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Prospects Square Off In QMJHL Final

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets
Remember how we mentioned Blue Jackets prospects playing for championships during the junior hockey playoff season? Beginning Friday night, two potential pieces of the future in Columbus will literally go head-to-head for a coveted berth in the MasterCard Memorial Cup.

It’s the last hurdle separating the final two remaining clubs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) from junior hockey’s biggest tournament. The Saint John Sea Dogs are locked in for a best-of-seven series against Rimouski Oceanic, with Game 1 set for an 8 p.m. puck drop at Harbour Station.

Head coach Gerard Gallant’s club advanced to the President’s Cup final after defeating the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in five games over the weekend. Blue Jackets prospect Mathieu Corbeil has been the mainstay in net for Saint John the whole way through, and was excellent in making 38 saves in the series-clinching victory.

This is the third consecutive berth in the President’s Cup series for Saint John.

“I was just really happy to get the win,” Corbeil told Sea Dogs TV. “I don’t really look at my games and see which one was the best. I just tried to come out and give the best effort that I can and be there for the guys, and try to get the ‘W.’

“We’ve had trouble against them this season. We’re happy to finish it this early, have a couple days off and get back at it and go to the finals and perform well.”

The Sea Dogs are the defending Memorial Cup champions and enter the series with a ton of momentum. They blazed through the QMJHL regular season with 50 wins in 68 games, holding a six-point cushion over second-place Shawinigan. Although Shawinigan was bounced in the semifinal round, the Cataractes are guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup final because they are hosting the tournament.

Corbeil is shining in his first full year as the starting goaltender: he posted a record of 37-10-1 in the regular season with a 2.38 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. He leads the QMJHL playoffs in wins (12) and owns the second-best goals-against (2.31) in 13 games.

“(Chicoutimi) is a really good team, and obviously they beat Shawinigan so they’re playing really well,” Gallant told Sea Dogs TV after eliminating the Sagueneens. “They’re not as talented as we are, but they competed and played a good series. It’s a good test for us and we’ll have to get better.”

The Sea Dogs are facing a Rimouski club that knocked off the Halifax Mooseheads in dramatic fashion just a few days ago. Robbie DeFulviis scored his third goal of the 2012 playoffs at 8:02 of overtime to send Oceanic into the President’s Cup final for the first time in seven years.

It was a stunning win for Rimouski, who many thought would surely be heading back home for a Game 7 this week. That was not the case, and head coach Serge Beausoleil continues to push all the right buttons for a team that has struggled with postseason success in recent years.

In the 17-year history of the Rimouski franchise, this will be the club’s fourth appearance in the final.

Blue Jackets prospect Petr Straka has provided solid depth at the forward position for Oceanic throughout the season, and the 19-year-old winger has had a tremendous postseason. He’s scoring at over a point-per-game clip with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 17 playoff games in just his second exposure to postseason play.

Here’s a take on Straka’s Game 5 performance courtesy of Neate Sager, editor of Yahoo! Sports’ “Buzzing The Net” junior hockey blog:

“In front of a national TV audience, the former Quebec league rookie of the year counted four points (one goal, three assists), including back-to-back primary assists in the opening period when (Rimouski) took advantage of Halifax's sleepwalking.

Straka, 19, who's a Columbus Blue Jackets fifth-rounder, set up the 2-0 goal with a well-threaded centring pass that linemate Jean-François Plante wired into the net. Straka set up Scott Oke later in the frame and then got on the scoresheet twice more in the second period with another primary assist and his seventh goal of the playoffs.

It was the Mooseheads' worst playoff loss since a 12-3 setback in March 1998 that was coincidentally also against Rimouski. The 'Nics will have to wrap up the series on the road with Halifax due to host Game 6 and Game 7 (if required), but they have already won there twice during the series. The junior hockey-following portion of the country saw why Rimouski is a tough team.”


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