2013 Memorial Cup: Halifax Mooseheads preview


Forgive any fan of the Mastercard Memorial Cup if they’ve seen this picture before: a QMJHL team finishing no.1 overall in Canada with 58 wins and a top-3 prospect in the world for the upcoming entry draft.

2011 Saint John Sea Dogs, meet the 2013 Halifax Mooseheads.

The Sea Dogs that season steamrolled over their competition, winning their first of two President’s Cups and winning the 2011 Memorial Cup in Mississauga, Ont. The Mooseheads would love to repeat that ending to their storybook season.

Saint John that season had several great prospects that season, led by current Florida Panther Jonathan Huberdeau, Minnesota prospect Zach Phillips, Detroit prospect Tomas Jurco and Montreal Canadiens prospect Nathan Beaulieu. Halifax this year has been led by superstars Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, both expected to go top-3 at this year’s NHL Entry Draft, along with goaltender Zachary Fucale.

This will be the first time the Mooseheads enter the Memorial Cup as QMJHL champions, though they did host the tournament in 2000.

Their season so far, expressed through the majesty of '80s rock anthems

INXS, “New Sensation. Three things: the iconic Michael Hutchence’s fifth verse of “You're only human / What can you do / It'll soon be over / Don't let your pain take over you” describes the way the Mooseheads dominated their QMJHL competition; this is the first time since 2010 the QMJHL weren’t represented by the Saint John Sea Dogs; and draft-eligible prospects MacKinnon, Drouin and Fucale are the newest big things for NHL scouts in the Atlantic Provinces.

Alas, the east coast music explosion of the mid-1990s falls outside the parameters. Now give it up for Sandbox.

That fierce urgency of now thing — This tournament will be the first time the Mooseheads are legitimately tested this season. The 58-6-3-1 Halifax squad breezed through the QMJHL playoffs, finishing 16-1 and only losing Game 3 of the President’s Cup final to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar to get into the Memorial Cup. They stormed through the QMJHL season and playoffs without so much as a blink or a hesitation. They merely flexed their muscles whenever they were down and that won them most of their games this year. Certainly, they have the talent to make a big splash, and they are well coached with Dominique Ducharme behind the bench, but other than a stretch when they missed their top five players over Christmas, they haven’t had to face any adversity all year. A lack of urgency or pressure might shellshock them a bit at the beginning of the tournament.

Up front – The two super-phenoms Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin lead a deep and talented forward group. Both players will go top-3 in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, and big Memorial Cup tournaments could place the cherries on top of their pre-draft resumes. Looking past these two, there is a good mix of youth and experience, offense and defence, finesse and toughness.

Detroit prospect Martin Frk and co-captain Stefan Fournier both had excellent playoffs, each in the top-6 in playoff scoring. Former Saint John Sea Dog Stephen MacAulay brings the experience of two Memorial Cup tournaments and four QMJHL President’s Cup finals, winning three of them and the 2011 Memorial Cup. Pesky forwards Brent Andrews and Darcy Ashley provide grit and toughness, while Matthew Boudreau and Luca Campini bring secondary scoring and finesse to the lower lines.

On the blueline – If the Mooseheads have a weakness, it would be on the blue line, where they have no noticeable studs, but a good steady group. The group is led by San Jose Shark prospect Konrad Abeltshauser, who makes a good first pass and is reliable in both ends, but not a superstar by any means. Austyn Hardie and co-captain Trey Lewis are the physical foot soldiers every team needs, and Brendan Duke, MacKenzie Weegar and Matt Murphy provide some offense, but the offensive game of the Mooseheads mostly starts and finishes up front. The defencemen as a group play well positionally and are well-coached, but they aren’t spectacular.

In goal Zachary Fucale is no. 1 on the North American goalies list from Central Scouting, and he had great numbers this season to go with a great QMJHL pedigree. Only 17, Fucale went 45-5-2-1 this season, and 16-1 in the playoffs. Like the rest of the team, Fucale has been very good when called upon, but will be tested to the highest level of his career.

He is a typical Quebec-style butterfly goaltender, with the strengths and weaknesses expected with that style. His positioning and ability to “get big” in the net are the best in the QMJHL, and he has an unflappable demeanor, allowing the Mooseheads to calm down and keep it cool. His biggest weakness may be that he is at his most effective when facing a lot of shots, and can fall asleep or get cold if kept waiting alone in his own zone for too long.

Outlook – The Mooseheads come into the tournament having finished as the no. 1 team in Canada, and will expect to play that way. They haven’t met a team as deep as London or as tough as Portland, though. With that, it’s tough to say how they’ll respond, but they can’t be taken lightly.