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A Road Less Travelled

by Craig Eagles – December 14, 2017

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Drake Batherson has taken the road less travelled to accomplish his dreams in the game of hockey. His journey has been unconventional to say the least, but the nineteen-year old certainly has no regrets.

“It was a longer journey to the QMJHL for me compared to other players,” said the Fort Wayne, Indiana, product. “Being passed over in the Q draft [in] my first year eligible was tough, but I knew my time would come soon enough.”

Batherson has fully accepted and embraced his non-linear path in the game. “Playing another year of Midget at sixteen was great for my development,” he said. “I ended up getting drafted after that season, and finally got to attend my first QMJHL camp at seventeen.”

Batherson was selected in the 6th round, 97th overall, by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2015. But his dream to play in the QMJHL was put on hold yet again when he didn’t make the Screaming Eagles out of camp.

“I had a strong camp but got cut late, and obviously was very disappointed,” he remembers. “But I moved on and had another year to develop, and got faster and stronger.”

At 18, Batherson was ready to leave his mark on the QMJHL. The late-bloomer had a dominant performance in 2016-17, amassing 22 goals and 36 assists for 58 points in the 61 games he played with the Screaming Eagles.

And Batherson’s body of work didn’t go unnoticed by NHL scouts, especially Ottawa Senators Chief Amateur Scout, Trent Mann.

“Drake worked extremely hard last [season] and progressed very quickly. He gained confidence early [on] and ran with it,” Mann said. “The play is never dead with Drake, something happens almost every shift. He possesses exceptional puck skills, great vision and offensive sense. Drake also shoots the puck well, so he can hurt you in a number of different ways,” Mann explained.

And Batherson’s ability to play the prototypical power forward style of game contributed to one of the top lines in the QMJHL a season ago. “Giovanni Fiore, Massimo Carozza and Drake did most of the scoring last year for the Screaming Eagles. They seemed to have complemented each other very well,” added Mann.

The Ottawa Senators ended liking Batherson’s play enough to warrant selecting him in the 4th round, 121st overall, in last June’s NHL Entry Draft.

“It was truly a dream come true to be drafted to the NHL and so surreal when it happened,” Batherson said. “Having my family there with me was amazing. They have done so much for me and my hockey career, I can’t thank them enough!”

Drake is quick to point to his father as a beacon of knowledge when it comes to the game of hockey and life. “My father has definitely been the biggest help to me from day one. Everything I learned growing up was from him,” said the Senators prospect.

It’s no coincidence Batherson’s father, Norm, also played professionally for fourteen years. “Anytime my dad wasn’t playing or on the road, he would bring me on the ice and just help me work on my game,” Batherson remembers.

Hard work and dedication is imprinted in Drake’s DNA, and that certainly paid off this off-season. “When I saw him in August at the NHL Rookie Tournament, I noticed the skill level,” Mann said.  “[I] then double-checked to see if it was the same kid as he was significantly bigger than the year before,” Mann said.

“I worked out at Pro Edge Sports Conditioning and they were really beneficial on my strength and speed improvements on and off the ice,” explained Batherson. “Jill Plandowski helped my skating, while Darrell Plandowski helped me with my skill work.”

After a strong Development Camp and Rookie Tournament, the Senators’ organization felt there was no reason to wait before signing Batherson. “I would be surprised if he isn’t in Belleville next year, with our American Hockey League affiliate,” said Mann.

“With a good finish [to this season] and another strong summer, he could have a real impact at that level next year,” Mann went on to add. “Obviously some things need to happen before, but the potential is there.”

As for Batherson, he is well aware of what it’ll take for him to play hockey professionally. “I’m trying to develop and improve all aspects of my game this season. I want to be a consistent player every night,” he explained.

Batherson’s story of perseverance and dedication to his craft is truly remarkable.

“My advice to young kids being passed over, or being cut from teams, is just to keep chasing your dreams. Your time will come,” he says. “I knew I had it in me to make it to the next level, I just had to keep working and developing my game.”

 



Rebuilding with experience

by Peter Assaff – December 11, 2017

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The Val d’Or Foreurs have one of the youngest teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season, with 11 of the 24 players on their roster aged 17 or younger.

What they lack in experience on the ice, though, they make up for behind the bench with the one of the winningest coaches in league history.

Current bench boss Mario Durocher made his coaching debut in the QMJHL over 20 years ago, and is on the verge of joining some pretty elite company. Entering action on December 11, Durocher was just two wins away from 500 career QMJHL regular season victories.

Only three other coaches, Richard Martel (589), Guy Chouinard (569) and Real Paiement (541) have reached that plateau.  And with 498 wins in 941 games behind the bench, Durocher has the best winning percentage among all four.

“I’m still here,” he chuckled while visiting a familiar building last week, the K. C. Irving Regional Centre in Bathurst, where he coached from 2004 to 2006. “Everywhere I went was a good experience,” he added.  “People are nice here and they enjoy their hockey.  I have good memories [from] everywhere I went, and Bathurst is one of those places.”

Durocher began his Major Junior coaching career with Sherbrooke, when he stepped behind the bench for one game during the 1993-94 season.  Since then, he has gone on to coach Victoriaville, Sherbrooke again, Lewiston, Acadie-Bathurst, Cape Breton, and Val d’Or. To nobody’s surprise, he leads all active coaches in games coached and in wins.

As a matter of fact, when the Foreurs hit the ice to play the Halifax Mooseheads last Friday, Durocher moved past Gaston Drapeau into sole possession of fourth place in games coached in QMJHL history. Again, he trails only Martel (1,171), Chouinard (1,121) and Paiement (1,101) in that department.

His 140 playoff games coached is also fourth in league history, behind the names of Benoit Groulx (166), Chouinard (153) and Paiement (150). His résumé also includes a pair of President’s Cup wins, with Victoriaville in 2002 and more recently with Val d’Or, in 2014.

With that many games under his belt, Durocher has been at the helm of a lot of different types of teams during his career. This year, Val d’Or is rebuilding with youth and nearly half of the players Durocher is coaching weren’t even born when he started his first full season behind a QMJHL bench, back in 2000-2001 with the Victoriaville Tigres.

A few weeks back, for example, the Foreurs had 10 rookies in their lineup against Bathurst – including six players who have yet to celebrate their 17th birthdays. “[Being] so young makes a difference in your team,” said Durocher, pointing out that a 68-game season is quite a jump from Midget AAA for rookies.

As rewarding as it is to help young players develop, it also comes with its own set of challenges.

“Travelling is also a big thing,” said Durocher.  “We are lucky that we fly to the Maritimes, but we are the only team doing that. They are kids, they are going to school.  We are close to exams, and we are close to Christmas, so there is a lot of stuff going on right now.  It is not easy.”

Despite those challenges, Durocher is happy with the way his team is playing. “If you look at the game [against Acadie-Bathurst] it was 1-1 after two periods,” said Durocher, of the 5-1 Titan win. “We were there, but it was experience that made the difference at the end.”

And for Val-d’Or’s young players, they are gaining that experience from one of the best to ever step behind a QMJHL bench.



Alain and Barré-Boulet on a mission for the Armada

by Peter Roumeliotis – December 5, 2017

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One of the hottest teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League right now is the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

The Armada is currently in first place in the Q, having already won 19 of its first 26 games. The team is also an outstanding 8-2-0 in its last 10 games, and boasts the league’s best power play percentage this season.

Up there with the Armada are teams like the Rimouski Oceanic, and the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. For Rimouski, their 2017 first overall pick, Alexis Lafrenière, has been nothing short of brilliant in his highly anticipated rookie season.

For Acadie Bathurst, NHL prospects Antoine Morand (Anaheim Ducks) and German Rubstov (Philadelphia Flyers) are playing key roles for their team. While these two teams have well-known players contributing for them, it’s a whole different story for the Armada.

So, who is leading the Blainville-Boisbriand squad? Look no further than two 20-year-old undrafted forwards named Alex Barré-Boulet and Alexandre Alain.

Barré-Boulet came over to the Armada last year in a trade from Drummondville where he had spent two full seasons. He had a career-high 89 points in 65 games in 2015-2016, and he is on pace to surpass that total this season. In 25 games, Barré-Boulet is now up to 22 goals and 23 assists. It’s also worth noting that he is only seven goals away from matching the amount of goals he had in all of last season.

On the other hand, team captain Alexandre Alain, formerly of the Gatineau Olympiques, has been absolutely explosive this season. He’s already scored 14 goals and has 20 assists in the 25 games he’s played. That puts him less than 20 points away from having back-to-back seasons in which he’ll have amassed 50 points or more for the Armada.

The production that these two 20-year-old forwards are delivering for Blainville-Boisbriand is at an elite level and “the Alex’s” are out to show that they can be relied upon as big-time players.

And so far, it’s mission accomplished for both Alain and Barré-Boulet!



Moving Forward

by Craig Eagles – November 30, 2017

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When Luke Green made the decision to move on from the Saint John Sea Dogs organization, he truly believed it was the right move for his career.

The Bedford, N.S., product wanted to take a different path in the QMJHL, even if it meant leaving behind his twin brother Matt, and a team destined for a President Cup. The highly skilled rearguard was traded from the Saint John Sea Dogs to the Sherbrooke Phoenix during the 2016 season.

The gifted offensive defencemen had flourished in the Port City, racking up 77 points through his first two seasons with the Sea Dogs.

“Deals of this magnitude, when you are talking about a former first overall pick and a player of Luke’s status, take months to consummate,” said Sea Dogs GM and President, Trevor Georgie.

“Trading Luke allowed us to accumulate assets to make other moves we felt [were] necessary to compete for a Memorial Cup. Sherbrooke’s first round selection in 2018 was a key piece to our acquisition of Simon Bourque,” he pointed out.

“The 2018 second round selection was a component of our trade to bring in Julien Gauthier for our President Cup run. And the final second round selection in 2020 is still in our possession,” Georgie added.

Considering the Sea Dogs depth on defence, along with Thomas Chabot’s ascension to the role of a number one defenceman, Green’s time on ice took a hit in 2016-2017. He felt a change of scenery would help his overall progression as a player. “The decision was difficult, but it was the right move for my hockey career,” said Green.

Georgie still remembers the phone call he made to the talented defenceman, informing him of the trade. “I like Luke a lot, obviously he has some incredible gifts. He was calm, polite, thankful for the opportunity, and optimistic about what was next,” remembered Georgie.

“He was looking forward to a fresh start with Sherbrooke,” said Georgie. “I am disappointed for him, and disappointed for Jocelyn [Thibault] that he was injured at [the] Winnipeg [Jets’] camp this year. I look forward to him being back in action soon.”

The Phoenix missed the playoffs a season ago and for the first time in Green’s QMJHL career, he wasn’t playing in the post-season. Instead, he ended up watching his former club win it all.

“I was excited for them to win the President Cup, the players earned it,” Green said.

Despite not having won a league championship, the blueliner’s strong play over his first two seasons in Saint John didn’t go unnoticed. As a matter of fact, the Winnipeg Jets selected Green in the 3rd round, 79th overall, of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

“Getting drafted was very exciting,” said Green. “I knew I just became a part of one of the best organizations and fan bases in hockey.”

Green was signed to an amateur tryout agreement with Winnipeg’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Manitoba Moose last March. And with the Phoenix held out of the playoffs, Green got to enjoy his first taste of professional hockey.

“It was an amazing experience, it was so much fun,” said Green. “It helped my game tremendously to see what it’s like at the pro level.”

Green entered the off-season with a new outlook on his career and was looking forward to having a massive impact with the Phoenix. “This was the best summer I had ever had in terms of training. I was in the best shape of my life before getting injured.”

The nineteen-year-old dislocated his shoulder while attending the Jets’ training camp in September.  The injury required surgery, and nearly 20 weeks of recovery.

“I think the training that I did put in this summer has enhanced the quality of my recovery and expected timeline,” explained Green. “My rehab is going very smoothly so far, I don’t want to put dates out there for my return, but I can say that I’m on the [right] track.”

“Luke has worked tremendously hard to get back as soon as possible,” added Phoenix GM, Jocelyn Thibault. “If everything keeps going the way it has been, Luke should be back playing sooner than expected.”

At the time, the idea of missing half of the 2017-2018 QMJHL season was obviously extremely disappointing for Green.  But his smile quickly came back when, a few days after his injury, the Jets officially signed him to a three-year entry-level contract.

For now though, Green is anxiously awaiting the opportunity to get back on the ice. But he understands and accepts the rehabilitation process.

“I’m going to begin skating in two weeks, but I have been in the gym almost every day, building and maintaining my strength and conditioning,” explained the Jets prospect. “This is a big year for myself and the Phoenix [and] I want to help the team make a long run.”

Green isn’t shy when sharing his future plans and is trying to move forward from the injury that has kept him away from the game he loves.

“My goal is to play pro next year,” he admits. “Sure, the injury was frustrating. But it is part of the game and I’m focused on coming back even better.”

“Luke is a big part of our team and defensive core,” said Thibault.  “His loss has been important for us, to say the least. He can log a lot of playing time because of his skating ability, stamina and overall talent and we sure look forward to having him back.”

Sherbrooke currently sits 9th overall in the QMJHL standings with 31 pts through 28 games.  Green’s return would definitely bolster the team’s overall performance, and could propel the Phoenix into the upper echelon of the league.



The net view

by Peter Assaff – November 24, 2017

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The view from the crease is unlike any other in hockey.

Rather than moving up and down the ice with the flow of the puck, a goaltender spends his time either under attack or watching the action from the other end of the ice.

A hero on some nights, it can be very frustrating, to say the least, on others. But one thing is for sure, it certainly offers a unique perspective on the game.

Nearly midway through his fourth season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, 19-year-old netminder Reilly Pickard of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan has seen it all.

“My first year we weren’t a really good team. We were young and I was getting 40 or 50 shots a game, but now it is different,” said the Halifax, N.S. native.  “Now there are five, 10-minute, stretches where we don’t leave the other team’s end and that is pretty cool to watch.”

Originally drafted by the Baie-Comeau Drakkar back in 2014, Pickard was traded to the Titan midway through his rookie season.

The Titan missed the playoffs that year, and Pickard went just 2-13 following the trade with a 3.82 goals against average and an .888 save percentage.

Still, he showed promise and followed that up with a solid sophomore campaign where he helped his squad return to the post-season with a 25-25 record, along with a 3.15 goals against average and a .902 save percentage.

After moving up to sixth in the league’s overall standings last year, and winning their first playoff series in close to a decade, the Titan are currently fighting for first place in the Maritime Division.

“It is great to watch the players work,” he said.  “It is tough for me sometimes, not getting a lot of shots. But it is really fun to watch these guys go to work and I know that they are always going to have my back.”

That is especially true for the defence corps in front of him, especially with veteran Adam Holwell and sophomore Noah Dobson.

“It is really a pleasure to work with these guys. I have seen a lot of groups over the course of my career, but this one right now seems pretty special,” said Pickard. “Holwell has been around the block, five years in the league.  He’s been far in the playoffs and he knows what it takes.  I am always asking him what I can do better to help him out,” he added.

“And Noah [is] only in his second year, but he is mature beyond his years. He wants to learn, and I want to learn from him.  He is an unbelievable talent so whatever I can do to help him out, and help him help our team, I am going to do.”

“It is not just those two though; it is all six of our D and all 12 of our forwards,” mentioned the goaltender. “We’ve just got to help each other out on the ice.  That’s something that goes a long way.”

As for his own game, Pickard entered action on Nov. 24 sitting fourth overall with a 2.41 goals against average and says he is constantly working to get better every day.

“I am just trying to get better at all the little things,” he said.  “Once you get to this level everybody is talented, but you want to be able to separate yourself with the little things.  Obviously, I’m not the biggest goalie so I work on my battle level and being able to see pucks through screens.”

“This year, I think teams are trying to get to me [by] getting bodies in front of me and trying to get traffic and tips.  That is something I’ve struggled with to begin this year, so I’m definitely working on that and just trying to get better every day,” said Pickard.

“Something I’ve learned in my four years here is that you’ve got to show up every day and you’ve got to be ready to go when the puck drops. Obviously, it is still early in the season, but right now we seem to have a good thing going.  Hopefully we can build on that, and end up where we want to be.”

And while Pickard is currently enjoying the view from his crease, it’s the rest of the hockey world that is enjoying watching him play.



Big opportunity for a big player

by Peter Roumeliotis – November 21, 2017

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The QMJHL regular season is long and full of opportunities for players to learn, grow, and flourish.

And for the past 15 years, the CIBC Canada Russia Series has been a dream occasion for some of the QMJHL’s best players to prove their worth. In this year’s Series – one that ended just under a week ago – Canada topped the Russians overall in the Series, with lots of help coming from Team QMJHL.

For players in the Q, this event has plenty of meaning and is an opportunity for each of them to write their own story. The younger players want to impress, but are also there to learn and build. The older players want to demonstrate that they belong, and that their time has finally come to show that they can play at the world-class level.

A player who is currently in between the learning and establishing stages is Gatineau Olympiques forward, Shawn Boudrias. Originally drafted by the Charlottetown Islanders, Boudrias is entering his fourth season in the Q and believes that the Canada Russia Series served as a purpose to elevate his game and help him reach the next level.

“It was great to play with some of the best players,” Boudrias stated. “Getting the opportunity to play with them helps me grow as a player.”

Boudrias impressed at the Series, putting up a goal in his two games for Team QMJHL. He also had six shots on goal, which tied him for most on the team with Peter Abbandonato and Pascal Laberge. But one element of Boudrias’ game which made him noticeable was his ability to play a big man’s game. At 6’4” and 212 pounds, he truly takes advantage of his size.

“I am a big body out there, so I tried to be more physical and use my body to not only get pucks, but to protect them,” he admits.

Boudrias is certainly learning and growing year after year. Currently on pace for a career high in the QMJHL, the Laval native has already posted 14 points in 18 games. With or without opportunities like the Canada Russia Series, the goal for Boudrias has never changed, and will not change; he’s aiming to make a living by playing hockey professionally.

“The series will help me because it showed me how people prepare themselves before games and how to be a professional,” said Boudrias, who wants to bring his learnings back to the Olympiques locker room. “The goal [now] is to have a good season, and try to get drafted [in the NHL]”.

With big opportunities coming the big player’s way, it’s safe to say that Boudrias is dialed in and well-equipped to face any challenge.



At Home Behind the Bench

by Craig Eagles – November 16, 2017

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Darren Rumble is at home behind the bench. Most would say he’s a natural.

The charismatic bench boss from Barrie, Ontario is entering his fifth season at the helm of the Moncton Wildcats and has become one of the most respected coaches across the QMJHL.

In many ways, Rumble was a “marked man” upon his arrival to the Hub City five years ago. He would ultimately encounter the ever-present pressure to win, coupled with the normal high expectations of being the new coach in town.

With arguably the most passionate owner and fan base in the league, the pressure to produce a winner upon his arrival had to be daunting for the former Stanley Cup Champion.

“Any coach will always tell you there’s pressure, it’s a volatile way to make a living. But at the end of the day, we do it because we love it,” he explained.

Rumble’s enthusiastic style and passion for the game is infectious and it is clear that the former NHLer and American Hockey League Head Coach has brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the QMJHL.

“Darren is a technical expert when it comes to the game,” said Wildcats Director of Hockey Operations, Roger Shannon.

Rumble led the Wildcats to back-to-back QMJHL semi final appearances in 2015 and 2016, only to endure junior hockey’s dreaded cycle a season later when the Wildcats decided to rebuild.

Rumble has since picked up the pieces of the rebuilding Wildcats and now has his squad playing inspired hockey; it currently sits 3rd overall in QMJHL standings with 28 points through 22 games.

When he faced the adversity of a season ago, Rumble continued to teach, reinforce and develop the Wildcats youthful core.

“Darren handled the rebuilding process well,” said Shannon. “It was obviously difficult to win games, but I think his positive attitude and ability to keep the spirits up was probably more important than any piece of the start of the rebuild.”

“Rums handled last season very professionally,” said Wildcats sniper Jeremy McKenna.  “He always brought a positive attitude to the rink, and really focused on helping each guy get a little better every day.”

“Darren focuses on playing the game the right way, [by] making smart plays in both ends of the ice, and I think that’s how he helped me grow as a player,” added McKenna.

A fierce competitor in his playing days, Rumble brings the same passion, character and honesty to the role of head coach. “I think the rebuild has increased my inner drive and compete level,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m just so motivated to do well this year.”

“We saw some good development in young players that we’ve moved forward with, they have all taken a huge step,” he explained. “And we have brought in some new young guys that are really high-end, and mixed in some good free agents.”

“The entire group is trending up and should be even stronger next year, which is quite exciting with the prospects of moving into a new building,” Rumble said.

On most nights, Rumble can be seen travelling up and down the bench intensely watching over and motivating his team. Very few coaches in the QMJHL are as engaged emotionally and fully invested as Darren Rumble.

Rumble’s attention to detail, intensity and trust in his players has built a team-first mentality in Moncton. His hands-on approach and defence-first system hold players accountable in all three zones.

His transparent coaching style and “in-game” teaching set him apart from other coaches across the league, and would translate well to a possible return to the professional coaching ranks.

Rumble’s talents behind the bench haven’t gone unnoticed either. Hockey Canada named named him as Head Coach of Canada’s National Men’s Under-18 Team for the 2017 IIHF U18 World Championship.

He was also an assistant coach for Team Canada’s Under-18 representatives at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, where he won a gold medal in 2015 and renewed his spot behind the bench for the 2016 tournament.

And Rumble’s international coaching experience doesn’t end there. He won a bronze medal at the 2013 IIHF World Championship Division II as an assistant coach with none other than Team Iceland.

With the past and current success of the Wildcats organization, it’s only a matter of time before Rumble finds himself a new home behind an NHL bench.  Nevertheless, his focus remains fixed on his current home.

“I’m focused on the Moncton Wildcats short term and long term. I’m extremely motivated this year [with] what we decided to do last year with the rebuild,” he said.  “That furthermore enhanced my compete and inner drive. I’m just so motivated to do well this year.”

Rumble returns to familiar surroundings tonight. He is an assistant coach with Team QMJHL as it takes on Team Russia in Game 6 of the CIBC Canada Russia Series in Moncton.



A timely call

by Peter Assaff – November 10, 2017

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Drop by the offices of Acadie-Bathurst Titan General Manager Sylvain Couturier and odds are you will find him on his phone.

But unlike so many people today, Couturier isn’t playing a game or checking his social media accounts.

No, the man they call ‘Sly’ spends most of his time talking to agents, scouts and other general managers – constantly working on ways to improve his Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team.

Couturier took over the role of general manager with the Titan in 2005, after having been both a player and coach with the team.  Since that time, Acadie-Bathurst has consistently been one of the busiest teams in the Canadian Hockey League when trading period rolls around.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that Couturier managed to pull off a major trade well over a month before the league’s next trading period is set to begin. One that could have a major effect on the outcome of the QMJHL’s Maritime Division.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has three trade periods each year; one at their annual entry draft, another just before the start of the regular season, and a third over the Christmas Holidays.  This year’s holiday trading period runs from Dec. 18, 2017 to Jan. 6, 2018. Outside of that, only over-age players, draft picks, prospects, or European Imports can be moved from team to team.

“My job right now is to try to improve the team any way I can [but] I’m limited by what I can do,” said Couturier.  “I am working hard to get more players here to help us improve our team. But besides free agents and (European) players, there isn’t much I can do.”

So, on Nov. 2, Couturier sent the rights to Russian forward Vladimir Kuznetsov, prospect Christopher Farmer, along with first, second and third round draft picks in 2020 to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. In exchange, the Titan welcomed Russian forward German Rubstov and received a second-round pick in 2020.

For Couturier, it was time to make a move, and ultimately the trade came down to a pair of factors.

First, expectations remain high for the Titan this season, even though the team stumbled out of the gate. Secondly, Kuznetsov decided to stay in Russia this season after failing to generate any interest from National Hockey League teams during the two seasons he played with the Titan.

Rather than moving on from Kuznetsov right away though, Couturier continued to talk to the player and his agent in hopes of finding a way to get him to come back to the Titan. After months of talks, Couturier just couldn’t wait any longer and pulled the trigger on the deal.

The trade paid immediate dividends as well, with Rubstov helping the Titan to a pair of 6-3 wins over the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in his first two games with his new team on Nov. 3 and 4. Skating alongside veterans Antoine Morand and Jordan Maher, Rubstov, who was a first round draft pick of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers in 2016, combined with his linemates for a goal and two assists in the first game.

In their second game with the Titan, the trio of Morand, Rubstov and Maher were respectively named the first three stars of the game and teamed up for a combined seven points and a plus/minus rating of +7.

The Titan hope that kind of production is a sign of things to come, and just the spark they need to make their way up in the standings.

With the league just past the quarter mark of the 2017-18 season, the Maritime Division looks to be very much up for grabs.  Just a handful of points separate the top five teams in the division and, despite its tough start, the Titan is very much in the thick of things.

One week after making the trade to acquire Rubstov, the team trails the division-leading Moncton Wildcats by just three points in the standings, with a pair of games in hand.

For now at least, it looks like Couturier made the trade at just the right time. Just don’t be surprised if ‘Sly’ has a few more moves up his sleeve over the next couple of months.

One thing is for sure; you can bank on him spending plenty of time on his phone between now and then.



Morand looking to soar after training camp with Ducks

by Peter Roumeliotis – November 7, 2017

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June 24th, 2017. This is a date that Acadie-Bathurst Titan forward Antoine Morand will never forget.

This was the day he got one step closer to his dream and was drafted to the National Hockey League, 60th overall, by the Anaheim Ducks.

For many players like Morand, the NHL entry draft will always represent a key moment of their hockey lives, because it’s the first chapter of a long novel career.

“It’s a feeling that you can’t really describe honestly” Morand admits. “Just hearing your name being called makes you realize that all the work you’ve done has paid off. And when you have a dream, you have to work for it and you will make it happen.”

Morand believes that his game has automatically been boosted after being drafted by the Ducks organization. A big part of this advance came from having the opportunity to absorb the atmosphere and experiences from both development camp and training camp this past summer.

“For sure being drafted elevates your game. You want to prove to the team that they made the right decision and I learned a lot in my first NHL camp.”

Morand put up 74 points in 67 games last season and is off to another good start this year with 19 points in 17 games for the Titan. While this is Morand’s third year in the Q, one could consider him a veteran in junior standards.

However, with his recent draft into the NHL, this year could involve the most learning and adapting the 18-year-old playmaker has ever had to make. And he is up for the challenge.

“I need to focus on the next objectives and keep working hard to bring my game to an NHL level” Morand states. “When you go to an NHL camp, you see what you need to do to be a professional and for sure I will try to bring that to my team this year.”

The little taste of NHL ambiance that Morand got with the Ducks seems to have been a refreshing and life-changing experience, one that he hopes to carry with him all year long in the Q.

“It was pretty cool to have that experience and opportunity” says Morand about a first taste of the NHL that left him in awe. “Corey Perry and Patrick Eaves came to see me. They told me that if I had any questions, to ask and to not be shy.”

Moving forward, there is no doubt that Morand will continue to do his very best to develop into an enhanced player, one who can one day make a permanent stay in the NHL.



A Different Kind of Pressure

by Craig Eagles – November 2, 2017

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Joe Veleno has dealt with pressure and high expectations his entire life. Some would say he’s exceptional at handling it.

However, he has never felt the pressure and expectations that surround the NHL Entry Draft.

“I think the pressure is always going to be there, from now on in,” said Veleno.

A lot can happen in Joe Veleno’s world between now and June’s NHL Entry Draft.

The Saint John Sea Dogs Captain is trying to down play the increased attention and hype surrounding him this season.

“I’m trying not to think about it too much and worry about what you have to do, and focus on my own objectives and goals and try to help the team,” he said. “I think I’m doing a pretty good job at that, and trying to help the team win every night.”

Sea Dogs Head Coach Josh Dixon believes Veleno is handling the added pressure very well, but stresses the importance of not getting caught up in the hype.

“I think Joe’s maturity has really shown through. He’s our captain for a number of reasons; his leadership and his ability to demand excellence of himself each and every day raises the bar for our group,” said Dixon.

“Joe’s an individual in the moment. We’ve talked a lot this season about being where his feet are, about focusing on coming to the rink each and every day and enjoying the process of making himself a better hockey player in a number of different areas,” Dixon explained.

“June will take care of itself, the focus right now is being where his feet are and living in the moment,” he stressed.

Veleno is currently ranked in the first round of the 2017-2018 NHL Central Scouting Preliminary Players to Watch List.  Most pundits are projecting Veleno to be a Top 5 selection come June.

Sea Dogs President and General Manager Trevor Georgie believes his young star isn’t phased by the current draft rankings.

“I don’t believe it is something that he follows or gives much attention to. Joe is confident, but very humble”, Georgie said. “He is focused on being our Captain here in Saint John and wants to get better and make his teammates better every single day.”

The Saint John Sea Dogs are struggling to score goals this season and Veleno admits he does feel a little added pressure to contribute offensively.

“I think our team is still coming along. We aren’t quite there yet, we still haven’t figured out some chemistry either, so that doesn’t really help,” explained Veleno. “But the guys are coming along well off the ice and we just have to put in the work on the ice, and I think everything will fall into place.”

Veleno credits the Sea Dogs organization for providing valuable advice and some time away given the potential distractions that come with NHL scouting meetings and interviews.

“The organization is helping me with that and making time for those meetings. Obviously they are trying to give me some breathing room and don’t want me going crazy with interviews and meetings with scouts, so they are doing a really good job with that,” said Veleno.

Similar to other exceptional status players, Veleno has grown accustom to the spotlight, which has followed him throughout his life and career. He hasn’t forgotten the importance of family and the sacrifices they made along the way to get him to this point.

“They have come up huge, they have made a lot of sacrifices from day one since I started playing hockey, and ever since I was born. A lot credit goes to them, not just me,” said Veleno. “They have put in a lot of work, they taught me a lot of good morals and values which really helped along the way.”

“My family has always been really big on leadership, and have always wanted me to be a leader in whatever situation I’m in. I really can’t thank them enough,” he explained.

“Joe is a very mature and focused young man. He is a tremendous hockey player and even a better person,” added Georgie.

Entering his third season in the QMJHL, Veleno admits that having been part of a veteran laden Sea Dogs President Cup Championship team has really helped his development.

“I learned a lot last year. It felt great winning the President Cup, it was a big honour and obviously I got to learn a lot from the older guys,” said the Montreal product. “I gained a lot of experience as a young player, I’m really grateful for that.”

“I learned a lot of different aspects of the game, like how to take care of yourself on and off ice, how to protect leads, different plays and different systems,” Veleno explained.

Every NHL team and scouting staff is unique, they evaluate and project differently.  Veleno understands that process, but is confident that last season’s experience helped him become a more complete player.

“I think I’m a better 200-foot player this year than last. Obviously with those types of players and as a team we had tremendous success,” said Veleno. “I think it helped me tremendously, learning where to be on the ice.”

“He’s focusing on making himself a full 200-foot player, working on face-offs and focusing both on his ability to score and his ability to make plays, and to keep that as his focus,” added Dixon.

Georgie believes Veleno has handled the increased responsibility very well. “It is his first season as our number one center and he is playing in all situations; power play, penalty kill, and is almost at a point-per-game,” he claims.

After captaining Team Canada to Ivan Hlinka Gold, Veleno could be a consideration for the Canada’s upcoming World Juniors squad.

“It would be a nice opportunity for me to play for Team Canada, there’s no better feeling and no better way to represent your country,” Veleno said. “It would be a huge honour!”



No need for panic

by Peter Assaff – October 27, 2017

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It shouldn’t come as any surprise that fans of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan are a little concerned about the team’s slow start to the 2017-2018 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season.

Those fans have been waiting a long time to cheer on a winning hockey team, and were confident this was finally going to be their year heading into this season.

After years of rebuilding, the team seemed poised to make a run at a President’s Cup.

At least that is what it looked like after the team won their first post-season series in nearly a decade when they swept the Quebec Remparts in the opening round of last spring’s playoffs.

Even a heartbreaking loss to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the second-round series that went the distance in April didn’t seem to dampen spirits, with most believing that the best was yet to come.

Unfortunately things haven’t gone according to script in the first month of the season for the Titan.

After taking five out of a possible six points in their first three games last month, the team has struggled.  Four straight losses followed that opening homestand, and heading into the final weekend of October Acadie-Bathurst found themselves in fourth place in the Maritime Division, with just six wins in their first 15 games.

But is it really time to panic? Veteran defenceman Adam Holwell, who was traded to the Titan from the Moncton Wildcats midway through last season, sure doesn’t think so.

“We aren’t in any panic at all,” said the St. John’s, Newfoundland, native.  “Everyone is saying the Titan are supposed to be so good but we are not doing too well.  It is 15 games in and everyone is counting us out already, but we have a really good team.  We’ve had times where a lot of guys were out of the lineup with injuries or suspensions.  Obviously, we have to learn to win like that. But I think we’ve done a good job with what we’ve got.  When we have all of our guys we are a really good team, and I think everyone in the room knows that.  Come playoff time, I think it is going to be a fun time for us.”

And Holwell has seen struggles get turned around before.

“My third year in Moncton, we did really well,” he explained.  “We lost to Rouyn [Noranda] in six games in the third round [of the playoffs] and we had a chance there.  But if you rewind three months before that playoff round, even two months, we were on a nine-game losing streak.  That was in February, and at that point, everyone was counting us out.  I think the message that I want to give the guys is…everything is a building process towards the playoffs.  Obviously we want to be playing well, but we want to build towards the playoffs.  That is the message I want to give to the guys.”

And that is the message fans need to take as well.  Despite their sluggish start the Titan head into the weekend just five points out of first place overall. They have also just added a pair of new free agents, and Slovakian defenceman Michal Ivan has finally joined the team.

Yes, it has been a long time since the team has been to a President’s Cup final – 2002 to be exact – but there is still a lot of hockey left to play.  And plenty of time before anyone needs to be hitting the panic button.



Making Noise

by Craig Eagles – October 19, 2017

Sun Shade

Jeremy McKenna goes about his business quietly.

But the soft-spoken 18-year-old from Summerside, PEI, is making some noise for the Moncton Wildcats this season.

McKenna is coming off a solid rookie campaign where he scored 16 goals and added 10 assists in 66 games for the offensively-starved Wildcats.

The quiet and confident Islander is now lighting up the QMJHL with seven goals and ten assists in twelve games and sits third in league scoring. McKenna is quick to deflect the attention away from personal accolades and credits his linemates, rookie Jakob Pelletier and current top-scorer Mika Cyr, for his stellar start.

“Playing with Mika and Jakob is helping me grow as a player and I feel we have great chemistry together. We are always on the same page out there and encourage each other and I think that’s why we have been having success this season,” McKenna said.

“Mika is a great player and is an elite skater.  Jakob has great hockey sense and he’s a fun player to play with because he makes plays.”

McKenna is focused on team success in his sophomore season with the Cats, and has taken on a leadership role with the young upstart club.

“Jeremy is simply one of those leaders who exemplifies leadership by example,” said Wildcats Director of Hockey Operations Roger Shannon.

McKenna’s intense workout regime caused a social media stir this summer. He attributes his great start to his commitment to his conditioning.

“I worked hard this off-season and it’s good to see it paying off,” McKenna said.   “I was in the gym at least six days a week. I’m really motivated to win with this team and that’s what motivated me every day.”

“The team has come together quick and we are doing a good job night in night out and I’m happy that I can contribute to the team and keep winning”, he added.

McKenna is a bona fide sniper who possesses a pro release. He is a natural goal scorer who excels in high traffic areas and has great edge control. But his rededication to fitness in the off-season has added another dimension to his game, which makes him elusive and harder to contain below the hash marks in the offensive zone.

“Nobody worked harder in the off-season than Jeremy,” mentioned Roger Shannon. “He is proof of what a person can do when they truly are all in. When you have the skill and shot that he has, you evolve into an elite scorer when you put the work in. His release is in the Top 5 of the league.”

McKenna’s ability to spin off checks and battle for loose pucks creates time and space, and it also enables him to gain offensive position and access to seams that he couldn’t a season ago.  His ability to read the play and his awareness to find the quiet zones of the ice make him a constant threat to score off the rush.

With his phenomenal start to the season, McKenna’s play may have him popping up on the radar of NHL scouts.

“Definitely getting drafted is in the back of my mind, it’s been a dream of mine my whole life,” said the young star who’s already making noise around the QMJHL. “I want to take this year day by day and game by game, and try to get better every chance I get.”



 

Worst to First

by Philippe Germain – October 18, 2017

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One thing was clear about the Moncton Wildcats heading into the 2017-18 season – the only way they could go was up. One year removed from setting a team record for futility with only 14 wins and 31 points, the Wildcats have exploded out of the gate so far this season, sitting atop the overall league standings with an 8-1-2 mark to open the campaign.

All too used to being among the League’s top teams, the Wildcats have quickly circled the wagons after a single rebuilding season in 2015-16. Full marks go to Director of Hockey Operations Roger Shannon for making his flurry of offseason moves and for remaining loyal to head coach Darren Rumble in light of the club hitting rock bottom last year.

While the Wildcats still have a long way to go this season with just under 60 games to go in the regular season, they will be looking to make some history of far more positive kind in 2017-18. Should the Wildcats manage to go from worst-to-first and come away with a regular season crown and the Jean Rougeau Trophy, they will have managed a feat only twice achieved in the almost 50-year history of the QMJHL.

The most recent team to manage such an incredible reversal of fortune was the 2008-09 Drummondville Voltigeurs. Coached by current Senators bench boss Guy Boucher, the Voltigeurs were coming off a tough season the year prior that saw them scratch together a mere 14 wins and 33 points, and finish dead last in the QMJHL. The turnaround that would await them would, however, prove to be historic.

Led by their potent top line of Yannick Riendeau, Danny Masse and current Senators forward Mike Hoffman, as well as future NHLers Sean Couturier and Dmitri Kulikov, the Voltigeurs racked up a franchise record and league-best 112 points. That 79-point turnaround was only the beginning for Boucher’s team as it went on to win the President’s Cup that spring.

The first team to ever go from the League’s cellar to the penthouse was the, now defunct, Cornwall Royals. After stumbling through a 44-point season in 1970-71 to finish last of 10 teams, the Royals buckled down and put together an amazing season the following year. Head coach Orval Tessier pushed all the right buttons as his troops went on to post a 96-point season led by future NHL star goalie Richard Brodeur between the pipes. Like the Voltigeurs, the Royals also won the President’s Trophy that year.

Now back to the Wildcats. Again, it’s far too early to tell whether they will become the third team in QMJHL history to finish first overall after ending up last, but if they do manage it they may want to free up their calendar this spring. A President’s Cup run could also be in their future…