The QMJHL final between Moncton Wildcats and Saint John Sea Dogs pits two teams who are close geographically, but there's some subtle differences on the ice between the provincial rivals.
Here are five things to watch for in the series, which begins Friday at Harbour Station.
No team plays into May without being deep on the back end. The Wildcats' blue line includes the league's top defenceman, David Savard, as well as Brandon Gormley, who will likely be the first QMJHL player taken in the NHL draft. They're a tight group who frequently spark the attack.
Saint John, for its part, held opponents to 187 goals in 68 regular-season games. Nathan Beaulieu, who only turned 17 in December, has blossomed, while the Sea Dogs have experience in Simon Despres, Christian Morin and Yann Sauve. They'll be under a lot of heat behind their own blueline.
As Halifax coach Cam Russell, the former Chicago Blackhawks defenceman, noted: "They also need to establish a good forecheck on their defence, which is one of the things we did when we were playing well against Saint John this year."
Youth vs. experience
The unprecedented scenario of having two non-Quebec clubs in the final is a distraction worthy of the game show of the same name. We'll find out how each team responds; it wouldn't do to guesstimate from an outsider perspective.
Moncton has a slightly older lineup, and coach Danny Flynn's put it, ""I’ve never ever been involved with a team that’s had so many significant injuries ... The resiliency these kids have shown is incredible. We have never once had our lineup, not one game this year."
Whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger? Saint John has a young core of 10 players born in 1992 and '93, including its leading goal scorer in the playoffs, Jonathan Huberdeau. They could remain intact for two more seasons.
Trying to become the champs without Deschamps
The Wildcats are "keeping their fingers crossed" that left wing Nicholas Deschamps, the QMJHL scoring champion, may return from a high ankle sprain in time for the series. His absence hasn't adversely affected the Wildcats too much, though. Kelsey Tessier has been their top scorer thoughout the playoffs.
Of the three league finals, the Q might offer the most even goaltending matchup. Saint John's Marco Cousineau won the President's Cup last season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Moncton's Nicola Riopel was the league's goalie of the year last season, and came back from pro hockey mid-season. So, it's a question of who blinks first.
You have to like the matchup between Saint John's Gerard Gallant, who has run a NHL bench with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Moncton's Flynn, who has been coaching in the Maritimes as long as can be remembered.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. You may contact him at neatesager[at]yahoo[dot]ca.
- Moncton Wildcats
- Saint John Sea Dogs