Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stretch Run Storylines

By Andrew McGilligan
SN Staff

With about 10 games remaining in the regular season for most teams, there’s still a lot to be decided in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, not the least of which is the battle for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

With this in mind, here are some of the story lines to follow in the home stretch.

The race for first place is going to be a heated one with the Sea Dogs and Shawinigan Cataractes battling for every point. With 10 games remaining, Saint John sits in first-place by a single point making the Mar. 11 matchup in Shawinigan a huge showdown.

Not only is the Jean Rougeau trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs on the line, but a shot at history for Saint John. If the Port City squad captures the regular season crown, the Sea Dogs would be the first team in QMJHL history to win three Rougeau trophies in a row.

It would be tough to argue that Danick Gauthier has not been the Sea Dogs MVP his season. His breakout totals of 40-29-69 have been a revelation for the squad, especially since he’s holding down one of three coveted 20-year-old spots.

If he can notch seven goals in the next 10 games, he will surpass Mike Hoffman’s team record of 46 goals in a season. He’s currently three behind Jonathan Huberdeau for second spot as Huberdeau fired home 43 goals last season.

It will be interesting to see where super rookie Nathan MacKinnon finishes the year. While he won’t put up the first-year numbers of his fellow Nova Scotian Sidney Crosby (135 points in his Q rookie campaign), MacKinnon has not disappointed notching 66 points in just 48 games.

He’s averaging 1.37 points per game. League leader Yanni Gourde of the Victoriaville Tigres has a pace of about 1.7 while the likely no. 2 pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft Mikhail Grigorenko is averaging 1.48 points per game.

MacKinnon has also stepped up his game when facing off against the defending Memorial Cup champions. In five games against Saint John, MacKinnon has four goals and one assist.

The Mooseheads forward has been fun to watch this season and expectations will only grow for him and the Halifax squad to make a serious run at a league title next season after getting some playoff experience this year.

While Gourde is notching 1.7 points per game and leading the league in scoring, you have to wonder what the full season numbers would have looked like for Huberdeau. A foot injury, world junior tournament and Florida Panthers training camp sidelined him for a lot of the regular season. However, when he’s been in the lineup, he’s been extremely productive.

Huberdeau has 56 points in 27 games this season for a pace of 2.07 points-per-game. At that pace, over a full season, he would have shattered his club record of 105 points set last year.

It’s possible the Acadie-Bathust Titan could end up with three 100-point scorers this season. Titan fans have been treated to arguably the top line in the league this season in the form of Zach O’Brien, Sebastien Trudeau and Matthew Bissonnette. It’s likely O’Brien and Trudeau will reach the 100-point plateau while Bissonnette will have to go on a late tear to make it. No matter the result, the three have been electrifying this season, especially O’Brien who sits in second place in Q scoring behind Gourde, but first in goal scoring with 47.

Speaking of O’Brien…..

The most intriguing stat on the St. John’s product might be in the penalty minutes category. So far he’s racked up 0 PIM. I’ll repeat that, ZERO.

Considering how much ice time he logs for the Titan, the number is nothing short of amazing. It gets even more impressive when you consider his career PIM totals. In 116 games, O’Brien has ZERO penalty minutes.

Seriously the guy has never been to the penalty box.

I can’t imagine another player in the history of the league to put up that number. It’s so impressive, the crew from Sportsnet made mention of it during the broadcast of the Sea Dogs/Remparts broadcast. 

In a previous column I mentioned the lack of good nicknames on the Saint John Sea Dogs, at least ones I’ve heard. I did receive a few suggestions from Sea Dogs marketing/communications manager Nathan White.

He said he’s been calling Tomas Jurco ‘The Slick Slovakian’ since last season as well as ‘Tommy Toe-Drag.’ As for Stephen McAulay, White said his nickname is ‘Bird Man.’

Based on points alone, Gourde has to be one of the frontrunners along with the aforementioned O’Brien for the league’s top honour. After those two, the field appears wide open. From a Sea Dogs perspective, Gauthier’s breakout performance has been impressive as has netminders Mathieu Corbeil’s. The Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick is one shutout shy of tying the league record held by a few others including Roberto Luongo. Both Gauthier and Corbeil were instrumental in keeping the Sea Dogs on track when so many players were missing due to injury, NHL training camps and world junior play.

Some dark horses could be rookies Grigorenko and MacKinnon. This will probably be the only time either of these two are referred to as dark horses, but they’re dynamic players who can dominate games when they’re in the lineup.

Photo Credit: Marc Hewnood/Station Nation


  1. I wouldn't be too surprised to see Matej Beran win Rookie of the Year.

    Grigorenko and MacKinnon met their expectations, but Beran exceeded his. No one expected him to have the kind of season that he had.

    1. The goaltender Fucale has to get serious consideration for the Rookie award.