Despite splitting the regular season series 3-3 with the Huskies, the Phoenix finds itself heading into the unfriendly confines of Aréna Iamgold with a young team that is looking to make a statement in this year’s playoffs. It heads into the playoffs loaded with confidence, riding high with a 9-1-0-0 record in its last 10 games.
But being the road team in this series has its challenges for Sherbrooke. It faces a team that is notoriously good on home ice historically, and it has proven true again this season. The Huskies have a home record of 22-6-3-3 in 2017-18, which includes a record of 2-0-1-0 against the Phoenix. The small ice surface at the Aréna Iamgold creates an unparalleled advantage for a team that plays in that arena for half of its games.
The biggest challenge for Sherbrooke in round one is whether or not it can break down the Huskies in the smaller neutral zone, and provide sustained pressure on a group of mobile and experienced defensemen that features William Cyr and Jacob Neveu, as well as over-agers Will Thompson and Taylor Ford.
Putting pucks past Huskies goaltender Samuel Harvey seemed to be a struggle for all of the QMJHL teams this season. The Huskies have only allowed a total of 81 goals and have a goal differential of +54 on home ice this season. In this series, home ice advantage seems like a daunting task to overcome considering the smaller ice surface, combined with the Huskies second best goals against average in the league.
But the Phoenix has continually surprised teams around the league and seems poised to continue that narrative in this year’s playoffs. It struggled to compete on the road against the Huskies as it dropped its first two games in Rouyn-Noranda by a combined score of 11-5, but on its last visit to Abitibi on March 2nd, it managed to squeak out a 3-2 overtime win.
If this game was played on paper, Sherbrooke would have slim hopes to overcome the challenges of a seven-game series that includes the possibility of four games in Rouyn-Noranda. Good thing for Stéphane Julien’s club, the games aren’t played on paper.
The Phoenix will be heavily reliant on its over-age players and its younger veterans, who led this team to a 10th place finish in 2017-18. Timely offense and strong play from goaltender Reilly Pickard could be the key to stealing games from the Huskies. One player to watch in this series is Mathieu Olivier, who’s coming off the best offensive season of his career and a freshly signed contract with the Nashville Predators. His physical impact could make him the energizer this young team needs to believe in itself. Not to mention, he also buried 27 goals in the regular season.
For the Huskies, they will be favoured to take this series and to do so quickly. But with those expectations come the dangers of under-estimating a team that is on fire coming out of the regular season.
A player to watch on and off the ice is Huskies captain, Mathieu Boucher, who was part of the Huskies team that won the 2016 President Cup and has plenty of big game experience. Gilles Bouchard and his staff will be looking to Boucher to contribute offensively and be a vocal leader in the face of adversity.
These two Western Division rivals are set to square off as the series kicks off in Rouyn-Noranda on Friday March 23rd so be sure to follow along with the rest of the QMJHL playoffs and its coverage.
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies team profile
Sherbrooke Phoenix team profile