Mon May 02 02:56pm EDT
Standout defenceman Nic Deslauriers is more than making up for lost time during the Gatineau Olympiques' playoff run.
The Los Angeles Kings prospect, thanks to a knee injury that cost him 20 games during the regular season, missed his chance to try out for Team Canada. As demoralizing as that could have been, he's been a horse on the blueline while helping the Olympiques extend the favoured Quebec Remparts to Game 7 in the QMJHL semifinal series. It's like he was never out. The same might be said of the team's other anchor, captain Hubert Labrie, who lost much of his season to a knee ailment.
"I think I had a good recovery," says Deslauriers, who's in his likely final junior season. "My rehab was awesome. I didn't think I was coming back that quick, but it made me better and allowed me to think more of hockey.
"We're confident going into Game 7 but we have to stay humble," added the Ville Lasalle, Que., native, who was selected 84th overall by the Kings in 2009 while playing with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. "We have to play our best game of the season, best one since August."
The Olympiques won games 5 and 6 decisively (5-3 in Quebec on Friday, 4-0 on Sunday). They've done so despite their best big man among the forward corps, Philadephia Flyers prospect Tye McGinn, being out for the entire series due to injury. Their success to date does drive home two big points: cohesion on defence counts more in the later stages of the playoffs and rarely bet against Gatineau coach Benoit Groulx, who has been known to turn out teams which won series they had scarce business winning.
"We won three games because of him," Deslauriers says of Groulx. "Not because of any fancy plays or anything, he always gives us a solid game plan."
On the first count, Gatineau's back end has pulled it together despite the fact Deslauriers and Labrie dressed for the same game only nine times in the regular season, when the club finished fifth with 94 points. Quebec exulted rather exuberantly after taking a 3-1 series lead with its second successive win in Gatineau last week, but that only seems to have roiled the Olympiques, who have kept their rivals from the provincial capital to less than 50 shots on goal in the past two games.
The Remparts could top the throng of 13,264 which turned out for Game 5 last Friday. Deslauriers and his teammates are no doubt well-aware winning three times in another team's building in one series is extremely difficult, but they looked like the more confident team on Sunday.
If Gatineau makes the President's Cup final, Deslauriers will have come full circle. He was a rookie with Rouyn-Noranda in 2008 when it lost to the Olympiques, who then as now drew on an atmosphere at 'Le Bob' that should be on every junior hockey fan's bucket list. How does the crowd at Le Bob rank among the Q's toughest places to play?
"I think I'd put them in the top three for the Q, maybe second," Deslauriers says. "Quebec averages 10,000 people and everything, but this is a small rink with people really close, and it's a hockey town."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.