Wednesday, March 10, 2010
First overall a first for Sea Dogs
Things are almost settled in the QMJHL heading into the regular season’s final weekend.
First overall has been decided, with the Saint John Sea Dogs clinching home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs with a 5-2 win over the Halifax Mooseheads Sunday.
It’s a first in team history for the fifth-year franchise, which played in front of a pair of sellout crowds (6,488) on the weekend.
“With three games left, to clinch, it feels pretty good to go into playoffs in top spot,” said 18-year-old forward Steven Anthony, a Vancouver Canucks prospect. “There’s a lot more hockey to be played, but this was our first goal to achieve to set us in motion to have home ice all throughout this playoffs.”
Head coach Gerard Gallant has obviously had success with this group in his first year behind the bench, but he’s quick to put the regular-season accomplishment behind him.
“It’s just an accomplishment, we accomplished a goal. Obviously it means nothing at all to me in the summer,” Gallant said. “You’re trying to win a championship and go on to the Memorial Cup, that’s what it’s all about. This is just one step to get to a championship and there’s five or six or eight other teams that have a good chance. We’re happy with it, but we know in the big picture that this is a small thing.”
Saint John had a chance to clinch in an absolute classic against the Moncton Wildcats two nights earlier. The Cats delayed the party with a 4-3 shootout win that left fans salivating for a possible playoff Battle of New Brunswick.
“It was definitely a playoff atmosphere, the fans were great and it was a battle,” said 17-year-old Wildcats defenceman Brandon Gormley, a top prospect for the upcoming NHL draft. “There’s some buildings that aren’t as fun to play in and don’t have that atmosphere, but every time we come (to Saint John) or they come to our building, it’s always a playoff atmosphere and the building’s sold out. It makes it a lot of fun for the players to play and always makes for a good game.”
The teams meet again Sunday in a game that will be televised nationally on Rogers Sportsnet. Gormley, and Russian forwards Kirill Kabanov of the Wildcats and Stanislav Galiev of the Sea Dogs are all highly-touted draft prospects, and 12 already-drafted players should be in the lineups as well.
“It’s definitely a battle. Both New Brunswick teams, there’s a lot of pride on the line and a lot of bragging rights,” Gormley said.
Speaking of playoffs, the teams would have to get through at least two rounds before facing each other in this year’s format. The first round is still a 1-4, 2-3 division matchup, but all teams will be re-seeded 1-8 for the second round rather than playing a second divisional series. Next year the format changes again, with all teams being seeded 1-16, and the top four seeds going to division winners. That should make the regular season more meaningful, but will create some huge mismatches in the first round of playoffs.
FINAL PLAYOFF SPOT
The final playoff spot is still up for grabs, with one of the Val-d’Or Foreurs, Lewiston Maineiacs and Baie-Comeau Drakkar yet to be eliminated.
Val-d’Or needs just one point in its final two games, or for Baie-Comeau to miss one point in three, so the battle is really between the Drakkar and the Maineiacs. Lewiston holds a four-point edge, and has the tiebreaker with three games left. But two of its games are against Drummondville Voltigeurs, the other against the Victoriaville Tigres, second and fourth in the overall standings. Baie-Comeau has a slightly easier road: two games against the Quebec Remparts, and one against the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. They would need five of six points and for Lewiston to go 0-fer.
Halifax was eliminated shortly after training camp, and sits a woeful 13 points back. The Mooseheads miss the playoffs for a second year in a row, unbelievable and unacceptable for a team from a large market that should be a QMJHL gem. Look for better things from the Nova Scotia capital next year.
Read Nathan White's blog or follow him on Facebook or Twitter