The Juniors couldn't beat a younger, less experienced club in the
Some critics have said the Juniors were simply out-coached. Others say the team's best players didn't show up to play. There are those who point to the man between the pipes. While others blame injuries, most notably to star left winger Viktor Hertzberg.
I don't blame any area specifically, but I do consider each of the above reasons for why Montreal fell on their faces so hard and so fast.
A lack of (proper) focus:
Let's start at the top. Coaching. Was it completely the fault of coach Pascal Vincent that his troops lost in round two? Of course not. At least not entirely. Earlier this year Vincent was quoted as saying this was the best team (on paper) he had the pleasure of coaching during his entire 12 years of coaching in the QMJHL. And that's probably true. But as Pascal and company learned the hard way, it's about what you have on paper, but what you have on the ice. And Vincent was a big reason why the product on the ice was never as good as the product he had on paper.
So what could Vincent have done better? Well, from my unprofessional armchair quarterback position, I'll say this; the group lacked both focus and motivation.
Why a lack in focus? All season long the team talked about staying focused, focused about their ultimate goal....winning the Memorial Cup. Wait a minute. Did you say winning the Memorial Cup?!?!? Who cares about the Memorial Cup if you can't even win more than 1 series in your own league! You need to win 4 series just to get a ticket to the Mem Cup, remember??? Point is, it's great to aim high, but in this sport sometimes it's better to follow the good old boring cliche and just; "take it one game at a time". Montreal was caught up in so much hype thinking of what was to come "tomorrow" that they forgot about what they needed to achieve "today".
Why the lack in motivation? I can't really answer that question to be honest, but I do note this. There were players on this team who greatly underperformed this year, for example; Philippe Lefebvre and Charles-Olivier Roussel. Are the players to blame for their sub-par performances? Maybe partially. But in my mind, the coach is also to blame. How was Vincent and his team never able to get a handle on these players. Both were veterans in the league and had already enjoyed greater success elsewhere, Roussel in Shawinigan and Lefebvre in Drummondville. But why not Montreal? Bottom line: Vincent wasn't able to get enough out of two of his top players, nor was he able to get the best out of his team.
Where were the top players?:
At the forward position, it's not like the Juniors didn't have the offense to beat Lewiston. If you look at the offensive numbers for most players, it becomes clear offense was not the problem. Rather, it was the defensive play of the team that lost the series. To give a few examples; Jeremy Gouchie was a minus -5. Trevor Parkes was a minus -4. Louis Marc Aubry was a minus -3. Extremely uncharacteristic of these veteran players to play so poor defensively.
And where was J-F Berube (more on him later)? I hate hinting blame on a goalie, but common! Look at the numbers. A 3.76 goals against average and a .868 save percentage isn't going to help any team win a series.
Okay. More on Berube. Like I said, I don't like to pick on goalies. But really, much like his peers, Berube was never at his best in this series. But it wasn't so much his numbers that hurt the team. It was more so the timing of certain goals that were surrendered, helping cripple his team in the process. Berube allowed untimely goals in this series that either lost games (in the last minute of play) or that gave Lewiston quick 2 goal leads, earned off quick back to back tallies. Was Berube fighting an injury that hindered his play? We'll never know for sure. But either way, when you only keep your opponent down to 2 goals once in six tries, it's not a good thing.
The Juniors had a few key injuries during the playoffs. None more important that the concussion injury to left winger Viktor Hertzberg. Before the playoffs Hertzberg was playing along side Louis Leblanc and Trevor Parkes. The line was dynamite but unfortunately for Montreal it never saw life in the post-season. Had Hertzberg played he may have been the difference the team needed to win a game or two, which would have changed the series.
The team had a few other injuries. Most notably to rookie forward J-C Laflamme and veteran forward Philippe Fontaine.
All in all, this team will be remembered as a great team on paper, one that enjoyed a strong regular season but one that could never get it together during the playoffs. It really is too bad. But it is what it is.
Get ready for the re-build.
From Langkowi, Malaysia - I'm out!