s Sam Steel has been the best player at the Memorial Cup without question.
Steel had a two-game stretch where he recorded nine assists, including tying a tournament single-game record with five helpers in a 6-5 win over Swift Current on Wednesday.
The 2016-17 CHL leading scorer ranks first with 11 assists and 13 points. He scored a controversial winning goal in Friday’s semifinal win over Hamilton.
Steel’s line has been the most dangerous. Left-winger Nick Henry leads the event with five goals, while Cameron Hebig is right behind with four.
“They’re in the final probably because of those three guys,” Pouliot said, while also mentioning Regina’s power play and top-three defencemen.
Pouliot, with the last change, plans to fight fire with fire. He said his top line of Samuel Asselin, Jeffrey Truchon-Viel and Liam Murphy will draw the assignment of trying to stop Steel’s trio.
He hinted Philadelphia Flyers first-rounder German Rubtsov could see some time there, too.
Asselin is tied with Hebig in goals, while Truchon-Viel — the captain who coach Mario Pouliot calls a “warrior” — leads the team with nine points and trails only Steel.
Murphy has scored a couple critical goals, including the overtime winner against Swift Current in the Titan’s opening game.
The Titan have more depth than the Pats up front, but have several players that have been conspicuously MIA.
Rubtsov, Anaheim Ducks prospect Antoine Morand and 42-goal man Mitchell Balmas have yet to score.
Josh Mahura is the leader of this unit. The Anaheim pick has been especially dangerous on the power play where he has four assists — tied with Steel for most in the tournament.
The shutdown pair of Libor Hajek (NY Rangers) and Cale Fleury (Montreal) played their best game of the tournament against Hamilton and will be counted on again against the Titan’s top threats.
Those three defencemen were prone to joining the play.
“They are kind of playing like us,” Pouliot said. “Offensively, their rushes are (with) four. We have to be really careful with the puck and we have to relentless on attacking.”
The back end is built around 2018 NHL Draft prospect Noah Dobson and over-agers Olivier Galipeau and Adam Holwell.
It’s a group one Quebec league coach dubbed the “three-headed monster” because one is almost always on the ice and they made it nearly impossible to get good chances in the QMJHL playoffs.
That hasn’t been the case, at least yet, in Regina.
However, Dobson has been a star offensively. He’s tied with Mahura for the points lead among blueliners with seven, buoyed largely by a two-goal, two-assists effort against the Pats earlier in the tournament.
Dobson and Galipeau will face Regina’s top troika.
Max Paddock had two strong starts — both against Hamilton — but his two other starts have been less than spectacular.
The worst of the lot came last Sunday against the Titan when Max was pulled after allowing six goals on 32 shots.
“If you take out the game against us, I think Paddock’s played really good hockey,” Pouliot said.
A spot for the 17-year-old goaltender was cleared last May when John Paddock dealt netminder Jordan Hollett to Medicine Hat for overager Matt Bradley.
Even Paddock said he couldn’t have foreseen back then his nephew would be starting in the Memorial Cup final.
There’s no question who the Titan’s No. 1 goalie is. Fitzpatrick, a 2016 St. Louis Blues second-rounder, was acquired in January from the Sherbrooke Phoenix to hold down the fort.
He never posted a save percentage in a season with the Phoenix above .900. But his mark was .915 in 21 games with the Titan.
His numbers in Regina have been suspect — an .879 save percentage and 3.94 goal-against average — but he battled a stomach flu during the round robin.
“For me right now, it’s not about putting up stats,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s about putting up wins.
“I really don’t care if we win 1-0, 7-6, 10-9 … This late in the season, it’s all about winning.”
Pouliot is more concerned with him making key stops to put the Titan in a position to win. A third-period breakaway save on Swift Current’s Glenn Gawdin is the prime example.
“He’s always calm. He’s always composed. His mindset is always at the right place,” Pouliot said.
Led by the first unit of Steel, Henry, Hebig, Mahura and Bradley, the Pats boast the tournament’s top power play at 33.3 per cent (5-for-15).
While the Titan have allowed four goals on 14 times shorthanded (71.4 per cent), they lead the tourney with three goals under those circumstances.
Asselin, Holwell and Truchon-Viel have all scored short-handed goals with Truchon-Viel’s coming against the Pats.
This is the matchup to watch.