Mon Oct 14 03:45pm EDT
As far as Jean-François Houle is concerned, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada got what it deserved — and needed — over the long weekend.
Playing without the lead finally caught up to the Canadian Hockey League's top-ranked team Sunday, when it fell 5-4 in overtime to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles at the end of a five-day swing through the Maritimes. The Armada mustered only seven shots in the first two periods, scored three quick goals to get up 4-2, only to fiddle the lead away to the improving Eagles.
One could accuse the Armada of playing to the standings or getting complacent, after beginning with 10 consecutive wins. One clear conclusion is Houle’s group knows they have to be better.
“Some of our players got point-hungry, and you don’t need to make four passes to score,” B-B's bench boss said Friday after a 4-0 win over the Moncton Wildcats. “It’s something we’ve done the last couple of games, and soon it’s going to bite us in the back. We have to sharpen up when we have a lead.”
Either way, they are the last team with a goose egg in the L column now that the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs have lost, boasting a 10-0-1-0 record.
“We have a lot of good players in the locker room that are role players that people don’t know about,” Houle said during the roadie. “Everybody’s buying in; everyone has a chair and everybody’s respecting the system. Kudos to our scouts [who] found those players that [give us] the identity that we want.”
The Armada are loaded this season, despite losing captain and emotional leader Xavier Ouellet, and veterans Cédric Paquette, Marc-Olivier Roy, Tommy Giroux, Samuel Carrier and disgruntled forward Stefan Matteau to greener pastures.
They have scoring in spades. The QMJHL’s second-leading scorer Christopher Clapperton is surrounded by a big veteran presence in Ryan Tesink, who has Memorial Cup experience. Crafty forwards Nikita Jevpalovs, Philippe Sanche, Danick Martel, Frédéric Bergeron and Marcus Hinds round out a deep forward group, while a gritty and smart defensive corps is led by captain Olivier Picard, Aaron Hoyles and 19-year-old newcomer Daniel Walcott. Overager Étienne Marcoux patrols the crease as one of the best starters in the QMJHL.
“We don’t have the stars that we did last year, but everyone is buying in this year,” Marcoux said. “We have very good chemistry.”
“Everyone’s playing their role,” added Tesink. “Everyone’s scoring when we need to and our goalie has been playing unbelievable.”
Tesink 'can go places'
This year is siginificant for Tesink, whose 19-year-old season was scuttled by an injury. The New Brunswick native was acquired from the Saint JohnSea Dogs during the December trading period last season but only played six games after the deal due to injury. The QMJHL ultimately ruled that the Sea Dogs had to give more as compensation for “failure to disclose” Tesink’s injury at the time of the trade.
Either way, Tesink is happy to be back with the Armada, a team he feels could make a good run.
“I didn’t play much last year [due to my injuries],” he said. “I feel like I have another year left in me in junior and I can go places with the team we have. I’m expecting to have a big year and help this team win.”
Tesink brings experience of two Memorial Cup tournaments from his resume, including a 2011 Memorial Cup win. He said he gets the same feelings he did in 2012 as an important forward with the Sea Dogs.
“I think the league’s a lot closer this year than in past years,” Tesink said. “I think we were a big favourite when I played in Saint John. It’s a little more even this year, but I think we’ve come out every game this year and really showed the league what we have. I think teams took us pretty lightly at first. I don’t think they will now.”
Marcoux was with the team when it was based in Verdun, Que., as the Montreal Juniors. He said he wants to use his trials and tribulations with the team as a teaching tool for younger players.
“I have more of a veteran role with the team this year,” Marcoux said. “I want to bring the experience of my five years to the table. I’m here to help out if they need it.”
Now in his third season with the Armada, Houle said that the toughest part of the year so far hasn’t been the game on the ice. It’s been keeping the players fresh and motivated through win after win.
“That’s the toughest part right now of our coaching duties: to get the guys fired up for every game and prepared for every game,” Houle said. “Sometimes [as a team] you tend to take nights off and we don’t want to do that. It’s a challenge right now but we’re going to keep preparing our players for every game.
“It’s been a fun challenge. In my career so far as a coach, I’ve had my ups and downs but I’ve never had the challenge of keeping the troops motivated before. It’s my first time to deal with that.”