An ounce of prevention is always worth of a pound of cure. As the blame game begins over the ugliness that has pervaded the QMJHL semifinal series between the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada which culiminate in a massive public explosion, perhaps it should start at the top.
In the aftermath of The Brawl Near Montreal, many said the spark was the Armada's Cédric Paquette waving 'buh-bye' to the Drakkar's Raphaël Bussières, who had followed him back toward B-B's side of centre ice. Paquette, a Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick, is an agitator and him waving at an opponent has a different connotation than a more gentlemanly teammate such as Tommy Giroux (32 goals, 18 PIMs this season). If one wanted to isolate on a cause from the last few seconds of the game, though, Paquette also got crunched face-first against the glass by two Drakkar with about three seconds on the clock. He tried to disengage.
Paquette had his tipping point. But this probably falls on how the two teams play — chippy — and how the QMJHL did or did not handle
From Patrick King (@SNPatrickKing):
[Paquette's] antagonizing style is well-known throughout the league.
But the fact is neither team is innocent here. Each developed a reputation around the league this season for their grittiness and sometimes antagonistic play. Now you’ve got two teams who play similar styles meeting for the right to advance to the league championship series on the line; it was never going to be a squeaky-clean series.
There’s little the officials could have done to prevent it. In fact, perhaps the league should have set the record straight on end-of-game procedures after Game 2’s near outbreak. (Sportsnet)
What happened in Game 2? Fortunately King was watching two games earlier in the series. There was similar potential for mayhem after the final buzzer. It didn't happen then since the officials, referees Nicolas Dutil and Pierre Lambert and linesmen Stéfan Capano and Guillaume Labonté, were on the ball.
The same could actually have happened at the end of Game 2 in Baie-Comeau on Saturday. As time expired in that game, Paquette was taken down behind the play, which wasn’t caught on video.
Paquette lay on his side near the far blue line by Baie-Comeau’s bench, while several Drakkar players hopped on the ice and began celebrating near him. When Paquette’s teammates tried skating to their fallen teammate, a few Drakkar players stood in front, preventing them from reaching him.
The officials quickly stepped in and shooed Armada players back to their side, while giving Paquette some breathing space and allowing the trainer to get to him.
"They did the same thing in Baie-Comeau when they won and we stayed at our bench," [Armada coach Jean-François] Houle said [following Game 4]. "Even Paquette was on the ice after their victory and we stayed quiet, like good people on our bench, and that’s it."
Would what went down Wednesday have been avoided if Paquette had once again been shaken up to the point of needing the trainer's assistance? That is a bitter irony.
Keeping the aggression and emotion that sells hockey while trying to make sure that embarrassing gong shows that only feed the perception of a sport that is unsafe to play is a tough balancing act. That visceral appeal is a bigger part of it than an aesthete's appreciation for the latest Nathan MacKinnon-Jonathan Drouin artistry. Hindsight is 20/15, but the personality of these teams provided the fixings for a fracas. The game officials cannot do much when 40 players decide that it is on, but perhaps it does not get to that point if the league stays on top of potential trouble. Hopefully that does not sound like a 'pox on both their houses' rant or an excuse for either team; they did what they thought they could get away with.
Or maybe it just comes down to a lack of respect in the game, but that's another post.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.