Although it may not have seemed like it as the players stepped off the ice after a 7-1 loss to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada on April 18, there was a lot to be positive about for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan this season
With the loss, the Titan saw their hopes of advancing to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s final four go up in smoke less than a week after the team had roared out to a 3-1 lead in their quarter-final series with the Armada.
Rather than preparing for a showdown with the Charlottetown Islanders, the Titan were getting ready to board a bus to make the long drive back to Northern New Brunswick to clear out their lockers and spend the summer reflecting on what could have been.
Looking back on the 2016-17 season, the Titan have come a long way. After missing the post-season just two years ago, they squeaked into the playoffs last year only to be eliminated in five games by the Saint John Sea Dogs.
This year, the Titan surged to a top six finish in the regular season before sweeping the Quebec Remparts in the first round of the playoffs for their first post-season series win since 2008.
Led by no less than eight players who scored 18 or more goals this season, Acadie-Bathurst finished third overall in goals scored during the regular season, with 284, and finished sixth overall with a 39-23-4-2 record – 24 points better than their 2015-16 finish and 42 points more than the year before.
Overage forward Christophe Boivin had a career year to lead the team’s offence. The 2013 first round draft pick finished with 90 points, including 43 goals, to give him a total of 102 goals, 117 assists and 219 points in 255 regular season games during the four years he played for the Titan. Those numbers leave him third all time for the franchise in goals scored, fifth in total points and sixth in games played.
He added five goals and nine assists in 11 playoff games this year, to give him a total of 17 points in 20 career post-season games with Acadie-Bathurst.
Captain Jeff Viel also put up some pretty impressive numbers for the Titan this year. His 35 goals were second on the team during the regular season, while he finished the playoffs tied with the Armada’s Alex Barré-Boulet for first overall in scoring in the junior circuit after having turned on the red light 10 times through the first two rounds of the post-season.
As the Titan start to focus on next season, the team can expect a very different lineup from the one that brought sellout crowds back to the K. C. Irving Regional Centre in Bathurst this year.
In addition to Boivin, forward Rodrigo Abols and defenceman Zachary Malatesta have both played their final games in the QMJHL after exhausting their junior eligibility. Both players were mid-season acquisitions by Acadie-Bathurst, Abols signed as a free agent in mid-October, while Malatesta came over in a multi-player trade with the Moncton Wildcats during the league’s holiday trading period.
Abols finished the season with 18 goals and 32 assists in 52 games with the Titan, while Malatesta chipped in with eight goals and 20 helpers while going an impressive plus 27 in 33 regular season games with the club. In the playoffs, Abols added five goals and six assists, while Malatesta had eight post-season points from the blueline, including one goal.
When it comes to this season’s crop of 19-year-olds, Acadie-Bathurst will also have to make some major decisions between now and the start of next season. With league rules stating that each team can only have three 20-year-olds on their roster, the Titan, who finished the season with eight 19-year-olds in their lineup, will need to say goodbye to at least of five of those players as they all head into the final year of their junior eligibility.
That group includes goaltender Anthony-Dumont Bouchard, defencemen Adam Holwell, Luc Deschênes, Olivier Desjardins and Matthew Ferrari, and forwards Viel, Dawson Theede and Daniil Miramanov.
Those left who won’t have to worry about age restrictions next season include sophomore forward Antoine Morand, the second overall draft pick in 2015 finished second on the team this year with 74 points, including 28 goals; Russian forward Vladimir Kuznetsov, who was third on the team with 30 goals and 68 points; centre Jordan Maher, the 2014 first round draft pick had 19 goals and 26 assists during the regular season before adding 11 playoff points; and last year’s first round selection Noah Dobson, who led all rookies with a plus/minus rating of Plus 34 while chipping in with seven goals and 19 assists from the blueline.
Netminder Reilly Pickard is also eligible to return next season, along with forwards Samuel l’Italien, Cole Rafuse, Aaron Brisebois, Kynan Berger and William Lemay-Champagne; along with defencemen Felix Boivin, Elijah Francis and Joakim Paradis.