HALIFAX — With their season on the line, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies head coach Mario Pouliot didn’t shy away from using star defenceman Noah Dobson.
In all, Pouliot estimates the 19-year-old played 36 minutes on Friday night as Rouyn-Noranda defeated the Guelph Storm 6-4 to advance to the Memorial Cup championship game.
“So, that’s good,” Pouliot quipped.
It’s the second time in the last four years that the Huskies will play for the Memorial Cup but they are still searching for the first national title in franchise history.
Rouyn-Noranda will face the host Halifax Mooseheads in Sunday’s final, the same team they defeated for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s President Cup.
In Friday’s semifinal, it felt as though Dobson never left the ice and was involved in every play, whether it was blocking shots or getting the puck loose in the corner.
“I just kind of go-go-go. I’m in the moment, I don’t really get tired out there,” Dobson said. “I mean, these are the games you want to play in as a hockey player so you have a little extra adrenaline this time of the year.”
Dobson finished the game with one assist, a plus-two rating and four shots on goal. He also broke free and was hooked on a breakaway which prompted a penalty shot but was unsuccessful on the attempt.
“I didn’t really want to take it,” he said. “I’m not really good at shootouts, I think I’m 0-for-6 in my career. I was pretty tired going down the ice. I had a long shift.”
Dobson, who has been met with boos every time he touches the puck at Scotiabank Centre, talked before the game about how he has picked up his physical play this season and it certainly showed in the semifinal.
His coach said at this point in the season he’s not looking at ice time despite managing it during the regular season and playoffs.
“In the semifinal, do or die, it’s no choice,” Pouliot said. “We have to use him.”
Here are some other takeaways from the Huskies’s semifinal win:
They say all good things must come to an end and that includes the Guelph Storm’s streak of surviving in elimination games.
Guelph entered Friday’s semifinal having won seven-straight games when its season had been on the line. But despite a frantic fight in the final minute of the game, the Storm couldn’t make it eight.
“I felt that the feeling was really strong heading on the ice in the third period,” said Guelph head coach George Burnett, whose team had beat the Huskies in the round robin.
The Ontario Hockey League champions had their best players out on the ice for the final few minutes and got a goal as captain Isaac Ratcliffe made it a 5-4 game.
But a big block by Rouyn-Noranda captain Rafael Harvey-Pinard with 10 seconds left led to an empty-net goal by him that sealed the deal.
“To be here today and to not win it and know that you’ll never get the chance, it hurts,” said Storm defenceman Sean Durzi.
“It hurts so much.”
Bibeau’s big third
Felix Bibeau picked the right time to break out for the Huskies.
The Rouyn-Noranda centre scored a pair of third period goals to help his team break the game open.
After a great individual effort by teammate Peter Abbandonato, Bibeau received a pass from him in the slot and put it past Guelph goaltender Anthony Popovich.
Bibeau would net his fourth of the tournament later in the period after a nice cycle down low. The puck came back out into the slot again where Bibeau made no mistake.
The Mercier, Que., native has slowly increased his point and goal totals during his three full seasons in the QMJHL.
He finished the regular season with 28 goals in 63 games and added another 14 goals and 15 assists in the post-season.
It ended up being a rough night in net for Popovich, who allowed several big rebounds and appeared shaky on a few Huskies goals.
Ratcliffe does it all
Ratcliffe’s strong tournament continued with two goals and strong overall play during the semifinal.
The Philadelphia Flyers prospect sniped a shot past goaltender Samuel Harvey during a 2-on-1 opportunity to tie the game 1-1 in the first period.
Less than a minute later, Ratcliffe won a draw which led to Jack Hanley launching a wrist shot from the point which found its way into the net for a 2-1 advantage.
Ratcliffe also used his physical presence to give Huskies defenders headaches all night long and create turnovers.
Nick Suzuki has been absolutely clutch for Guelph in elimination games this season.
Entering Friday’s semifinal, the Montreal Canadiens prospect had 17 points in do-or-die matchups.
Despite the loss Friday, he kept the points streak going against the Huskies with two assists.