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Goalie Bibeau shines for Val-d'Or at Memorial Cup

by Ed Klajman

LONDON, Ontario – Antoine Bibeau didn't make it onto NHL Central Scouting's goalie rankings in the middle of last season.

He was listed as the ninth-ranked netminder when the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted him in the sixth round (No. 172) in the 2013 NHL Draft.

But today, junior hockey's hottest goalie no longer needs to worry about being overlooked.

In leading the Val-d'Or Foreurs to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title with an upset over the high-powered Baie-Comeau Drakkar, Bibeau faced an average of 40 shots per game in the last four contests of the seven-game series. After that onslaught, Bibeau topped his own high playoff standards in the opening game of the Memorial Cup championship.

Facing the tournament host London Knights on Friday, he turned aside 51 shots. His team needed every one of those saves to eke out a 1-0 win and silence more than 8,500 fans against a Knights team that scored 316 times during the Ontario Hockey League regular season.

"It's not every day you get a chance to make 51 saves and get a shutout," the Victoriaville native said. "My confidence is growing. I was really confident in the last couple of weeks in the playoffs and I was confident when I started the game today and it went well."

To make the occasion even sweeter, the win came after a ceremony honoring former Knight and current Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. Bibeau hopes he made a good impression on his potential future boss.

"It was really nice to have a chance to play a great game like that and know that he was here today. I'm really happy about that," Bibeau said.

The six-foot-two, 210-pound goaltender played the past two seasons in Charlottetown, but was acquired in December by the Foreurs, who felt he could help the team make a deep postseason run.

Val-d'or coach Mario Durocher knew "Bibs" well from a playoff encounter last season against Charlottetown, who were at that time known as the Prince Edward Island Rocket before changing their name this season. But before making the trade, they needed to get a better sense of who the goalie was off the ice. They asked around and couldn't find anyone who had a bad word to say about him. Those references made management certain the goalie was worth the first-round draft pick they sent to the Islanders to obtain his rights.

"When we got him, the staff was confident in him and the players were confident in him too. It's a confidence he brings to everybody," Durocher said. "It was just for him to adjust, to know that he's got a good offensive team in front of him. So if he gets one bad goal, he knows that we can score, so he didn't have to get down after just one bad goal."

Ryan Graves, the New York Rangers' fourth-round pick in 2013, was acquired by Val-d'Or from Charlottetown just a few weeks after Bibeau was picked up. As a defenseman who has played in front of Bibeau on two different teams, he has come to appreciate just how special his goaltender is.

"On Val-d'Or, we've got a high-powered offence and it results in a lot of two-on-ones and three-on-twos and breakaways where they get some quality shots and [Bibeau] is always there for us," Graves said. "It allows us to play a little more on the offensive side. [Bibeau] has been great for us all year and he was extremely strong tonight again. We expect that night in and night out from him. He's that good."

Anthony Mantha, who scored the lone goal Friday to give him 82 goals in 82 regular-season and playoff games, echoed those sentiments.

"To be honest, I can't even count on two hands the number of performances like that he gave us during the playoffs," said Mantha, a 2013 first-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings. "He won games by himself. I think he's just a great goaltender."

For his part, Bibeau isn't focused on personal accolades right now. He just wants to get ready for the Foreurs' next game on Monday against the OHL champion and tournament favorite Guelph Storm.

"You get one good game and then you get comfortable," Bibeau said. "It's just all the little details are good and that makes me more comfortable and more confident every game."

Of course, Bibeau knows he isn't perfect, even on a night when he posted the most memorable shutout of his young career.

While watching a scoreboard replay early in the first period, a clearing shot came directly at him following a faceoff in the London zone. He thought the crowd was yelling in response to the replay on the scoreboard, and it was only in the last split-second that he saw the puck coming and closed his pads just in time.

"I learned from that and right after that I was really into the game," he laughed.

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