Friday, September 24, 2010

KNOW THE ENEMY: Q&A with Hockey Points' Nick

Instead of rambling on about some obscure stat we accidently stumbled across for a pre-game, we’ve decided to try and inform Saint John Sea Dogs fans more on the opposing team. So, what better way to do this then catching up with followers of that particular team.

In the first of what we hope are many to come, Station Nation presents “know the enemy.”

For the first edition, I caught up with Nick from the Montreal Junior blog Hockey Points. Having been a season ticket holder since the Junior arrived on the Montreal scene in 2008, Nick knows his stuff. He does a great job over Hockey Points on keeping readers informed with in depth information. It’s defiantly worth checking out.

The Junior are going to be a strong team this year and most pre-season predictions have them battling it out with Saint John for top spot in the league. The Sea Dogs and Junior meet tonight at the Verdun Auditorium at 8:05pm.

Here are some of Nick’s thoughts about the Junior.

Station Nation: The Hockey News selected the Montreal Junior to finish second overall in the QMJHL this season. Would you say that is a fairly accurate prediction?

Nick: THN's rankings are fairly accurate. Truth be told, on paper, the Juniors are good enough to finish 1st overall. But any good team needs good chemistry, something the Juniors have not yet had the opportunity to display due to 7 of their players attending NHL training camps. I see them finishing 1st in the Telus West Division and anywhere from 1st to 4th overall in the league.

SN: What, in your view, will be the Junior’s strengths and weaknesses this year?

Nick: Strength: Defense. With Roussel, Landry, Meilleur and Ouellet the Juniors could have the best top four defenseman unit in the league. Narbonne, Provost, Micallef and Belanger provide the team with depth at the position with Narbonne specifically being the one to watch. He has very strong decision making skills.

Weakness: Penalties. Although this may sound strange, the Juniors may find themselves in the penalty box more than needed. Why is that? Well let's just say it starts with Louis Leblanc. Physically, he's a target for other teams and because there's no Mike Thomas type player on Montreal 's roster, every player feels responsible to defend Leblanc. We saw this during the pre-season. A defenseman punches Leblanc after the whistle and then two Montreal players rush that defenseman, gloves dropped. Unless the Juniors get their fists under control or acquire a goon, this problem could lead to the team taking too many unnecessary penalties at the wrong times.

SN: Can Louis Leblanc live up to expectations while playing in the city of the team that drafted him? In what you have seen of him this season, can he thrive in the Canadian Hockey League?

Nick: Leblanc has the talent and drive to score 100+ points in 55-60 games (he'll probably miss anywhere from 8-13 season games due to his participation at the Habs camp this fall and most probably Canada's National Junior Team this winter). Somewhat surprisingly, he seems comfortable facing the challenge of playing in the city of Montreal . He knows the spotlight will be on him all season long. My assumption is that after playing in a few pre-season games with the Habs, Leblanc will fee even more at ease playing in the Q. He already has 5 points in 2 games played under his belt.

SN: Obviously, all the media attention is on Louis Leblanc. But who else should opposing fans watch out for when their team plays Montreal ?

Nick: Aside from Leblanc, there's plenty of underrated talent on Montreal ’s team this year. The Juniors have 6 additional NHL affiliated players; RW, Philippe Lefebvre (MTL), C, Louis-Marc Aurby (DET), RW, Trevor Parkes (DET), D, Charles-Olivier Roussel (NAS), D, Charles Landry (TBL) and G, Jean-Francois Berube (LAK). But when you look even deeper, there's more. If you're looking at 20 year old players; Jeremy Gouchie (C), Nicolas Chouinard (RW) and Francis Meilleur (D) are up there as one of the best groups of 20 year olds in the league. The duet of European players is average at the very least; C, Denis Kindl and LW, Janos Hari. In terms of draft eligible players, defenseman Xavier Ouellet is expected to have a huge season and should be drafted during the first 3 rounds of next June's NHL entry draft. My personal favourite unsung heroes on the team are defenseman Jonathan Narbonne and forward David Rose. Narbonne is a smart player who makes simple and decisions about 99% of the time. He’s a very reliable player. Rose provides the Juniors with additional offensive depth. He has terrific hands and has improved his skating versus last season, making him a valuable player on this team. During his first 4 games Rose registered 5 points.

SN: The Sea Dogs and St. John’s Fog Devils entered the league together in 2005-06 as expansion teams. In 2008-09, the Foggies played their first season in Verdun as the Montreal Junior. A number of junior teams have failed in the Montreal market, but the Junior appear to be staying healthy. What is it that the Junior are doing – or need to do - to market the team and continue to be successful off the ice?

Nick: Since day 1, the Juniors have focused on reaching out to the community. Two and a half years later, this hasn't changed. They are very active with a large number of minor hockey associations and school boards. The kids attend the games and participate while they’re at the arena. There isn't an intermission that goes by without a "mini match" or "relay race" which includes youngsters buzzing around the ice. This is what they'll need to keep as a strong foundation in order to grow long term. In terms of growth potential, the attendance lacks in the 18-35 age demographic. Many people in this age group are too busy jumping on and off of the Montreal Canadiens' bandwagon. Don't get me started....

SN: Yahoo! Sports recently named the Verdun Auditorium one of the five worst rinks in the CHL. From a fans perspective, what is it that is so bad about the arena? Also, the Sea Dogs have never won a game there, is it a difficult building to play in for opposing teams?

Nick: Well, everything in the article is true however I personally love the Auditorium and wouldn't rank it as a bottom 5 out of 60 CHL rinks. It was built in 1936, I believe, and is one of the remaining classic barn type arenas in Montreal . There's something refreshing about sitting in that rink, sipping on a beer and watch the Juniors play. The team and city has dumped a good amount of cash into the building since moving there in 2008. There are reports of the Juniors eventually building a new home elsewhere in Montreal . You get over the double seat benches pretty fast and the outside of the building isn't something you notice during the games.

(Ed. Note: We’d like to thank Nick for taking the time to answer our questions.)

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