Welcome to Buzzing The Net’s preview of the QMJHL’s President’s Cup final.
Two teams are left standing after a strong final four. The Shawinigan Cataractes defeated the Saint John Sea Dogs in five games and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies outlasted the Moncton Wildcats in six. The top two seeds in the regular season are the last two squads playing. The league will crown a new champion, as neither team has a President’s Cup to their credit. The fans in Rouyn-Noranda have been waiting 20 seasons, while Shawinigan fans have seen 38 seasons without a championship. They can be somewhat comforted by the Cataractes’ Memorial Cup win in 2012 as hosts.
In the third round, Mike went 2-for-2, nailing both series, including the Rouyn-Noranda-Moncton series in the correct amount of games. That puts his playoffs predictions record at 10-for-14, with six of those predicted in the correct amount of games. You may read his third round preditions here, his second round preview here, and his first round previews here and here.
The final opens Wednesday at l’Aréna Iamgold in Rouyn-Noranda.
(1) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (54-9-3-2, 113 points) vs. (2) Shawinigan Cataractes (44-19-4-1, 93 points)
Season series: Rouyn-Noranda (3-0-1-0) Prediction: Cataractes in 6
Series in a sentence: The Huskies had more trouble in their third round series facing adversity for the first time, and the Cataractes are rolling on all cylinders.
Why the Huskies should win: They have put up amazing numbers all playoffs long. Their special teams numbers added together, powerplay and penalty kill percentages, add up to 121.9. Their goaltender, Chase Marchand, set the record for most shutouts in a playoff year with six, and he set it in the fourth game of the third round.
The team’s top line of Timo Meier, Jean-Christophe Beaudin and Francis Perron have been on fire when they’ve been together. Perron leads the league in points-per-game with 1.85.
They found adversity in the third round, and they overcame, defeating a solid underdog team in the Moncton Wildcats in six games, overcoming a 4-1 deficit in the sixth game with a herculean effort from Mathieu Boucher, who put up five points in the place of the kicked-out Meier to lead the team to a 5-4 win in the series clincher.
Boucher, who started the game on the fourth line, was moved up to the top line with Perron and Beaudin and didn’t look out of place. A long playoff run demands contributions from players throughout the lineup, and Boucher couldn’t have picked a better time to pot his first two playoff goals of the year.
They are still missing top blueliner Jérémy Lauzon for the series, but he is in good spirits and optimistic for a return this season, possibly in Red Deer at the Memorial Cup. That can give a team a very big emotional boost, in a win-one-for-the-Gipper kind of motivation.
It also helps when smooth skating Philippe Myers and gritty Nikolas Brouillard are still on the back end, along with solid defenders Jacob Neveu, Bruno-Karl Denis, overager Allan Caron and Jérémy’s little brother Zachary Lauzon. The Huskies are still very strong on defence, even while missing their best blueliner.
They have the best defensive stats in the playoffs, by a lot, thanks to their first two series, a sweep of Drummondville where they outscored the Volts 31-4, and a five-gamer against Blainville-Boisbriand where they shut out the Armada in three of the five games. The Huskies have only given up 19 goals in their 16 games so far.
They were also the second best defensive team in the regular season, only bested by the Gatineau Olympiques by eight goals. Rouyn-Noranda also boasts the top scoring team in the regular season and playoffs.
They are deep, talented and very well coached.Gilles Bouchard, the reigning Ron-Lapointe and Maurice-Fillion Award winner for GM and coach of the year, picked up the junior level game after a long coaching stint at the midget AAA level with the Trois-Rivières Estacades and a year coaching at the university level with UQTR. It’s Bouchard’s third season coaching in the Q, and he’s coming home for the final, having coached in the Mauricie for so long.
He also has a connection with Claude Bouchard, the Cataractes coach, as they both coached together at the midget level in Trois-Rivières. Gilles credits Claude for having given him his first coaching job in hockey. They will put their friendship aside for two weeks and do battle for the QMJHL’s big prize and a berth in the Memorial Cup.
Why the Cataractes could win: Shawinigan is more battle-tested, as they faced a potentially-dangerous Sherbrooke Phoenix in round one, a certainly-dangerous Charlottetown Islanders in round two, and a definitely-dangerous Saint John Sea Dogs in round three.
The Cataractes overcome some early struggles and got past the Phoenix in five, handled the physical play and offensive play of Samuel Blais and Daniel Sprong to defeat the Islanders in six, and took advantage of Marc-Antoine Turcotte’s inexperience in playoff goaltending in dropping league’s leading playoff goal scorer Sam Povorozniouk, leading defenceman scorer Thomas Chabot and the Sea Dogs in five.
Shawinigan’s offence is clicking at all cylinders and just in time. They boast the top scoring line in the post-season with Anthony Beauvillier, Dmytro Timashov and Alexis D’Aoust, with 26, 24 and 21 points each. The team scored 29 goals in their five-game win over the Sea Dogs.
The main matchup advantage for the Cataractes in game 1 is the absence of Meier, who will be serving a one-game suspension for elbowing Moncton defenceman Zach Malatesta in the head in game 6 of the Huskies-Wildcats series. The Cataractes best chance at a split in the first two games and a steal of home-ice advantage is in the first game, with one of the most talented Huskies sitting out.
They also have the best goalie. Philippe Cadorette was acquired from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar for this exact purpose, and that is to win a championship. He spent the first half of the year in the pros with the Norfolk Admirals, and then came back to backstop the Cats.
His numbers in the playoffs are identical to his regular season numbers at this point, with a 2.65 GAA and a .913 save percentage. He boasted a .914 save percentage in his three last playoff runs with the Drakkar, and goals-against-averages under three each time. He has now played in 76 playoff games in his Q career, holding the record by seven coming into the series. A QMJHL regular season is 68 games, so Cadorette has more than a full season of games in the playoffs to draw from.
The defence in front of him may not be as deep as the Huskies, but it is still a strong group, led by veteran Cavan Fitzgerald and offensive force Samuel Girard. Nicholas Welsh and Gabriel Sylvestre have stepped up their games in the post-season, and veterans Jonathan Deschamps and Matt Klebanskyj bring a calming stay-at-home presence.
The Huskies ran up against a Wildcats team playing with house money in round three, as the Wildcats were a popular pick to be upset in round one by the Victoriaville Tigres, then dispatched by the Gatineau Olympiques in round two, but they outlasted them both and made it to the third round. Rouyn-Noranda had some trouble handling the Wildcats pressure when they were on their game, especially in game 2, parts of game 4 and 5, and in the first two periods of game 6.
The Cataractes were more consistent against a tough Sea Dogs opponent in round three, and were rewarded with a couple of days extra in rest, which could also pay off in game 1 with the absence of Meier. Shawinigan could take the opening game, and rely on that momentum going forward in the series.
Their coach, Claude Bouchard, struggled a bit when replacing coach Martin Raymond with a month or so left in the season. He has the team in full out press now. He had five seasons of head coaching experience in the league coming into the job, and was an assistant at the Q level for four teams in five more seasons. His experience in winning the President's Cup in 2001 with Val-d'Or will come into play.