By Kevin Chambers
The QMJHL’s Maritimes Division should be very competitive with Halifax and Moncton looking to become potential contenders for the league title. Bathurst could be considered a dark horse team that could make some noise with the right moves. Meanwhile Saint John, Cape Breton, and PEI should be in a close battle for the final three positions in the division.
Here is a brief breakdown of the six teams that make up the Telus Maritimes Division.
Saint John Sea Dogs
After a historic three-year run that included a Memorial Cup, two President’s Cup Trophies, and three regular season titles and saw the Sea Dogs win 50+ games in each season, Saint John will enter “a transition period” as described by Head Coach Mike Kelly. Saint John will look to their veteran players to guide the latest crop of young talent as the Sea Dogs will welcome 11 new faces to the franchise including several rookies, new import players, and a couple free agents out of Ontario.
The Sea Dogs will rely heavily on star forward and current team captain Jonathan Huberdeau to help generate the bulk of the offence. Also expected to provide a spark on offence will be local fan favourite Ryan Tesink and second year forward Oliver Cooper. Kevin Gagne will also be a key in generating offence for this young hockey team. The 8th overall selection in the 2012 QMJHL draft, Matthew Highmore, will begin the campaign on the injured list after having shoulder surgery late last season.
Saint John’s defence will need overage defensemen Kevin Gagne and Pierre Durepos to lead the new crop of defenders as the only returning defensemen from last season’s run to a championship. The Sea Dogs’ 11th overall selection in the 2012 entry draft, Olivier Leblanc, has looked very good during the pre-season and in his first couple of games during the regular season. Leblanc certainly appears ready for the challenge at the QMJHL level.
Last season’s backup goaltender, Sebastien Auger, will take over the reigns as the teams new starting netminder. Auger is expected to see the bulk of the load and will have every chance to shine as he will likely see plenty of action this season. 17-year old rookie Alex Fournier will start the year as Auger’s backup and should begin to see more and more starts as the season moves along.
After losing last season in six tough games to the Rimouski Oceanic in the semi-finals, the Halifax Mooseheads enter this season as one of the early favourites to win the President’s Cup Trophy. The experience gained from last season’s run will help motivate this still young Mooseheads team and propel them to even greater heights.
There is no lack of offence in a deep group of forwards led by two second year players in Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. Also, adding some scoring punch will be Martin Frk who has an absolute cannon of a shot that goaltenders will struggle to see let alone stop. There are lots of options for Halifax and this team should have no trouble scoring goals.
Halifax does have some solid defensive minded defensemen but the one question when it comes to their defence might be whether they have a legitimate power play QB. Konrad Abelthauser will be leaned on heavily in this area, but look for the Moose to add another quality puck moving defenseman during the next trade period over the Christmas break.
Second year goaltender Zachary Fucale has not missed a beat over the summer, backstopping Team Canada to a gold medal at the Under-18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament. Fucale will look to continue to build on his success from last season and should provide some solid goaltending for the Mooseheads.
The Moncton Wildcats will be looking to bounce back after being swept in the 1st round at the hands of the Halifax Mooseheads and being outscored 22-8. The Wildcats certainly have plenty of dangerous weapons and will be looking to try and topple the favoured Mooseheads this time around.
Like Halifax, Moncton appears to have plenty of offensive weapons at their disposal right now beginning with the newly appointed co-captains Alex and Allain Saulnier along with two newly added and very skilled Russians Ivan Barbashev and Dmitri Jaskin. Moncton also added Yannick Veilleux from Shawinigan as part of the Brandon Gormley trade. The Wildcats should have no trouble putting pucks in the net with this dangerous set of offensive players.
Once again the Wildcats are quite similar to the Mooseheads when it comes to their defensemen – they are defensive minded defensemen. Moncton does have some quality defenders to choose from and James Melindy should be able to ramp up the offence and contribute. Melindy certainly has the potential to be a big time player for his team and will be counted on in just about every key situation.
Another piece to the Brandon Gormley trade will be Moncton’s starting goaltender. Alex Dubeau, who was Shawinigan’s backup to Gabriel Girard in last season’s Memorial Cup, will look to take advantage of playing on a very good Moncton team and earn his chance to shine.
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan will look to improve on their 1st round exit from last year’s playoffs at the hands of the underrated Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Should the Titan expect to make some noise this season they will need to fill a few key holes to try to keep pace with Halifax and Moncton. One would question whether the Titan should make a run this season, but it will be their last chance with star player Zach O’Brien so they might be tempted.
Much like last season the Titan certainly have some high end offensive minded players in Zach O’Brien, Matthew Bissonnette, Christophe Lalancette, and newcomer Brandon Hynes. Patrik Zdrahal will hope to build off his impressive pre-season numbers. The Titan once again should have little trouble scoring goals but the question will be how much depth they have up front.
The Titan’s defence will be an area of concern if they want to have any chance of competing against the league’s top teams for a championship. They simply lack experience at the QMJHL level overall and they will be in need of a power play QB as currently they lack one. To compete with the top team’s the Titan will have to add at least two quality defensemen.
Goaltending will be another question mark this season as the Titan will go with second year goaltender Jacob Brennan. Brennan has the potential to be a very good goaltender in the near future, but at this point he’s a question mark for the Titan. He will likely carry the bulk of the load. Mason McDonald dropped in the QMJHL draft as some scouts had him ranked as the best goaltender available. So with two young goaltenders the Titan do have options if they decide to either move a goaltender or keep both.
The PEI Rocket will enter their final season as the 'Rocket' as the team has announced they will change their name to the 'PEI Islanders' beginning next season. As the Rocket continue to try to build a legitimate contending team the hope is that the new name and look will breathe new life into a franchise that has struggled to find its own identity. The team is in good hands with Gordie Dwyer as he looks to put his stamp on this squad.
On offence the team will look to a familiar face in Ben Duffy along with a supporting cast that includes Matej Beran and Josh Currie. The Rocket will also be looking for their 2nd overall pick in the 2012 QMJHL draft, Alexis Pepin, to contribute to their offence after having a very good pre-season. Pepin picked up his first Q league point in his first regular season game. Yan Pavel Laplante and the Rocket were dealt a tough blow when the promising young forward was injured at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament this past summer, suffering a serious shoulder injury and will likely be out until at least January.
On defence the Rocket picked up overager Alex Micallef and the feeling is he will contribute both offensively and defensively. Ryan Graves continues to improve and will be looked upon to be a key contributor this season as a 17-year old.
Goaltending for the Rocket gives them options with two capable netminders in Maxime Lagace and Antoine Bibeau. Both goaltenders have shown at times that they can be very good at this level and they do have potential but need to become more consistent. Expect these two to split the duties until one steps up and shows he’s ready to take the job.
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles will continue to build their team as it begins to take shape. The Eagles should continue to improve their record this season and their fans should start to see the results in all areas of the ice.
On the offensive side of things the Eagles will look to 18-year old William Carrier who burst onto the scene last season recording 70 points and was often dangerous each time he stepped on the ice. This kid appears to have a bright future in the sport. Alexander Lavoie will be looked upon to take some of the load off of Carrier. Rookie forward and 3rd overall pick Clarke Bishop will look to get plenty of ice time as the 16-year old breaks into the league.
The Cape Breton defence looks very good and they might just be the best one-through-six in the Maritimes Division. When you look at a defence that includes Justin Hache, Loic Leduc, Jonathan Oligny, Simon Desmarais, veteran Stephen Woodworth, and 2011 12th overall pick JS Deslauriers as your top six, you have to feel good about the ability to take care of things of the defensive side.
Goaltending duties will belong to Philippe Trudeau until David Honzik returns from an injury. Honzik is not expected to miss a lot of time and should be excited for a new opportunity after struggling at times with Victoriaville. As Sea Dog fans have witnessed in the past, Honzik has the potential to be a very good goaltender in this league.
As Sea Dog fans, we begin a new chapter this season, but with it comes the excitement of seeing new faces and developing new favourites as our veteran players move on to other walks of life. The transition begins this season, but the future is bright and you can see it on the ice. I had the chance to speak to one scout who was very impressed with Saint John’s drafting at the 2012 QMJHL Entry Draft and, after watching the on-ice product, it’s a safe bet to say he was right. Let’s hope everyone continues to support these kids and get to the games and show the players we are behind them!