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Wild start to Quebec League postseason

by Brad Holland
Defenseman Alex Grant, who led his team in points from the blue line in 2007-08, has contributed two assists in two Sea Dogs wins in the 2008 playoffs.
The opening games of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs have featured three double-digit goal totals, three shutouts, a full-ice brawl that resulted in a goaltender getting ejected from a game, and a snowstorm that kept league officials from reaching their destination and delaying Game 1 of one series.

It could be said that the QMJHL has experienced a very wild start to the first week of their league playoffs.

Despite all the action, it was pretty much business as usual for the East Division's higher seeds. Each of the top four teams -- Halifax, Saint John, Acadie-Bathurst and Cape Breton -- took 2-0 series leads.

In fact, the only East series that has seen any sort of competition is Acadie-Bathurst against the St. John's Fog Devils. The Titans required wins of 8-5 and 5-4 to earn their 2-0 lead, and their plus-4 goal differential is by far the closest of their East counterparts. The other three mostly have featured blowouts, led by Halifax and their 6-2 and 11-1 drubbings of the Victoriaville Tigres.

In the Telus Division, things are a little different. The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the Gatineau Olympiques have taken 2-0 leads, but the seventh-ranked Rimouski Oceanic and fifth-ranked Quebec Remparts have split their opening games with second-seeded Baie-Comeau Drakkar and fourth-seeded Chicoutimi Sagueneens, respectively.

Still, the Telus Division has seen its share of blowouts, with scores of 10-1, 9-3, and 9-0 recorded. As a result of the high scores, 24 skaters in this year's playoffs currently are averaging two points per game or better, and the playoff scoring race is paced by a group of five players with a total of seven points.

The offensive explosion lends credence to the league's reputation as a high-octane, offense-first game that prides finesse and skill over brute strength. But that doesn't mean brute strength hasn't been a factor in the opening round games.

In Game 1 of the Quebec-Chicoutimi series, the Remparts earned a tightly contested 2-1 overtime victory in front of a packed house of 4,724 fans in Chicoutimi's Centre Georges-Vezina Arena.

Stung by their opening-game loss, the Sagueneens responded with a 10-1 drubbing of the Remparts in Game 2. The Sagueneens outclassed their opponents, outshooting them and outplaying them for the bulk of the early goings. In the second period, facing a 7-1 deficit and tired of chasing the Sagueneens around the ice, frustrations on the part of the Remparts boiled over.

At the 19:32 mark of the second period, referees Dominick Bedard and Stephane Tremblay handed out a whopping 99 minutes in penalties, 12 of which went to Jonathan Roy, son of Quebec coach and ex-NHLer Patrick Roy. Jonathan Roy earned his time by charging into the Sagueneens' end to fight Chicoutimi goaltender Bobby Nadeau, who had not left his crease. His non-threatening posture did not deter the younger Roy. For his actions, Roy received 12 minutes in penalties, a minor, two fighting majors (he fought another player on his way off of the ice), and two consecutive game misconducts.

QMJHL Commissioner Gilles Courteau announced the league's decision on league disciplinary actions Tuesday afternoon. Head Coach patrick Roy recieved a five-game suspension, while son Jonathan recieved seven games and the player he fought leaving the ice, Sebastian Rioux - who left the penalty box to fight Roy - recieved six games.

Chicoutimi's Head Coach, Richard Martel, received an automatic two-game suspension as a result of his player's actions.

Due to bad weather, league officials could not make it to the March 21 Rimouski-Baie-Comeau game on time. The game was postponed and the teams played back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday, splitting the series at one game apiece. The refs just may have needed the extra day off. Judging from the other seven series -- a brawl and 143 goals scored in only 16 games (an average of just under nine per game) -- the officials in these playoffs will be very busy, earning every penny of their paychecks.

Around the QMJHL -- Michael Dubuc tied for second in the league with 44 goals this season, and has continued to find the back of the net in the playoffs, scoring five goals in his first two games. … Halifax Mooseheads forward Brad Marchand, who leads all active QMJHL skaters in career playoff games, goals, assists, points, plus/minus and game-winning goals, added to his totals in two Mooseheads wins this week, as he totaled one goal and six points. … Another Roy, this one rookie netminder Olivier Roy of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, made headlines for another reason. He earned two wins, one by shutout, and played to a 1.50 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage in the two games.

Western Hockey League

The Western Hockey League announced some of its league awards, and the list reads like a who's who of this year's WHL.

In the East, goaltender Linden Rowat of the Regina Pats earned first-team All-Star honors as the third-year goaltender started 57 games, won 33 of them, and played to a 2.68 goals-against average and .904 save percentage. The Pats finished the season second in the Eastern Conference, behind fellow first-team WHL All-Star Karl Alzner's Calgary Hitmen.

Joining Alzner on the blue line was defenseman Logan Pyett, also of the Regina Pats, while the forward unit was made up of Steve DaSilva of the Kootenay Ice and a pair of 2008 NHL Draft-eligible forward in Medicine Hat's Tyler Ennis and the Pats' Jordan Eberle.

In the West, the Tri-City Americans dominated the first-team All-Star selections, as goaltender Chet Pickard, defenseman T.J. Fast and forward Colton Yellow Horn all received the honor. Rounding out the group was defenseman Thomas Hickey of the Seattle Thunderbirds and forward Oscar Moller of the Chilliwack Bruins.

In the individual awards category, the first-team All-Stars dominated the nominations, as Rowat and Pickard will face off for the Del Wilson Trophy as WHL Goaltender of the Year, while Alzner or Fast will take home the WHL Defenseman of the Year award, the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy.

In addition, there will be a happy Schenn household this week as younger brother Brayden, of the Brandon Wheat Kings, is up for league Rookie of the Year, the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy, against Evander Kane of the Vancouver Giants. Older brother Luke Schenn was honored with a spot on the second-team Western Conference All-Star squad.

Brayden Schenn led all rookies in scoring this season with 28 goals and 71 points in 66 games, while Kane finished 10th with 24 goals and 41 points in 65 games.

Luke Schenn likely is in a better mood this week, as his Rockets boast a 2-1 first-round playoffs series lead on the Seattle Thunderbirds. Brayden's Wheat Kings are down 2-0 to the Lethbridge Hurricanes.

League player of the year finalists will be announced April 8, and the league will hold its awards luncheon in Calgary on April 30.

Around the WHL -- Yellow Horn, Kelowna Rockets forward Colin Long, Vancouver Giants forward Michal Repik and Kootenay Ice forward Dustin Sylvester are the early playoff leading scorers, with five points apiece. In the regular season, Long finished second in league scoring with 100 points, while Yellow Horn was third with 97. Chilliwack Bruins forward Mark Santorelli led all regular-season scorers with 101 points in 72 games. … The league's top goaltenders have continued to shine in the WHL playoffs, as Pickard, Tyson Sexsmith of Vancouver and Dustin Tokarski of Spokane are 1-2-3 in goals-against average to start the playoffs, and each has played to a .935 save percentage or better. In the regular season, each finished in the top 11 in GAA, save percentage and wins. … WHL Boston Pizza Player of the Week award went to Sylvester this week, as the three-year veteran had a goal, four assists and a plus-1 rating in two games last week as the Ice jumped to a 2-0 lead over the fourth-seeded Medicine Hat Tigers. … The WHL is living up to its reputation as a defense-first game, as only 92 goals have been scored through the first 17 playoff games, an average of just under 5.5 per game. … The Red Deer Rebels have promoted third-year assistant coach Jesse Wallin to head coach after it was announced that Brian Sutter was stepping down after only one season behind the bench. Wallin, an ex-Rebel and former first-round NHL Draft pick who carved out a seven year pro career, will be taking his first-ever head coaching position.

United States Hockey League

This time of year usually is reserved for the league's top teams.


Such wasn't the case Saturday night, as the lowly Green Bay Gamblers put together a 4-0 shutout effort against the mighty Omaha Lancers. It was the Gamblers' first win in 12 contests, and interim coach Dave Insalaco couldn't have been more proud.

"They're a very good hockey team over there and they're going to go far in the playoffs, but tonight was our night, and it feels really good for the kids," Insalaco told the Green Bay Press-Gazette after the win. "That's why I'm so happy. I'm happy for them. They deserve it."

The hero of the game was Gamblers goaltender Neil Conway, who stopped 36 Lancers shots in earning his first shutout of the season.

It was the Gamblers' second shutout of the season, and the first win for Insalaco since he replaced coach/GM Mark Massoleni, who stepped down Feb. 26.

It also was the first time the Lancers had been shut out this season and snapped a 109-game streak with a goal, the longest active stretch in the USHL.

The Lancers and the Gamblers are separated by 53 points and 27 wins in the USHL standings, but for one night, it was four goals that made all the difference.

Around the USHL -- The Chicago Steel made huge gains in their attempts to lock down the final USHL East Division playoff berth this week, putting together a stretch of three wins in four games, giving them five wins in their past six games. The Steel were paced offensively by Simon Olsson who had five goals and four assists in only three games – all Steel wins – this past week (he missed Sunday's game against the Ohio Jr. Blue Jackets). He put up his biggest offensive numbers in a two-goal, two-assist performance in a 4-1 victory against the Blue Jackets (the team closest to the Steel in the standings) Friday evening. The Steel's magic number now is one point – either gained in Steel games or lost in Blue Jackets games – to clinch a berth in the 2008 Robertson Cup playoffs. The Steel had a chance to clinch their playoff berth Sunday night, but fell 6-3 to the Blue Jackets. In that game, defenseman Tim Buttery had a goal and an assist, raising his totals to three goals and three assists for the week and earning him the CCM Defensive Player of the Week honors. … The Cedar Rapids RoughRiders clinched a playoff berth for the eighth straight season with a 4-2 defeat of the Indiana Ice on Friday. … Tri-City's Alex Hudson tied a USHL record Friday night, scoring three power-play goals, including the overtime game-winner, in a 4-3 defeat of the Lincoln Stars on Friday night. … Sioux City Musketeers goaltender Josh Robinson had two wins in two starts this week, helping his team vault past the Lincoln Stars and into third place in the West Division. The 18-year-old goaltender made 55 saves on 57 shots, playing to a 1.00 GAA and .965 save percentage in the wins. The teams are tied in points, but Sioux City has two more wins in one fewer game, and the race is on to see which team can avoid meeting the Omaha Lancers in the first round of the playoffs, which begin the week of April 7.

Ontario Hockey League

It's business as usual for the Kitchener Rangers, who led the league in wins (53) and points (110) this season, and who now have taken a 3-0 lead over the Plymouth Whalers.

It's also business as usual for top scorers Justin Azevedo, Matt Halischuk and Nick Spaling, who sit 1-2-3 in playoff scoring, respectively, after three games.

Azevedo (10 points), Halischuk (eight) and Spaling (eight) form the Rangers' top line, and their chemistry is obvious, but the unit only was complete for stretches this season. Spaling only played in 56 games due to a bout with mononucleosis, while Halischuk played for Team Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championship – scoring the gold medal-winning goal – and battled injuries down the stretch. He was limited to 40 games this season.

All told, the unit combined for 94 goals and 255 points in 2007-08. Azevedo finished with league-leading totals of 81 assists and 124 points in only 67 games.

The trio, united and healthy, makes Kitchener Memorial Cup favorites.

Around the OHL -- Steven Stamkos is busy making his case to be taken No. 1 overall in June's NHL Entry Draft, scoring five goals in his first three games in the 2008 playoffs. He's pushed his Sarnia Sting to a 2-1 first-round playoff series lead over the Windsor Spitfires. But fellow top-rated skaters Alex Pietrangelo (six points through three games) of Niagara and Guelph's Drew Doughty (two goals in two games) have been equally impressive. … In addition to his teammates, Rangers rookie forward Mikkel Boedker has looked sharp, scoring one goal and six points through his first three OHL playoff games. … IceDogs goaltender Sabastian Dahm, acquired at the Canadian Hockey League transfer deadline this season, has been excellent in his playoff debut with Niagara, winning each of his first three starts with two shutouts, a 0.33 GAA and a .989 save percentage. He has allowed only one goal on 96 St. Michael's Majors shots. … Peterborough Petes goaltender Trevor Cann has been shelled through his first four 2008 playoff games, seeing an average of 46 Belleville Bulls shots per game. He has performed as well as any goaltender could under the barrage, stopping 170 of those shots to the tune of a .924 save percentage. By comparison, Bulls goaltender Mike Murphy has faced 54 fewer shots in the four games.

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