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Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Sherbrooke Phoenix

CHL

 

The Sherbrooke Phoenix have risen back into number one in the latest Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings.

Winners of nine straight and the lone club across to the circuit to have locked up its division, the Phoenix now stand 47-8-3-1 on the season, good for 98 points and the franchise’s sixth playoff berth since the QMJHL returned to Sherbrooke in 2012.

They’re one of only two teams across the Canadian Hockey League who have appeared in all 23 weeks of the rankings this season and previously occupied top spot for 10 straight weeks from late October into the turn of the calendar before giving way to the Ottawa 67’s.

“It’s not easy to keep this consistency from start to finish,” Phoenix head coach Stephane Julien told Jerome Gaudreau of the Sherbrooke Tribune. “We have to give credit to the players. The pace is high with 68 games, it’s exhausting mentally and physically, but our guys always reset the counter after each meeting.

“We are not hiding it – we want to finish in the front. If our club advances to the semi-finals, we can face a weaker team. We would then be in a better position by avoiding a club like the (Chicoutimi) Sagueneens. We don’t want to choose our adversaries, but it is important for us to finish first, where we have been since the start of the season. It would be a big disappointment to drop the title in the last (stretch).”

The Phoenix’s winning ways continued over the past week, coming away with victories over the Gatineau Olympiques and a pair versus the Victoriaville Tigres, a stretch in which fourth-year forward Felix Robert collected three goals and four assists over the trio of contests, bringing him to at least one point in 18 of his past 19 appearances. This week is already off to a great start following a 2-1 win over the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada on Wednesday.

With 83 points on the season, Robert is the Phoenix’s most dangerous offensive weapon, skating as part of a talented trio that also counts 20-year-old right-wing Alex-Olivier Voyer and captain Samuel Poulin. Voyer sits three points shy of Robert for the team lead and now counts a franchise record 40 goals, while Poulin, the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, is one point back of matching his career high after recording 32 goals and 43 assists in 44 games this season.

Proficient on the power play, the three are most dangerous on the man advantage – Sherbrooke owns a QMJHL-leading 36.1% rating – with Robert leading the way with an astounding 35 power-play points. The team has also seen a solid showing from veteran right-wing and deadline addition Charles-Antoine Roy as the former Olympiques captain has scored 11 times on the man advantage in 2019-20, a number outpaced by only Robert’s 15 power-play markers.

While Poulin is the lone NHL drafted prospect up front, a pair of Sherbrooke blue-liners in Xavier Bernard (New Jersey Devils) and Samuel Bolduc (New York Islanders) have heard their names called by NHL clubs, with the latter a second round pick in 2019 and another midseason addition as the club chases its first President’s Cup championship.

Since coming over from the Armada in mid-December, Bolduc has been an immediate fit with his new club in scoring at a point-per-game pace with three goals and 22 assists across 25 appearances, including a season-high four-point night coming against the rival Sagueneens earlier in February.

Rounding out the group, the Phoenix are backstopped by Slovak-born goaltender Samuel Hlavaj, the club’s top selection from the 2019 CHL Import Draft and the third-rated North American netminder ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft who has shined in the blue paint, posting a 30-3-2-0 showing across 36 appearances alongside a 2.27 goals-against average that tops the charts among QMJHL keepers. Hlavaj has been particularly dominant in the season’s second half, seeing a lone regulation loss in his last 18 appearances dating back to early December with World Junior and Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game experiences in between.

Looking to enter the postseason as the top-ranked club, the Phoenix will now aim to keep up their impressive win streak in the coming week that continues with a weekend set facing off against the Val-d’Or Foreurs and a date with the defending Memorial Cup champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

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