A little regional resentment probably doesn't hurt for stoking interest in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, especially amid playoff fever.
The QMJHL's decision to affirm the automatic one-game suspension Halifax Mooseheads captain Cameron Critchlow received for removing the helmet of the Rimouski Océanic's Jonathan Lavoie in a fight Friday played into that. Critchlow will miss the Mooseheads' must-win Game 6 at home on Sunday on what the Mooseheads and many others believed was a bad call. It also will give people pause to wonder if the optics — Critchlow being a key player for Halifax and Rimouski representing the best chance to have a QMJHL team in the final at a time when the league is trying to generate buzz for next month's MasterCard Memorial Cup in Shawinigan — affected the decision.
"We've heard that all before but it's something I just can't comment on," Mooseheads GM Cam Russell said by phone Sunday, a few hours before the Halifax-Rimouski puck drop.
"People think of all sorts of things and there will be lots of different opinions and different ideas."
Russell's quarrel is strictly with QMJHL disciplinary prefect Raymond Bolduc upholding officials Jeff Hopkins and Jean-Philippe Sylvain's call. (Teams cannot appeal one- to three-game suspensions during the playoffs.) Critchlow's hand did touch Lavoie's helmet as the two tussled Friday. Divining intent to remove Lavoie's headgear was daunting, to put it mildly. Russell, who was rugged defenceman in his NHL career (872 penalty minutes in 396 games), said it was a missed call.
"I think it's a good rule when you think about someone intentionally pulling another player's helmet off and then that player falls and hits his head and hurts himself," he said. "It has to be 100 per cent intent there. I've probably been involved in a hundred fights and I've never been able to get a helmet off that easily from anyone.
"If it was that easy, I might have won few more fights.
"When you're thinking about Game 6 of the playoffs, the semifinal, you got to be 100 per cent sure. I think it was a missed call by the referee and a missed call by Raymond Bolduc... I know there was no evidence pointing to Cameron Critchlow intentionally pulling the other player's helmet off."
The Mooseheads now have to regroup from a 9-0 loss on Friday without Critchlow, who's been their bellwether throughout the playoff run. The 5-foot-8 native of Summerside, P.E.I., has 12 goals and 19 points in the playoffs, including all four of their regulation-time goals in the Game 7 overtime win over the Quebec Remparts two weeks ago. He's been a superb complement to 16-year-old superstar Nathan MacKinnon, often finishing off plays initiated by the Cole Harbour comet.
It is not unheard of for a team to be galvanized by losing a veteran. When they were down 3-2 to Plymouth in the OHL's second round, the Kitchener Rangers dedicated Game 6 to overage winger Tyler Randell, who had one game left on a 10-game ban. They won that night and Randell scored four goals of his own in the series decider.
"Cameron's a huge part of our hockey team but we have a lot of other players who are capable of stepping up," Russell said. "I think it's brought our team closer. He's a guy whom, we'd like to win the game for him, so we can play again tomorrow."
The suspension has also raised questions about how long Halifax's championship window will be open. They are one of the league's youngest teams. Seven regulars are in their 16- and 17-year-old seasons. But MacKinnon, who's third among all playoff scorers with 26 points in 16 games, could have only one more season in junior. There's an obvious parallel with Rimouski when it won the President's Cup with a 17-year-old Sidney Crosby in 2004-05.
"A lot of things can happen," Russell said. "We want to be good every season. We're not just going to shoot for one particular year and then go for a three- or four-year rebuild. I think we've shown the fans that. We're going to be good next year and we're going to be good the next year [2013-14, when MacKinnon could likely be in the NHL]. That's our goal. We've got a lot of good young hockey players who are going to be here for the next two or three years."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.