So much for the hometown team playing well being the best revenge. Halifax Mooseheads rookie phenom Nathan MacKinnon, who's projected to go first overall in the 2013 NHL draft, surely knew what he was in for when he played his first QMJHL game in Baie-Comeau, the team that he declined to play for after it drafted him first overall.
The Drakkar are having a nice, respectable season after being a bottom-feeder last winter. Nevertheless, when MacKinnon came to town on Wednesday, the 16-year-old centre got the same treatment other athletes who have declined to go to the team which drafted them — it's like they think they should have some say in their athletic future or something! — when they played the squad they spurned. Like Eric Lindros when he played against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the 1991 Ontario Hockey League final or when he visited Le Colisée in Quebec City for the first time after he was traded from the old Nordiques to the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL, MacKinnon got something extra in Baie-Comeau.
As Matthew Wuest put it, the Drakkar took out a "half-page colour ad, which appeared in French in Plein Jour de Baie-Comeau, encouraged fans to come cheer on the Drakkar against a player who made the choice to not come to Baie-Comeau," as if the fans there needed to be told. Whether that had any effect on two spectators' choice of costume, we'll never know. In any event, two men showed up wearing outfits consisting of makeshift cloth diapers (hey, at least they respect the green movement) and rubber ducky flotation devices. To top it off, they appear to be wearing bows in their hair.
You can just picture them determining that their intent wasn't clear enough: Hey, make sure it's clear that you're not just calling MacKinnon a baby, but you're calling him a baby GIRL. That is real enlightened.
MacKinnon ended up scoring the only Mooseheads goal, but the Drakkar won 2-1 in the shootout after their own 16-year-old rookie, Philippe Cadorette, faced him down in the breakaway contest. "I didn't mind it, to be honest with you, " he told Mooseheads play-by-play man John Moore. "Those things don't bother me. Fans are going to be fans. It's something that you got to deal with. You can't let it get you distracted."
One does wonder about whether the Drakkar were properly accountable to the visiting team. The QMJHL told Wuest it spoke to the Drakkar about running the newspaper ad. Perhaps that was fair game. However, if the Drakkar were willing to incite a fanbase which is presumably already savvy enough to understand the significant of a visit from the Mooseheads, shouldn't they have augmented that with extra security around Halifax's bench? One of the fans stood just feet away yelling and gesturing toward MacKinnon, but supposed he had decided to go beyond that?
The Mooseheads (62 points in 51 games) are eighth in the QMJHL entering Friday's games and the Drakkar (54 in 53) hold down 10th place. With the Q's 1-through-16 playoff format, there is a possibility of the two teams meeting in the first round. Imagine MacKinnon coming in for back-to-back games in a playoff atmosphere? The QMJHL better have a strategy for crowd control hashed out in advance if that comes to pass.