Samuel Asselin loves the big stage.
The Halifax Mooseheads centre picked up where he left off at the Memorial Cup by scoring once and adding an assist on Friday night in a 4-1 win over the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders.
The hosts of this year’s Canadian major junior championship assured themselves of at least reaching the tiebreaker with an opening day victory.
Asselin’s performance allowed him to continue the momentum he started at last year’s Memorial Cup where he won a title with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
The speedy centre tied for the tournament lead in 2018 with five goals and also had an assist in four games.
Halifax acquired Asselin from the Titan one day after the regular season opened and he went on to have a career year. The five-foot-10, 185 pounder had put up 86 points in the regular season including 48 goals.
His previous career-best for goals in a single season was 17 during the 2016-17 campaign with Shawinigan.
Here are some further takeaways from a Mooseheads victory:
Mooseheads’s powerful forecheck
It started early and it didn’t ease up.
Halifax owned the first period against the Raiders with an aggressive forecheck which created havoc for defenders and led to the opening goal by Asselin. Draft eligible prospect Rafael Lavoie used his size to fend off defenders before dishing the puck to Asselin in front of the net.
The forecheck gave Raiders goaltender Ian Scott headaches as his defenders were overwhelmed throughout the first.
Another early example was when the Mooseheads pressured Prince Albert defenceman Jeremy Masella into coughing up the puck near his own blue line, but Scott bailed him out. Halifax also had to be careful as the forecheck led to both a goaltender interference and cross-checking call in the first.
Both teams didn’t shy away from playing physical as displayed in this massive collision between Keith Getson and Max Martin:
It’s easy to let the emotions flow when you’re on the big stage and that’s what happened to Prince Albert early in the second period.
The Raiders took two delay of game penalties just over five minutes into the second for shooting the puck over the glass.
“We’re real nervous right now. I haven’t seen two over the glass (penalties) in one period in quite some time,” Prince Albert head coach Marc Habscheid told Sportsnet’s Rob Faulds after a TV timeout.
After a third-straight penalty — and subsequent kill — the Raiders finally found their footing. It led to a nice tip in front of the net from Noah Gregor to cut the deficit to 2-1.
But an interference infraction by Raiders centre Parker Kelly at 15:27 was the tipping point as Halifax’s Jake Ryczek found the back of the net to restore a two-goal advantage.
Gravel’s big second
When the pressure came, goaltender Alexis Gravel was there for the Mooseheads.
Gravel, who finished with 23 saves, faced a flurry of shots late in the second period and made a pair of nice pad saves. He also helped keep the puck out when Raiders forward Dante Hannoun tried a wrap-around on a mad scramble.
He continued to scoop up any potential rebounds in the third, although Prince Albert didn’t get much traffic in front of him.
It was reminiscent of performances from former Halifax goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguerre, who was on hand for the game. Giguerre played 152 games for the franchise from 1994-97 and received a standing ovation from the Scotiabank Centre crowd.
Giguerre went on to play 597 regular season games in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He also captured the Conn Smythe Trophy in the 2003 as Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP.
Gravel, a 2018 draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, can only hope to replicate the same kind of career.