Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Baie-Comeau's Charles Hudon, left, leads his team in scoring with 15 points in as many games, while Anthony Mantha, right, leads all QMJHL playoff goal scorers with 18 goals. (Ghyslain Bergeron / CP)

Val-d’Or Foreurs vs. Baie-Comeau Drakkar

Season series: Drakkar (2-0-1-0). Odds favour: Val-d'Or 56 per cent. Most mathematically likely outcome: Val-d'Or in 6. Prediction: Baie-Comeau in 6.

Tuesday was judgement day for the QMJHL’s four final teams, with two game 7s and final berths on the line.

The Baie-Comeau Drakkar were able to nurse a quick lead to its limit, escaping with a narrow 2-1 win to advance over the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, while the Val-d’Or Foreurs hung on by virtue of the play of netminder Antoine Bibeau to escape the Halifax Metro Centre with a 3-2 win.

The Mooseheads didn’t make it easy, outshooting the Foreurs 41-16, including 17-3 in the third period, but Bibeau preserved the victory.

So it comes down to Drakkar-vs.-Foreurs for the President’s Cup and a trip to London, Ont.

"Each team has its identity,” Drakkar head coach Eric Veilleux said.

"Surely they're going to stick to theirs and we'll stick to ours. We're in the final for a reason, so we'll keep going in the same direction."

"Our defencemen have been contributing on offence, and we have forwards with a lot of speed and skill," said Val-d’Or Foreurs coach Mario Durocher. "All our lines have taken turns contributing in the playoffs."

It is the second time in as many years for the Drakkar in the President’s Cup final. They are hoping to reverse the results from last season. They have never played in a Memorial Cup tournament.

The Foreurs are making their fourth trip to the final. They advanced to the Memorial Cup in 1998 and 2001.

Will travel and fatigue be a factor? The series starts off in crunch mode Friday, with four games in six days, including a pair of back-to-backs. Both teams, of course, just played seven-game sereis.

For Val-d’Or, the semifinal schedule means for seven games in 12 nights. That is a little tight for the regular season, but really tight between two hard-fought playoff series.

The Drakkar fared a little better from the schedule gods, getting a break between games 5, 6 and 7 vs. the Armada. They come in for seven games in 13.

The league needs the playoff series to be decided in time to make Memorial Cup arrangements, but they couldn't have held off another day somewhere to give them proper rest? Both teams risk injury and sub-par hockey decided by miscues, not talent.

Will the Drakkar defence be able to contain the Foreurs offence? Conventional wisdom says yes. The Baie-Comeau squad has a GAA as a team of under 1.75 and are an excellent systems team. They play very well sticking to the defensive style and don’t deviate. Philippe Cadorette is one of the top goaltenders in the Q, and leads all playoff netminders with a 1.72 GAA and a .929 save percentage. The Drakkar have been nearly perfect on the penalty kill, with a 93.7% mark on the PK.

However, the Foreurs offence is unlike any the Drakkar have seen to date. Only Halifax has scored more than Val-d’Or, and their top line of Louick Marcotte-Anthony Mantha-Samuel Henley is all in the top seven in league scoring. Guillaume Gélinas leads all blueliners and Randy Gazzola has picked up his play after a slow start.

Have we mentioned Mantha’s 18(!) goals in 15 games to lead all playoff goal-scorers? There is plenty to like in the offensive zone for the Foreurs.

Let’s flip that. How does the Drakkar offense match up to the Foreurs D? All talk of the Foreurs defensive core starts at Bibeau, and he has had a great playoff. Acquired from the Charlottetown Islanders during the January trading period, Bibeau wasn’t seen as a huge upgrade over traded incumbent François Tremblay, but he has proven to be the better keeper over this post-season.

His 2.66 GAA and a .910 save percentage pales in comparison to Cadorette, but he has also faced 141 more shots in two extra games. Bibeau has singlehandedly kept his Foreurs team in games by making key saves, and has allowed them to play run-and-gun to their full potential.

That said, the defensive corps in front of him is good, not great. The benefit is, they don’t have to be great to stifle a Drakkar offence that often spun its wheels in the Armada series. Baie-Comeau scored three goals only twice in their seven games against Blainville-Boisbriand. They have the talent but they haven’t been pressed to use it until last series and it’s left some to be desired.

Charles Hudon, the former Chicoutimi Saguenéens captain acquired in January, was called out by coach Veilleux during the Armada series, saying he could do better. He leads the team with 15 points in 15 games.

The Drakkar offence as a unit is due to break out sooner or later. They have outshot their opponents in every game but one so far.

In short, if you like offence, root for the Foreurs, and if you like defence, root for the Drakkar? Yes, exactly.

Both coaches have been to a Memorial Cup before. How might that affect the series? Both Veilleux and Durocher have Memorial Cup experience on their CVs, but only Durocher has a QMJHL championship ring, with Victoriaville in 2002.

Veilleux's experience is certainly fresher on the minds of his team, as he was the coach of the juggernaut Shawinigan Cataractes team that defeated the odds and won the 2012 Memorial Cup at home. However, neither team has a player who's won a President’s Cup before, so it’s new ground for all players on the ice this series.

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