HALIFAX — The narrative in advance of the QMJHL semifinal between the Halifax Mooseheads and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies is rather predictable. It’s your classic Bad News Bears up against the Yankees.
At this point in the playoffs, both sides are wary of providing bulletin-board fodder.
“Please,” said Huskies star forward Nikita Kucherov, nervous about his English. “I don’t want to say anything bad.”
Still, the eighth-seed Huskies are more than happy to talk about their role as underdogs against the top-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League when their series begins on Saturday.
“If you look at the first two series (against Drummondville and Quebec) we were voted against,” said Huskies defenceman Andrew O’Brien. “I like being the underdog, there’s no pressure on us. It’s all on the other team.”
It was a mantra repeated often by the Huskies after their spirited practice on Friday afternoon.
“We would rather be underdogs,” said Rouyn-Noranda head coach Andre Tourigny. “All the pressure is on Halifax, so we just have to focus on our game. That’s the best scenario in this situation.
“Halifax has an outstanding team. No weakness. Four good lines, three top lines, a good group of (defencemen); an outstanding goalie.”
But don’t let Tourigny’s rhetorical rope-a-dope fool you. The Huskies have already slain one Goliath -- in the form of a 4-1 series upset over the Quebec Remparts – and have set their sights on an even bigger giant.
“We are confident,” said Tourigny. “We know the way we play and that’s very good. We are on the top of our game, but we respect them. We know how good we are. But we can’t go into the series thinking about them, we have to think about us.”
The Mooseheads are certainly not taking the pesky Huskies lightly.
“We knew they were a good team and they played well (against Quebec),” said Halifax coach Dominique Ducharme. “They deserve to be here.”
Halifax has a pristine 8-0 playoff record and have yet to be really challenged. The same could be said for the regular season as well, where they posted a 58-6-3-1 record – 36 points ahead of the Huskies in the standings.
Once the puck drops however, standings and rankings are just numbers on paper. But that doesn’t change the fact that everyone’s still gunning for Number One.
“We don’t care about what people say about us,” said Ducharme. “Target, no target. Favourite, not favourite. Underdogs or not, whatever it is, our only focus is to be ready for (Saturday) night. We’re focusing to be as good as we can be.”
The scary thing, for the remaining teams in the Q, is the fact that Ducharme says his team is still capable of much more.
“We did a good job in the first and second round,” said the Halifax coach. “We are getting better from game to game and series to series. We just want to keep getting better and I think we’ve been playing some really good hockey. But I still think we can play even better than we have.”