Thursday, May 4, 2017

Five things to follow in the QMJHL Final

It's finally here.

The 2017 President Cup Final begins Friday night at Harbour Station with the Saint John Sea Dogs hosting the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. The Sea Dogs were built to make this series, and now here they are. They have lived up to expectations so far this post-season and are now just four wins shy of winning a championship.

This is the Sea Dogs' fourth trip to the President Cup Final and first since 2012. This is the Armada's first time here. Both franchises entered the league together in 2005.

As we head into the series, here are five things to watch out for.

1. Can the Sea Dogs finish off the Armada?
The Armada have been a pesky team for Maritimes Division clubs this post-season. Blainville-Boisbriand was down 3-1 in their second round series against Bathurst but strung together three straight wins to take the series in seven. In the third round, they fell 3-0 to Charlottetown in Game 1 before winning four straight to take the series in five. To put it simply, this team doesn't die easily (if at all?), which could make for a long series.

2. A great goaltending battle
Even during the Sea Dogs' glory days, goaltending was never one of the team's strongest points. Weakness probably isn't the best term, but Marco Cousineau, Jacob DeSerres and Mathieu Corbeil were not considered to be among the elitist of elite QMJHL goaltenders. But that changed this year with the acquisition of one of the league'e best in Callum Booth, who has been spectacular. This sets up a great goaltending battle between Booth (12-1-1, 1.85, .912) and Samuel Montembeault (12-2-0, 1.95, .923), both of whom have the ability to steal games.

3. Tale of two power plays
Saint John's power play has not been good this post-season (15.4%, with just eight goals). Blainville-Boisbriand's has been quite good, running at 32.8% (20 goals). That could certainly play a factor in the series, or perhaps not. I don't know. The Sea Dogs have been quite good on the penalty kill (88.5%) though, but they will no doubt try and take fewer bad penalties this round than the last.

4. Will there be buzz in the BLB region?
This could be a huge series for the Armada off the ice. With the team getting a new neighbour (close enough) in the AHL's Laval Rocket next season, this could be a significant series for the Armada in terms of drawing interest. They have averaged 2,513 fans per game through the first three rounds. There will no doubt be plenty of Sea Dogs friends and family in the crowd.

5. Soak it in
For many of you, you'll be watching the Sea Dogs play in their fourth league final in eight seasons. That is simply not a thing you are supposed to be able to do in junior hockey. Enjoy this series, because this kind of crazy run is probably never going to happen again (*sad but realistic emoji*).

6. (Bonus) Will the Fog Devils magically return????
Just let me dream.

Armada Players to Watch
Samuel Montembeault - as mentioned above, he's a very good goaltender.

Alex Barre-Boulet - leads the league in playoff scoring (14 goals, 15 assists, 29 points in 16 games).

Pierre-Luc Dubois - the third overall pick in last year's NHL Draft, Dubois, who played with Julien Gauthier, Mathieu Joseph and Thomas Chabot on Team Canada, is third in playoff scoring (eight goals, 13 assists, 21 points in 15 games).

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