FINAL FOUR PROMISES QUALITY ACTION
Make no mistake about this spring’s second round series, they were particularly expeditious.
The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies swept the Victoriaville Tigers in four games, scoring 21 goals to three. Meanwhile in the Maritimes, after surviving a scare in the opening round, the Halifax Mooseheads rebounded to tame the Moncton Wildcats, coming out of that duel without as much as a scratch.
After two easy wins to start their series against the Sherbrooke Phoenix, the Drummondville Voltigeurs had to double up their efforts to dispatch their division rivals in five games.
The Rimouski Oceanic also needed five games to oust the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, with three straight victories coming on the Eagles’ home ice.
Following these quick second round affairs, the final four teams had sufficient time to heal up, fuel up and rest up for the third round of playoff action that resumes on Friday night.
Rouyn’s star forward Peter Abbandonato is the exception that proves the rule. The Huskies top scorer will be forced to watch the beginning of this series from the stands after being struck by mononucleosis. Mooseheads forward Benoit-Olivier Groulx has also been sidelined by the same illness since mid-March. Halifax’s number 19 still hasn’t played this playoffs season. Despite all the medical advances, it is the type of condition that does not discriminate when it shuts down its victims for long periods of time.
RIMOUSKI OCEANIC (5th place)
Regular season record: 44-20-4-0, 92 pts
Head to head: 0-4, 0 pts
Playoffs record: 8-1
ROUYN-NORANDA HUSKIES (1st place)
Regular season record: 59-8-0-1, 119 pts
Head to head: 4-0, 8 pts
Playoffs record: 8-2
The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies will have to soldier on without the services of their regular-season scoring leader, Peter Abbandonato.
The regular season champs thankfully have a lot of depth at all positions, but replacing their 20-year-old star centreman, who had already piled up 21 points (4-17-21) in 10 playoff games, will be a tall order.
The Huskies swept the four-game season series against the Oceanic. Each of those wins saw them score at least five goals. While Abbandonato was busy amassing one goal and five assists, his teammate Rafaël Harvey-Pinard torched Rimouski to the tune of four goals and six assists!
Across the ice, rookie phenom Alexis Lafreniere was held to four assists by the Huskies in 2018-19. That said, any scientist will tell you that a volcano always winds up exploding at some point! Lafreniere is also well-surrounded, to say the least, by 20-year-olds Jimmy Huntington and Olivier Garneau.
The Oceanic have made quick work of their opponents this spring, needing only nine games to come this far, as Serge Beausoleil’s crew has also gone 5-0 on enemy ice. And as always during this time of year, special teams will play a huge role in the series!
DRUMMONDVILLE VOLTIGEURS (2nd place)
Regular season record: 52-13-2-1, 107 pts
Head to head: 1-0-0-1
Playoffs record: 8-2
HALIFAX MOOSEHEADS (3rd place)
Regular season record: 49-15-2-2, 102 pts
Head to head: 1-1
Playoffs record: 8-2-1
The Drummondville Voltigeurs finished No. 2 overall this season, just ahead of the Halifax Mooseheads who were 3rd. According to the season’s standings, these teams have ended up exactly where they were supposed to.
The health of both squads will be a factor in this series. Sidelined by his ongoing, energy-sapping bout with mononucleosis, Benoit-Olivier Groulx wasn’t able to join his teammates during their playoff run to date. The 18-year-old did return to practice this week. His status will be monitored daily. Groulx’s return would be greatly appreciated by his head coach Eric Veilleux given the way some of his forwards haven’t exactly been lighting it up since mid-March. Case in point, Czech forward Ostap Safin was limited to two assists in 11 games and his 17-year-old fellow countryman Marcel Barinka, who hasn’t played in the playoffs yet, has just been loaned to his nation’s U18 team.
As for the Voltigeurs, whose offence is led by Joseph Veleno and Maxime Courtois, their goalie Olivier Rodrigue is still doubtful for this semi-final. Their No. 1 goalie is back practicing but has missed six weeks with a groin injury. His understudy Anthony Morrone has held down the fort for the first two rounds, but will he be able to continue his run against this year’s Memorial Cup hosts?