Photo Credit: Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images
For the first time since 2019, we get to say we are going to get a full QMJHL playoffs in its original format. No more best-three-of-five series’ and a start of the postseason right where we like it! With the NHL season yet to completely wrap up, junior hockey can take centre stage as the spotlight burns a little brighter and we get to see emerging stars make their statements and show their ability to perform on the biggest stage.
Of course, the Quebec Remparts are the favourites to claim the rebranded President’s Cup (now branded as the Gilles Courteau Trophy, in response to the outgoing commissioner.) But other teams have joined the fray as the season has gone along, and this might be the most wide open it has been in a while. Between the regular contenders, record setting streaks and up-and-coming teams who are looking to make some damage for the first time, the field is set for a very intriguing first round and beyond!
Without further adieu, let’s dive into the matchups and give you a glimpse to what to expect!
Quebec (1st, 53-12-1-2) vs Charlottetown (8th, 26-33-6-3)
Season Series: Quebec (2), Charlottetown (0)
Quebec: PP – 26.6% (4th), PK – 81% (T-3rd)
Charlottetown: PP% – 14.3%, PK – 71.8% (18th)
The Breakdown: The Quebec Remparts have won back-to-back Jean-Rougeau Trophies for the best record in the QMJHL and look like the most dangerous team heading into the playoffs. The squad boasts a plethora of two-way forwards and offensive assassins that can take the game any way you want to. 50-goal scorer Zachary Bolduc is immediately a player to watch closely to break into an offensive role early.
With Evan Nause and deadline acquisition Jeremy Langlois set to patrol the blueline, the Remparts are the most complete team in the league. The X-Factor in this series will come down to how well Quebec can maintain their high level of performance at both ends, and Nathan Gaucher should chew up a lot of those defensive responsibilities to free up the others to do what they do best. With the fourth ranked powerplay taking on the worst penalty kill and the most penalized team, you would think this could be quick business for Patrick Roy’s group. However…..
The Charlottetown Islanders, coming off an appearance in the President’s Cup Finals last year where they fell to the star studded Shawinigan Cataractes, it has been a large step back with virtually the entire core turning over to a new guard. This time around, the goal is to get this young group’s feet wet in the postseason for future years. They have shown themselves to be a gritty group in the regular season, and will need to enhance that style if they want any hope of advancing. Again, gaining experience is the goal for Charlottetown, anything more than that is gravy for a young group looking ahead to future seasons.
Prediction: Quebec (4) Charlottetown (0)
Halifax Mooseheads (2nd, 50-11-4-3) vs Cape Breton Eagles (7th, 30-34-3-1)
Season Series: Mooseheads (6), Eagles (3)
Mooseheads: PP – 27.1% (2nd), PK – 81% (T-3rd)
Cape Breton: PP 19.5% (16th), PK (T-8th).
The Breakdown: This Halifax Mooseheads group has exceeded expectations all season long and continue to be a thorn in the side of other contending teams. Led by a historic season from Jordan Dumais, along with the QMJHL’s leading goal scorer Alexandre Doucet, that does not begin to scratch the surface of the depth this team has to go on a deep run.
With Nashville’s 2021 first round pick Zachary L’Heureux playing second fiddle, there is reason to believe this team is the deepest of the bunch. On the backend, they’ll be a tough egg to crack with the stellar play of Czech import David Moravec, the potential return of Calgary Flames draftee Cam Whynot and the brilliance of Mathis Rousseau. If they play their game and continue to draw penalties at a high rate, this team should have no problem working its way to the second round where they could find themselves facing another Maritime Division rival.
Cape Breton, on the other hand, faced a tumultuous road to get to this point. Despite the unfavourable matchup against their provincial rival, this could be the matchup Halifax was hoping to avoid. A team with nothing to lose, the Eagles have been led by their veteran core throughout the year, and have an admirable blend of experience and youth, and perhaps the perfect blend to pull off the upset. Their path to win is simple. Limit the time in the penalty box, frustrate an offence that is used to getting its way (one way or another), and muck up the treads for their quick opposition. We have seen it numerous times between explosive performances with Halifax scoring a touchdown and the occasional field goal to go with it and Dumais’ six-point performances. If the Eagles embrace the role of the underdog and find a way to slow the well-oiled offence of the Mooseheads, this series could go the distance, but the divide in talent might be too much to overcome.
Fun Fact: The last time the Battle of Nova Scotia took place in a playoff series, the Saint John’s Fog Devils were still in the league… 15 years ago!
Prediction: Mooseheads in 6
Moncton Wildcats (3rd, 35-29-2-2) vs Baie Comeau Drakkar (6th, 30-32-4-2)
Season Series: Wildcats (1), Drakkar (1)
Moncton: PP – 22.3% (10th), PK – 75.6% (12th)
Baie Comeau: PP – 20.7% (12th), PK – 75.3% (13th)
The Breakdown: Arguably the dark horse to win the conference, the Moncton Wildcats have been there and back again. With hills and valleys becoming the theme of their season, they hope that they can find the peak of the summit at the right time of the season. They have the prototypical top-six forward group with immense talent featuring Maxim Barbashev, Yoan Loshing, and of course projected first round pick Etienne Morin. This team has the perfect blend of size, skill and experience to make a deep run and pull off an upset or two. If Jacob Steinman can show that his season is for real, this team has as good a chance as any to hoist the Gilles-Courteau Trophy when all is said and done.
However, it is never that easy to project. The Baie Comeau Drakkar pose a different kind of test for this Moncton team. Sometimes the obvious way is the best way to play. Baie Comeau is the kind of team that team executives revel over come playoff time, and you could argue they play “the right way” to get to the promised land. They will bring a physical element each night and refuse to do anything short of executing simple plays that will make it harder for Moncton to adapt with. This squad will be a tough one for the Wildcats to overcome, and one that will almost certainly become a long series when all is said and done. This one is truly in toss-up territory, but you might be inclined to give the tie to the experience, which Moncton has in droves.
Prediction: Wildcats (4), Drakkar (3)
Chicoutimi Sagueneens (4th, 33-31-3-1) vs Rimouski Oceanic (5th, 32-31-3-2)
Season Series: Sagueneens (3) Rimouski (4)
Chicoutimi: PP – 26.5% (5th), PK – 74.3% (15th)
Rimouski: PP – 19.9% (14th), PK – 74% (16th)
The Breakdown: The Chicoutimi Sagueneens represent the youthful powerhouse in the playoffs this season. There is always one team that brings youthful drive to the table, and this Chicoutimi team is just that. Leaning on studs like Maxim Masse and Andrei Loshko will be critical for any sort of success for this team. They had the fifth best powerplay in the QMJHL this season, and playing against an often penalized Rimouski team could play in their favour… that is, if they can consistently find the back of the net.
Too often, they have gotten too fancy with their formations and their execution, and keeping it simple will be the key. If their powerplay is on, they could make quick business of the Oceanic. If they struggle on special teams, Rimouski could find a way to stick around in this series longer than would make the Sagueneens comfortable, and could leave the door open for an early exit.
Rimouski, on the other hand, presents the fire and ice approach to this series. A physically large team that can defend a lead as well as anyone is a strong formula for success in the playoffs. This is certainly an all hands on deck series for Rimouski, and as a team that saw its ascension begin this season, there is a chance for a motivated group to force a Chicoutimi team with round two and beyond aspirations to the brink. If they fall behind early in the series, how they respond as a young group will be telling. But in the right ecosystem of a playoff series, Rimouski could find themselves bound for round two.