Friday, March 25, 2011

QMJHL PLATOFFS - ROUND 1 PREDICTIONS (CONT...)

Yesterday HockeyPoints unveiled our prediction for the Montreal (2) / Halifax (15) series. Today we look at the remaining 7 match ups. Not only have we predicted who will win and in how many games, but we've also explained the main reasons why. Let's start with an easy one:

Saint John (1) vs. Cape Breton (16):

Saint John is coming off one of the best seasons of all time by any QMJHL team. Loaded with plenty of depth throughout their entire lineup the Sea Dogs are blessed with skill, speed and grit. Among others, Jonathan Huberdeau has been on fire all season and will surely take his game to another level this spring as he did last year. Sorry to say, Cape Breton doesn't stand a chance.
Prediction: Saint John Sea Dogs win in 4 games.

Montreal (2) vs. Halifax (15):

See yesterday's entry.
Prediction: Montreal wins in 4 games (currently leading series 1-0).

Quebec (3) vs. Val D'or (14):

Don't be surprised if Val D'or give Quebec a bit of trouble but at the end of the day Quebec will come out on top. Patrick Roy won't let his team loose control of the series to the point where they'd face elimination.
Prediction: Quebec wins in 5 games

Drummondville (4) vs. Chicoutimi (13):

Sean Couturier and company will drive the pace of every game in the series. The Voltigeurs play both an intense and consistently discipline style which will guide them to victory. Chicoutimi's only chance of winning the series is if star rookie goaltender Christopher Gibson stands on his head and steals a bunch of games.....4 to be precise.
Prediction: Drummondville wins in 5 games.

Gatineau (5) vs. Rimouski (12):

Maybe the most underrated team heading into the post season, Gatineau is likely to defeat Rimouski without too much trouble. Goaltender Maxime Clermont will shut the door behind perhaps the league's top blueline group. QMJHL regular season scoring leader P-M Devos will lead the team's offensive drive. Rimouski's only chance is to try and win low scoring games.
Prediction: Gatineau wins in 5 games.

Acadie-Bathurst (6) vs. Victoriaville (11):

While Bathurst is the light favorite heading into this series, watch out for the Tigres of Victoriaville as their team is no walk in the park. They can be as explosive as they are implosive (gulp). If VIC are to upset they'll need Pillip Danault to be at his best. The 17 year old draft eligible prospect has been excellent all year and his game is built for the post-season.
Prediction: Acadie-Bathurst wins in 6 games.

Shawinigan (7) vs. P.E.I. (10):

While most analysts will predict Shawinigan to win this series due in large part to their gritty and physical style of play, watch for P.E.I to try and match that intensity. We may see an upset here. Led by gritty winger and 1st round pick Philippe Paradis the Rocket will not go down without a fight.
Prediction: Shawinigan wins in 6 games.

Lewiston (8) vs. Moncton (9):

Alright. Almost every year there's some kind of upset. This series will be our "upset" pick.....even though the Wildcats are not exactly chopped liver. After winning the Presidents Cup last season and still competitive this year, Moncton will prevail under the leadership of coach Flynn and star defenseman Brandon Gormley. The Pheonix Coyotes 1st rounder in 2010 earned over a point per game this season and is excellent in all facets of the game. Also, mark my words.....Lewiston's penalty issues will be their death in the post-season.
Prediction: Moncton wins in 7 games.

Enjoy the action in round #1!

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

QMJHL PLAYOFFS - ROUND #1 PREDICTIONS


17 year old Halifax Mooseheads forward Martin Frk
enjoyed a successful rookie season, finishing the year
with 22 goals and 50 points in 62 games played. Good
enough for 4th place in league wide rookie scoring. 
Today and tomorrow HockeyPoints will release its predictions for which teams will win each series in round #1 of the QMJHL playoffs.

The playoffs kick off tonight with game #1 of the Montreal-Halifax series being played in Montreal. The other series start tomorrow night.

Today we'll start by placing our bets on the Montreal Juniors / Halifax Mooseheads Series:

Montreal is the clear favorite here. Don't make any mistake about that. The Juniors finished the season with 102 points (2nd overall among the QMJHL's 18 teams), which is more than double the 45 points Halifax were able to earn (good enough for 15th overall league-wide).

Offensively, the Juniors have the edge. They scored 263 times this season for an average of  3.86 goals scored per game (4th best in the league). Meanwhile the Mooseheads recorded only 186 goals for an average of 2.73 goals scored per contest (15th best league wide).

Examining the defensive side of the game, the numbers again look to be in Montreal's favor. Montreal allowed only 185 goals against throughout the year for an average of 2.72 goals against per game (ranking 3rd best in the Q). Halifax was scored on 262 times for an average of 3.85 goals against per game (14 best in the Q).

Further, Jean-Francois Berube's goals against average finished the season at 2.60, good enough to rank him 4th best among league goaltenders.

During the season Montreal and Halifax met three times, with Montreal winning each game by scores of 5-3 (in HAL), 5-2 (in MTL) and 2-1 (in MTL).

Overall Outlook:

The Juniors' deep group of veteran player will be too much for the younger Mooseheads players, especially while under the playoff pressure cooker. Even with forwards Viktor Hertzberg and Philippe Fontaine on the IR likely for most of round #1, the Juniors will be too much for Halifax to handle.

Prediction:

Montreal wins in 4 games.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

JUNIORS TO BATTLE THE MOOSEHEADS


Juniors scoring goal vs. the Halifax Moosehead earlier this season.
The Juniors finished the season with a record of 46 wins, 12 losses, 5 overtime losses and 5 shootout losses, earning themselves 102 points in the Q standings which ranked them 1st overall in the Telus West division and 2nd overall throughout the entire QMJHL standings.

This means Montreal will face the 15th overall ranked Halifax Mooseheads in round one of the playoffs. Halifax finished the season with a record of 20-43-2-3, which landed them in 5th place out of six teams in the Maritime division.

The Halifax franchise is both owned and coached by former Montreal Canadiens star Bobby Smith who took over control of the bench earlier this season.

Halifax is one of four QMJHL teams bidding to host the Memorial Cup in 2012 therefore their team is built to peak next year and not this spring. But that doesn't mean this series will be a walk in the park for Montreal...

The Halifax roster is built with loads of young talent, a group of players highlighted by 17 year old super Czech prospect Martin Frk (that’s right – no vowels in his last name) and 16 year old Luca Ciampini, born in Montreal.

The Mooseheads have 2 NHL affiliated players. Konrad Abeltshauser was drafted in the 6th round (164th overall) of the 2010 draft by the San Jose Sharks and Sawyer Hannay who was drafted in the 7th round (205th overall) of the 2010 draft by the Vancouver Canucks. Both players man the blueline for Halifax.

Game #1 of the best-of-seven series starts this Thursday night in Montreal, with the puck dropping at 7:05pm. Here's a complete list of the series schedule:

Game 1: Thursday March 24th @ 7:05pm ET (in MTL)
Game 2: Friday March 25th @ 7:05pm ET (in MTL)
Game 3: Tuesday March 29th @ 6:00pm ET (in HAL)
Game 4: Wednesday March 30th @ 6:00pm ET (in HAL)
Game 5: Friday April 1st @ 6:00pm ET (in HAL)
Game 6: Sunday April 3rd @ 3:05pm ET (in MTL)
Game 7: Tuesday April 5th @ 7:05pm ET (in MTL)

Note that due to travel time considerations, the Juniors would play game 5 in Halifax (if necessary) and games 6 and 7 would be played in Montreal.

Here's a list of the match ups league wide:

Saint John (1) vs. Cape Breton (16)
Montreal (2) vs. Halifax (15)
Quebec (3) vs. Val D'or (14)
Drummondville (4) vs. Chicoutimi (13)
Gatineau (5) vs. Rimouski (12)
Acadie-Bathurst (6) vs. Victoriaville (11)
Shawinigan (7) vs. P.E.I. (10)
Lewiston (8) vs. Moncton (9)

HockeyPoints will be releasing our Round 1 Playoff Predictions later this week. Last year we predicted 7/8 first round winners correctly and 14/15 winners correctly for the entire playoff bracket. Our mistake? You guessed it! Picking the Juniors in the 1st round. They blew a 3-1 series lead to Gatineau before loosing in double OT of game 7. Wish me luck in going 15 / 15 this year.....but I don't think it'll be easy.

Until the next entry.

Photo Credit: Ron Lemish

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

HERTZBERG FINDS CHEMISTRY WITH LEBLANC



Left Winger Viktor Hertzberg has
found great chemistry with centerman
Louis Leblanc.
Viktor Hertzberg has been enjoying some serious success ever since his arrival in Montreal.

Hertzberg was acquired in early January on trade deadline day. The Juniors sent Czech born Denis Kindl and a couple of high draft picks to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in exchange for Hertzberg.

Since joining the Juniors Hertzberg has 9 goals and 11 assists for 20 points in 17 games played. That blends well with his +8 plus/minus rating and only 2 penalty minutes.

A left winger, Hertzberg was exactly what the Juniors needed. He was immediately paired up with centerman Louis Leblanc, along with David Rose who lined up on the right wing side. But after the Juniors experienced a 3 game loosing streak, Montreal coach Pascal Vincent decided to change things up and moved Trevor Parkes onto the team’s top line in place of David Rose.

The Hertzberg-Leblanc-Parkes trio has been together for the last 4 games and demonstrated great chemistry. The numbers tell the story on their own:

Hertzberg (4GP, 2G, 3A, 5PTS, +3)
Leblanc (4GP, 1G, 2A, 3PTS, +4)
Parkes (4GP, 4G, 2A, 6PTS, +6)
Totals (4GP, 7G, 7A, 14PTS, +13)

If the line continues its strong offensive output Vincent will likely keep it together for the playoffs which should NHL scouts plenty of opportunities to evaluate Hertzberg for the upcoming NHL entry draft. Playing alongside 2 of Montreal's high profile NHL affiliated players won't hurt either. Leblanc is a 2009 1st round pick of the Montreal Canadiens and Parkes earned himself a 3 year entry level contract with the Detroit Red Wings last summer.

Hertzberg was featured this week on the QMJHL website. In the interview he talks about his experience in the QMJHL, specifically with the Montreal Juniors. You can view the video here: Viktor Hertzberg QMJHL Interview.

Since the team moved to Montreal back in 2008, Hertzberg is the first Swedish born European player to suit up for the franchise.

Speaking of Sweden......

Hertzberg wasn’t the only Swede in the Verdun Auditorium last week. Two of his buddies had flown in from Sweden to support Hertzberg and were easy to notice in the crowd during games against Drummondville, Baie Comeau and Rimouski.

They were hard to miss given the large Swedish flag they were waiving as they repeatedly chanted “let’s go Juniors” and "Hertzberrrrrrrrrrg!!!". Their flag had Hertzberg’s name spelled across the horizontal stripe and his number 27 was stitched along the top and bottom of the flag’s verticle trim.

Both said enjoyed their stay in Montreal. They said they love the city, it's women, and Montreal Juniors hockey. Maybe they’ll come back and visit again next year…..assuming Hertzberg might return as a 20 year old player???

Photo Credit: Ron Lemish (photo of Hertzberg), HockeyPoints (photo of Swedes) 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

ONTARIO BOYS ADD KEY ELEMENTS TO JUNIORS ROSTER

#2 Matt Provost
Oakville, Ontario
#4 Alex Micallef
Fort Erie, Ontario
#12 Dylan Anderson
Greely, Ontario
#19 Trevor Parkes
Fort Erie, Ontario
Convincing players to play major junior hockey isn't always easy for a number of reasons. In most cases, the young men who opt to play major junior are forced to make a number of life altering decisions.

Are they willing to live away from home with a billet? Are they comfortable focusing on an intense hockey schedule and school studies at the same time? What about moving far away from their family and friends to live in foreign cities such as Baie Comeau, Rouyn Noranda or Cape Breton?

All these questions factor into a players decision. Looking around the league there are some teams that are better equipped to attract players than others. Montreal is one of those cities who have an advantage and the Juniors have demonstrated an ability to attract a number of strong players from Ontario looking for an opportunity to play major junior.

So why has Montreal been so successful in this realm? Well....

If school is near the top of a player's list of priorities, Montreal has plenty to offer at both the Cegep and University levels.

If players want to be close to home, Montreal has that too as its situated very close to the Ontario boarder and has various means of travel with convenient departure schedules.

There's the bilingual factor too. Montrealers are fluent in both French and English making it an easier transition for Ontarioites to move to Montreal compared to, say, Chicoutimi.

On top of it all and compared to other cities in the QMJHL, Montreal is arguably the most desirable in terms of being a nice place to live. Perhaps that's a big factor as well?

Either way, Montreal has done a tremendous job at successfully attracting four quality Ontario born players to their team. Defenseman Matt Provost and right winger Trevor Parkes joined the Juniors during the 2009-2010 season, while both defenseman Alex Micallef and centerman Dylan Anderson entered into the mix this season.

All four players are considered key components of Pascal Vincent's roster. Let's look at each player a little more, where they're from and where they played before the joined the Montreal Juniors this season.

#2 - Defenseman, Matt Provost
Hometown: Oakville, Ontario
Born: 1992, junior age = 18
Size: 6'0", 191 lbs
Stats:
2008-2009: Played for the OJHL's Streetsville Derbys (42GP, 0G, 10A, 10PTS, 43PIMS)
2009-2010: Played for the QMJHL's Montreal Juniors (52GP, 2G, 3A, 5PTS, 40PIMS, +2)
2010-2011: Playing for the QMJHL's Montreal Juniors (57GP, 4G, 9A, 13PTS, 35PIMS, +9)

You might as well call him the Mark Streit or Dustin Byfuglien of the Montreal Juniors. While he doesn't have a Swiss background and he isn't 6 foot 5 inches tall, Provost is a reliable player and capable of playing both defense and forward. In 2008-2009 he played in the Ontario Junior A Hockey League before making the jump to the Juniors roster last season as a 17 year old defenseman. His game provided the Juniors with a steady influence on the blueline and he earned himself regular ice time. This season Provost has had an opportunity to split his ice time between defense and right wing as coach Pascal Vincent continues to struggle with the challenge of managing his lineup because of injuries roster depth. Provost plays a responsible two way game. He is a physical player too. This is demonstrated through his checking capabilities and willingness to drop the mitts to defend his teammates (click here to watch Provost coming to the defense of goaltender J-F Berube after he is run over by Sain John Sea Dogs forward Jonathan Huberdeau). Offensively Provost has a quick whip to his shot and is known for making crisp passes in transition. Many around the league consider Provost a #3 or #4 type defenseman, but with the Juniors depth "issue", he probably won't see that type of responsibility until next season after the veteran players move on.

#4 - Defenseman, Alex Micallef
Hometown: Fort Erie, Ontario
Born: 1992, junior age = 18
Size: 6'0", 195 lbs
Stats:
2008-2009: Information unavailable
2009-2010: Played for the OJHL's Villanova Knights (38GP, 3G, 29A, 32PTS, 39PIMS)
2010-2011: Playing for  the QMJHL's Montreal Juniors (40GP, 2G, 7A, 9PTS, 34PIMS, +9)

Similar to Provost, Micallef finds himself in a tough position. On the average team in the Q, he'd be considered a #4 defenseman, but with the Juniors deep roster he's constantly fighting to stay in the lineup. Micallef joined the Juniors this season after playing in the Ontario Junior A Hockey League with the Villanova Knights last year when he earned almost a point per game. Not too shabby for a defenseman. Micallef is known to rip low hard shots from just inside the opponents' blueline which is a great asset to have if he ever gets a chance to quarterback the power play. When he eventually gains power play time (probably next season) you will definitely see his numbers improve. While his offensive skills are already very strong, he still needs to work more on his foot speed in his own end to improve his defensive game. Micallef brings an element of toughness to the roster as well. While he isn't as well known for his hitting as much as Provost, he does know how to throw the gloves to the ground. Here's our favorite youtube clip of Micallef, dropping the gloves with one of the league's top brawlers and ex-Montreal Junior defenseman, Dillon Donnelly (click here).

#12 - Centerman, Dylan Anderson
Hometown: Greely, Ontario
Born: 1991, junior age = 19
Size: 6'2", 187 lbs
Stats:
2008-2009: Played for the OHL's Ottawa 67's (51GP, 0G, 4A, 5PTS, 12PIMS, -10)
2009-2010: Played for the OHL's Ottawa 67's (23GP, 0G, 1A, 1PTS, 2PIMS, -6)
2010-2011: Playing for the QMJHL's Montreal Juniors (61GP, 10G, 14A, 24PTS, 18PIMS, +10)

Anderson played the majority of the last two seasons with the OHL's Ottawa 67's before making the jump to the QMJHL for a fresh opportunity. The addition of Anderson to the Juniors roster has been such a positive that it's hard to imagine how things didn't work out for him in Ottawa. Perhaps a regular shift was all Anderson needed to turn the page in Montreal? He has centered the 3rd or 4th line for most of the season and is used as a defensive specialist by coach Pascal Vincent, both on the penalty kill and whenever the Juniors are hard pressed to win a key faceoff in their own zone. In fact, Anderson's faceoff skills are so great that his winning percentage of 56.50% ranks 7th overall in the league amongst players who have taken 500 face-offs or more. Funny enough, two other Juniors have better winning percentages than Anderson. With a face-off winning percentage of 58.79%, Aubry ranks 3rd overall in the league, while at 57.0% Gouchie ranks 5th overall. Offensively, Anderson is effective because he drives the net and looks for rebounds to score goals. Here's a perfect example (watch here - Anderson goal is scored at 2:36 of the video). Down the stretch you can expect to see Anderson continue to fill an important bottom 6 forward role during the team's playoff run.

#19 - Right Winger, Trevor Parkes 
Hometown: Fort Erie, Ontario
Born: 1991, junior age = 19
Size: 6'2", 185 lbs
Stats:
2008-2009: Played for the GOJHL's Fort Erie Meteors (52GP, 23G, 20A, 43PTS, 34PIMS)
2009-2010: Played for the (66GP, 27G, 20A, 47PTS, 34PIMS, +19)
2010-2011: Playing for the (56GP, 29G, 27A, 56PTS, 30PIMS,  +22)

The addition of Trevor Parkes has truly been a remarkable find on the part of Pascal Vincent and his scouting staff. Three years ago Parkes was passed over by OHL scouts because he was considered far too small at that time to play in the provinces' top junior league (he was 5'7" and 155 lbs....3 years later he's 6/2" and 185 lbs). So Parkes found a spot on the roster of his local junior team with Fort Erie in the Greater Ontario Junior B Hockey League. His strong two way game caught the eye of the Juniors and a camp invite followed just prior to the 2009-2010 season. Last year Parkes finished 2nd on the team in goals during the season (27 goals in 66 games played) and 1st on the team in goals in the post-season (6 goals in 7 games played). Then last summer the Detroit Red Wings signed Parkes to a 3 year two-way entry level contract which must have encouraged Parkes to work even harder to prepare for this season. Through 56 games this year Parkes is leading the Juniors in both goals (29) and points (56). Parkes' style of game is loved by the scouts. He uses his big frame well to drive the net and protects the puck well in the process. He has a great set of hands and a quick and accurate shot. He finishes his checks and is a very strong skater both on the fore-check and on the back-check. To see a clip of Parkes in action, check out this youtube clip (watch here) which highlights a hat trick he earned last season against Lewiston.

That's all for now.

Photo Credit: Ron Lemish

ROUGH WEEKEND FOR THE JUNIORS

Montreal did not have a successful weekend. They lost
against Rouyn Noranda 5-1 and to Val D'Or 3-2. Both
teams rank near the bottom of the Q standings.
The Montreal Juniors didn't exactly experience the most enjoyable weekend. If you haven't already heard, here's what went down during the past three days.

On Friday, RDS' QMJHL guru St├ęphane Leroux released a controversial blog containing his opinion about the management of the Montreal Juniors front office. Leroux's words will without a doubt create a stir around the city and the league but the Juniors can only hope the news generate more followers heading into the Q playoffs. The timing of Leroux's blog is strange considering the Juniors success this season. You'd think he'd wait until the off season to share such a fierce opinion. I'm sure Leroux made these comments with good intentions in an effort to push the Juniors to improve their operations in areas he has identified as weaknesses. But he did so by making some very strong statements. If I was him I'd probably be ducking my head around the Verdun Auditorium during the next few games.

The next piece of bad news came on Saturday during the team's bus drive up to Rouyn Noranda. Somehow the team bus found itself suck in the snow and the players reportedly (again by RDS - see report here) had to push the bus back onto the road. This resulted in the Juniors loosing 25 minutes of travel time. To make matters worse, this event couldn't have occurred at a more inconvenient time. One of Leroux's comments in his blog was about how the Juniors shouldn't be driving so far (Montreal to Rouyn Noranda) on game days in order to help avoid issues such as this.

Finally, on the ice (which is what this blogger really cares about), Montreal had their worst back to back performances of the year. On Saturday they lost to Rouyn Noranda 5-1 and on Sunday they lost to Val D'Or 3-2 in shootouts. To put that in perspective, Rouyn Noranda is the last place team in league standings, ranked 18th, while Val D'Or sits in 14th place. The Juniors still rank 2nd overall in the Q.

In more positive news.....

....Louis Leblanc is heating up at the right time. With only 5 regular season games remaining before the playoffs Leblanc is playing through his best run of the year. In his last 8 games, he has 8 goals and 7 assists. Much of Leblanc's success relates to the chemistry he has developed with his linemates, LW Viktor Hertzberg and RW David Rose, both of whom are also producing big numbers during the past three weeks. Hertzberg has 5 goals and 9 assists during this time, while Rose has 3 goals and 7 assists.

Looking forward to the playoffs.....

....Montreal is on pace to square up against the Halifax Moosehead in the first round. The Q has changed their playoff format this season which now looks like this:

Of the 18 teams in the league, teams ranked 1-16 make the playoffs.

In the first round:
#1 vs. #16
#2 vs. #15
#3 vs. #14
#4 vs. #13
#5 vs. #12
#6 vs. #11
#7 vs. #10
#8 vs. #9  

In the second and third rounds:
The highest ranked winning team from the round prior plays against the lowest ranked winning team from the round prior.

Then in the final, we all know what happens. The last two teams standing battle it out for the Cup.

That's all for now.

Photo Credit: Ron Lemish