David Beaudoin The Hockey Writers
QMJHL Semifinals Predictions : No Upsets in Sight
The QMJHL Quarterfinals round ended with a heroic performance by Chicoutimi’s Olivier Galipeau in Game 7 against the defending champions Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Not only did he tie the game at three goals apiece with 1:11 left in regulation (shorthanded), but he also scored the game-winning goal in overtime to send home the 2,741 fans at Iamgold arena with a bittersweet feeling.
Another series reached a seventh and decisive game, but there wasn’t nearly as much drama as the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada crushed the Acadie-Bathurst Titan by a 7-1 score, capping a great 1-3 series comeback for Joel Bouchard’s squad.
Each Semifinals series features one team that has swept its first two opponents (Saint John and Charlottetown) against a team that swept its first round series but needed seven games to get past the second round (Blainville-Boisbriand and Chicoutimi). All four teams still standing ranked among the top six since January 10th:
- Saint John Sea Dogs 23-3-2 (.857 win percentage)
- Charlottetown Islanders 22-5-2 (.793 win percentage)
- Acadie-Bathurst Titan 18-6-2 (.731 win percentage)
- Blainville-Boisbriand Armada 20-8-0 (.714 win percentage)
- Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 19-8-1 (.696 win percentage)
- Chicoutimi Saguenéens 18-9-2 (.655 win percentage)
Without further ado, let’s analyze each series in more details:
Saint John Sea Dogs (#1) versus Chicoutimi Saguenéens (#8)
SEASON SERIES: 2-0-0 for Saint John
KEY PLAYERS: The Sea Dogs have a very strong and deep group of players. Their lineup features 10 guys that were drafted by NHL teams: forwards Mathieu Joseph (Tampa Bay), Julien Gauthier (Carolina), Spencer Smallman (Carolina), Bokondji Imama (Tampa Bay), Samuel Dove-McFalls (Philadelphia) and Nathan Noel (Chicago), defencemen Thomas Chabot (Ottawa), Jakub Zboril (Boston) and Simon Bourque (Montreal), as well as goalie Callum Booth (Carolina). To top it all off, their regular season leading scorer, Matthew Highmore, signed a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks last March.
They have another major threat offensively in 16-year-old phenomenon Joe Veleno who recorded 40 points in just 45 regular season games this season (after a great rookie season as a 15-year-old with 43 points in 62 matches).
Callum Booth led the league in save percentage (.911) this season. He was part of the Quebec Remparts when they were hosting the 2015 Memorial Cup, albeit as a backup to Zachary Fucale.
It wasn’t clear whether the Saguenéens were going to act as buyers or sellers over the holidays. They opted to go all-in and the moves have paid off so far. They were able to grab Joey Ratelle who finished as the seventh-best goal scorer in the QMJHL. Chicoutimi also obtained defenceman Olivier Galipeau who literally saved their season with his great performance in the decisive game against the Huskies. Finally, they got the Klima brothers (Kelly and Kevin), sons of former NHLer Petr Klima who had a great career mostly with the Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings. The siblings produced close to one point per game with Moncton, but haven’t been close to that kind of production since joining Chicoutimi (both averaged less than 0.5 point per game during the regular season).
Other than Ratelle and the Klima brothers, the Sags offence relies a lot on Nicolas Roy, a former first overall pick in the QMJHL (drafted by Carolina in the fourth round in 2015). He was a bit of a disappointment early on in his junior career, but has developed into a very strong player. He can be physical with his 6’4’’ and 209-pound body. Dmitry Zhukenov has averaged one point per game since joining the league last year (also a fourth round pick in the NHL).
At the blue line Frédéric Allard and Olivier Galipeau lead the charge for the Sags. Goalie Julio Billia can steal games from time to time, although he hasn’t had his best season in 2016-17.
ANALYSIS: On one hand, Saint John finished second both in terms of goals scored and goals allowed this season. On the other hand, you’ve got Chicoutimi whose offense finished 15th out of 18 teams while they ranked fifth in goals against. As impressive as the Sags have been so far in the playoffs (sweeping Victoriaville was a surprise and eliminating the second seed Rouyn-Noranda was even more surprising), they are facing an incredibly tough task against a powerhouse like Saint John. Goaltender Julio Billia, 20, will have to do miracles for Chicoutimi to have a chance in this series. His save percentage had been improving every year since his rookie campaign, but unexpectedly dropped to his 17-year-old season with a disappointing .894 figure this season.
Do you want to know how dominant Saint John is? If you exclude the last two regular season games (in which they rested several players), the Sea Dogs have recorded at least one point in 23 out of their 24 games since January 17th. During the first two rounds of the postseason, Saint John has outscored their opponents 42 to 14. That includes a 2-1 overtime win in which they outshot Val-d’Or 68-14 (hats off to the Foreurs goalie Etienne Montpetit for such an outstanding performance!).
The Sea Dogs are obviously well-rested, while the Sags are coming off an exhausting seven-game series that involved quite a bit of traveling. Both meetings between these two teams were won by the Sea Dogs but have been pretty close: 1-0 and 4-2 (including an empty-net goal). Still, I think Saint John will be too much to handle for the Sags.
PREDICTION: Saint John in 4
Charlottetown Islanders (#4) versus Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (#5)
SEASON SERIES: 2-0-0 for Charlottetown
KEY PLAYERS: The Armada made two key acquisitions at the trade deadline by getting the third overall pick from last year’s NHL draft (Columbus), Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alex Barré-Boulet who finished 11th in the QMJHL in points. These two guys led the team in scoring in the regular season and they also represent their top two scorers so far in the playoffs. Blainville-Boisbriand will need contribution from other guys like Alexandre Alain, Joel Teasdale and Connor Bramwell. After scoring 13 goals in the regular season, Yvan Mongo has already netted six in the postseason!
Goalie Samuel Montembeault will need to be on top of his game in order to give his team a chance to win against such a high-octane offense. His numbers have been incredible thus far in the postseason: a 1.46 GAA to go along a .939 save percentage. Considering he has played some games against a good offense from Acadie-Bathurst, these numbers are even greater.
Charlottetown has two players averaging close to two points a game: Daniel Sprong and Filip Chlapik are quite deadly around the net. 20-year old Kameron Kielly isn’t bad either as shown by his 74 points this year.
The Islanders made a plethora of trades in an attempt to shake their playoff woes. Prior to this season, the franchise had won three series’ and lost 14! Some people criticized the strategy by arguing it might be difficult for the players to get used to each other. However, the moves had an immediate positive impact.
They obtained forwards François Beauchemin (97 points in 69 games), Alex Dostie (71 points in 63 games) and Adam Marsh (34 points in 41 games). They also solidified their blue line with Carl Neill and Nicolas Meloche. Along with Guillaume Brisebois and Pierre-Olivier Joseph, they have a great top-4 defencemen. Goalie Mark Grametbauer (also acquired via a trade) did not have a great season, but his 1.86 goals against average in the postseason is great (.936 save percentage).
ANALYSIS: The Armada have yet to score a single goal against the Islanders this season since both meetings ended with identical 3-0 scores. Despite the many trades, it didn’t take long to build chemistry for Charlottetown. They went through a 20-3-1 stretch starting Jan. 11 before ending the season with a 2-2-1 record over their last five regular season games.
Blainville-Boisbriand did not finish the season with a splash, especially from an offensive standpoint. As a matter of fact, they scored 32 goals over their last 12 contests (2.7 goals per game). They finished 11th in goals scored, but allowed the fewest goals in the league this season. Meanwhile, Charlottetown scored the most goals in the QMJHL with a whopping 303 (16 more than any other team). They weren’t bad defensively as shown by their sixth-ranked defence in terms of goals against.
Sweeping Baie-Comeau in the first round wasn’t a big surprise for the Islanders, but winning the series 4-0 against a fairly strong Cape Breton squad was a good accomplishment. Meanwhile, after sweeping Drummondville in the first round, the Armada struggled against the Titan by digging themselves into a 1-3 series hole. However, they outscored their opponents 16 to 3 over the final three games of the series to overcome the deficit.
You have probably heard several times the famous quote “defense wins championships”. I have always found that quote to be false in junior hockey, where having great firepower offensively has been a key factor to make a strong push for the President’s Cup. I don’t believe Blainville-Boisbriand will be able to keep up with the many Islanders weapons.
PREDICTION: Charlottetown in 5
QMJHL Playoffs Predictions: Semifinals (Le Journal de Québec – in French)
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