By Patrick McNeil – Cape Breton Post
Step one towards the holiday tournament came this week when each of the three CHL leagues unveiled their rosters for the Canada/Russia series in mid-November. The series is used to prepare Hockey Canada and evaluate players for the tournament. This year the QMJHL could have strong representation at Christmas time.
In 2015-16, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Julien Gauthier were in the headlines as both were claimed in the first round of the NHL draft. While Gauthier made the WJC, Dubois was invited to the main camp but was cut. After Columbus chose him at number three overall, Dubois will certainly join Gauthier at the WJC, in spite of a slow start in Cape Breton this fall.
Dubois is a Screaming Eagle because of Nicolas Roy’s refusal to report to Sydney and, because of Roy’s goal- scoring prowess for Chicoutimi and his 200-foot game, the two may be teammates wearing the maple leaf. Shawinigan’s Samuel Girard is also a strong WJC candidate — an undersized defenseman, the offensive prowess (17 points in his first seven games) of the Nashville draft pick may be too strong for Hockey Canada to ignore.
On the blueline, injuries could wreak havoc on Team QMJHL in November and perhaps Canada over the holidays. It’s also trouble for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the defending President Cup champions and West Division leaders. Both Jérémy Lauzon and Philippe Myers of the Huskies are currently sidelined day to day, indefinitely, with concussions.
Blainville-Boisbriand’s Jeremy Roy, another blueliner on the Q’s roster, went down with a twisted knee in Saturday’s contest against Cape Breton and his status is up in the air. Myers, Roy, and especially Lauzon (a second-round of pick of Boston) are all legitimate candidates to wear the red and white. A near lock for Canada would have been Saint John’s Thomas Chabot, who has been used sparingly by the Ottawa Senators and could yet be re-assisgned back to the Port City.
Between the pipes there could be a revival for the QMJHL, which had been a goaltending stronghold in the past. Both of Team QMJHL’s goaltenders, Callum Booth (Quebec) and Evan Fitzpatrick (Sherbrooke) sport save percentages over 910. That’s even more impressive given that aside from Charlottetown’s Matthew Welsh, they are the only starting netminders in the league facing an average of over 30 shots a game.
Fitzpatrick, Girard, Dubois, along with Pascal Laberge (who is also sidelined with a concussion) are the four 18-year-olds on the series roster. Laberge’s Victoriaville teammate Maxime Comtois is the only 17-year-old on Team LHJMQ. He’s unlikely to make WJC Canada, but as a potential first- round NHL draft choice, the Canada/Russia series will provide him with key experience.
Laberge’s possible absence from the series up front could open the door for either Maxime Fortier (Halifax) or Jeffrey Truchon-Viel (Bathurst) to play for the QMJHL. Both forwards hit the 30-goal mark in 2015-16. The QMJHL brass would probably love to add a player from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, as Baie-Comeau is hosting the Nov. 17 contest. But with the Drakkar rebuilding, no eligible candidate scored more than eight goals last season.
Chicoutimi will host on Nov. 15, and fans will cheer on Nicolas Roy and defenseman Frédéric Allard of the Saguenéens. They’ll also see German Rubtsov play for Russia. The Sags chose the Philadelphia first-rounder in the CHL import draft but he elected to stay home.
There will be actual QMJHL representation on the Russian side, as it is common practice for Team Russia to add players from each of the respective leagues for the three two game sets. Just as Screaming Eagles forwards Max Lazarev and Evgeny Svechnikov wore Russian colours last year, this season Gatineau’s Yakov Trenin and Vitali Abramov will partake in the series. Just as with Canada, the standard to represent Russia is high — which explains the exclusion of quality, point-a-game-producing QMJHLers Ivan Chekhovich (Baie-Comeau), Vasily Glotov (Cape Breton), Dmitry Zhukenov (Chicoutimi), Pavel Koltygin (Drummondville), and Denis Mikhnin (RimouskI).
While a high skill level will be on display in the November series, just a fraction of players will move on when all eyes are on the true national teams come Christmas time.