February 18, 2008 Monday – EXHIBITION GAME 10:15am vs. Bratislava
Just when you think you've seen a fast paced game, you then meet up with Bratislava – the team from Slovakia. The Quebec Blue Jackets did not know who their opponent would be until just after arriving at the Rejean Lemelin Arena this morning. Game time came quickly, pins were exchanged and it was "ready or not – here they come." Bratislava, one of the teams expected to advance far in the tournament, looked strong in winning their first tournament game 7-4 over a very good team from Long Island.
Drop of the puck and Bratislava started quickly being relentless on their first three shifts but the stellar play of Quebec Blue Jackets goalie Henry Dill kept the score 0-0. Once the Quebec Blue Jackets got a taste of the action, they calmed down and started to show what they are capable of doing. After some quality back and forth action, Julian Ebner broke loose and beat the Bratislava defense and goalie for the first goal of the game. The first period ended 1-0.
The Bratislava team picked up their intensity in the second period. They worked the back of the net more than any team the Quebec Blue Jackets have seen and their play resulted in a goal to tie the score 1-1 after two periods.
The third period started with the Quebec Blue Jackets on a power play. As the team kept the pressure on the Bratislava goalie, the Bratislava team decided to send a player to the red line even though they were shorthanded. A long rebound and a quick outlet pass played right into the Slovaks strategy and they scored on a break-away goal to make it 2-1, Bratislava.
Coach Cassels and Coach Cristofoli quickly regrouped the Quebec Blue Jackets and from that point on the team played as well as they have all year. The defense shut down the Bratislava team and the Quebec offense began being aggressive and sharp. With 9:37 left in the game, Connor McDonald continued his phenomenal play and scored a shorthanded goal with an assist to Cole Cassels to tie the score 2–2. Then with 4:39 left in the game, Julian Ebner was at it again. Ebner made a beautiful move and undressed the Bratislava goalie and buried the puck in the net for a 3-2 Quebec Blue Jackets lead.
The Quebec Blue Jackets then played great fundamental hockey and were able to close out the game for an emotional 3-2 win.
February 18, 2008 Monday EXHIBITION GAME 2 p.m. vs. Middlesex
After the emotional and physical game in the morning against Bratislava, the Quebec Blue Jackets had only a couple hours to eat lunch and prepare for their afternoon game against the Middlesex Islanders. The Islanders, who won their first round tournament game, came out aggressive and caught the Quebec Blue Jackets on their heels. Just 60 seconds into the game, the Quebec Blue Jackets found themselves on the short end of a 5-on -3 power play. However, with some stellar defensive effort from the Quebec Blue Jackets, especially from Mitch Knapp and some great goaltending from Ryan Wickiser, the Quebec Blue Jackets weathered the storm. The rest of the period saw both teams play somewhat cautious with neither team getting great scoring chances. The period ended 0–0.
The second period started much like the first period ended. The Quebec Blue Jackets defense played solid. The offense, playing without forward Cam Cristofoli who hurt his wrist in an earlier game, dug in. Gianni Evangelisti and Kiefer Sherwood stepped up with huge back check and fore-check duties and somewhat frustrated the Islanders offense. Equally frustrating to the Quebec Blue Jackets was the play of the Middlesex Islander goalie who made some unbelievable saves. The second period ended 0-0.
As the third period started, you could see fatigue had set in for the Quebec Blue Jackets, who no doubt started to feel the effects of playing a lot of hockey in a short period of time. The Islanders peppered goalie Ryan Wickiser early and often to start the period but Wick made save after save. Finally, with 11:09 left in the game the Islanders pressure broke through and scored the game's first goal. After the goal, the Islanders kept coming strong and scored again with 8:13 left to go making it a 2-0 game.
At this point in the game, the Quebec Blue Jackets looked spent and could have folded but they reached deep and picked up the intensity. They were not ready to give up. The Quebec Blue Jackets mounted strong aggressive pressure and with about 6:30 to go, Alec Organ unloaded a rocket from the point that somehow the Islander goalie kept out of the net. Then with 4:57 in the game, Julian Ebner and John Urbanic worked hard down low to set up Conner McDonald. McDonald got the puck just inside the hash mark on the faceoff circle to the goalies left and blasted a shot that knocked the water bottle off to make it 2-1. The Quebec Blue Jackets were back in the game. The rest of the game saw the action played in the Islanders defensive zone. The Quebec Blue Jackets had the Islanders reeling and with about 60 seconds left the Quebec Blue Jackets pulled their goalie and continued to fire shot after shot at the Islanders net right down to the final horn.
From a spectators point of view, it looked like the Quebec Blue Jackets were the better team but the reality is they ran into some great goaltending and ended up on the short end of a 2-1 score.
Next up is a return to tournament action on Tuesday where the Quebec Blue Jackets will be up against a very formidable foe in the Colorado Thunderbirds.