Thursday, November 30, 2006

McIlveen scores hat trick; leads Eagles to 6-4 win over Olympiques

The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles overcame a 3-2 second period deficit with a goal late in the period and three more at the start of the third to score an exciting 6-4 win over the Gatineau Olympiques last night at C200. The game featured fast-paced, back-and-forth hockey, and was likely one of the better games played at the Nest so far this season.

Gatineau got on the board first, taking advantage of a broken up play, as Brett Morrison was at the lip of the crease to shovel home a rebound to give his Olympiques a 1-0 lead. However, Cape Breton would tie the game minutes later when Paul McIlveen took advantage of a Dean Ouellet pass that just barely slipped through Gatineau defenceman Benoit Gervais, sending him in on a breakaway. He showed a real goal scorer's touch in flipping a sweet backhand deke over Gatineau starting goaltender Olivier Laliberte to tie the game at 1-1. Each team managed to score on its first shot of the hockey game.

The rest of the first period, however, would not go so well for the Eagles. They seemed to have trouble containing the high-powered Olympiques offence and keeping up with some of their faster skaters. It would eventually end up costing them on the Piques' only powerplay of the period, as Claude Giroux, Slava Trukhno, and Keven Petit teamed up for a crazy passing play (finished off by Giroux) that left the Eagles standing around flat-footed. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec made a fantastic save on Petit's initial one-timer shot but was helpless as Giroux shovelled in the rebound. 2-1 Gatineau after one.

Things looked bleaker for the home team entering the second period, as they would be without defenceman Spencer Corcoran for the rest of the game due to injury. The Eagles had started the game with just five defencemen and would have to play the remaining two periods with only four. On the plus side, the Eagles were starting the period on a powerplay thanks to Gatineau having left the bench too early at the end of the first period. Cape Breton would score on this powerplay to tie the game at 2-2, as Paul McIlveen would score his second of the game and 20th of the season, roofing one from the slot over Laliberte's glove hand.

For the rest of this period, Cape Breton had lots of jump and seemed to have no trouble skating with the Olympiques like they did in the first. It looked as though their quick transition game would be rewarded with a 3-2 lead almost midway through the period when McIlveen's initial shot was shovelled home by Dean Ouellet. However, the goal was waved off and a penalty was assessed to the Eagles, as referee Ghislain Hebert ruled that Eagle forward Cam Fergus had interfered with goaltender Laliberte on the play. Many in attendance were of the opinion that Fergus had been pushed into the goaltender and that the goal therefore should have stood. Just two seconds after the ensuing Gatineau powerplay, Brett Morrison would flip a rebound into an empty net to give the Olympiques a 3-2 lead. A goal two seconds after a powerplay may not officially count as a powerplay goal, but it is one for all intents and purposes, because there is no way that the penalized player can be back in the play by that time. So in essence, we not only had our goal disallowed, but the penalty on the play directly led to a goal against. This had "TSN Turning Point" written all over it.

That turn of events may well have stood as the "TSN Turning Point" if not for a great breakaway goal by Robert Slaney late in the second period. In my opinion, this was the most important goal of the game, as it pretty much erased the unfortunate turn of events mentioned earlier. Slaney took a great pass from Scott Brannon and broke in all alone on goal. He may have had only one goal all year leading into this play, but he made it look like he's been scoring all season, snapping a great shot right off of the left post and in. This allowed the Eagles to head to the dressing room tied 3-3, and as stated earlier, allowed the Eagles to regain the momentum that they had lost from the disallowed goal and ensuing Gatineau tally.

The Eagles never looked back, coming out absolutely flying to start the third period and scoring three goals to put the game away. Just 14 seconds into the period, unlikely hero Francois Gauthier found a loose puck in the blue paint and easily shovelled it home to give the Eagles a lead they would not surrender. Minutes later, McIlveen finished off some great work down low with linemates Ouellet and Fergus, punching home a loose puck to give himself the hat trick on the evening, his first three goal game as an Eagle. The Eagles' final goal was a result of a two-on-one between Brendon MacDonald and captain James Sheppard. MacDonald fed Sheppard a sweet pass that he tipped past Laliberte, ending the netminder's night (he was replaced by backup Tyler Pugh, who made his first QMJHL appearance). Scott Brannon laid a great open-ice hit to start the play that led to this two-on-one, and was credited with his third assist of the night for his efforts; he had a great game in particular and some think he should have been among the game's three stars. A powerplay goal by Gatineau defenceman Maxime Mallette in the game's final minute can be filed under "too little, too late", and the Eagles would win a very exciting hockey game against a very tough opponent by a score of 6-4.

The game's three stars were: 3. Brett Morrison, Gatineau (2 G, 1A) 2. James Sheppard, Cape Breton (1G, 1A) 1. Paul McIlveen, Cape Breton (3G).

An honourable mention from myself goes to Scott Brannon, who had three assists, and could have had a fourth had Sheppard potted a glorious chance late in the game for which Brannon set him up.

Also deserving of mention is the play of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who came back from being pulled in his previous two starts to play a very solid game.

Finally, I would like to credit the team's defencemen. The Eagles were forced to play the final two periods with only four defencemen (they also dropped Slaney back on defence on the PK), and those four defencemen did a great job with such a heavy workload. A cause for concern, however, is that the team loses Oskars Bartulis from Dec 2 to about Dec 26 to the "Pool B" World Junior Championships, which could leave the Eagles with just three healthy regular defencemen. It will be very interesting to see what the Eagles will do to try and manage under these circumstances.

All in all, great game at C200 last night, for sure one of the most exciting of the season, and it was great to see the Eagles defeat a Gatineau hockey club that they've had some trouble with over the past couple of seasons.

With the win, the Eagles improve to 19-11-1 (including 12-3 on home ice), but still trail the Moncton Wildcats by two points for 2nd place in the East Division, and the Lewiston MAINEiacs by five points for top spot.

The Eagles' next home game is tomorrow night (Friday) at 7:00 PM against those same Moncton Wildcats; a great opportunity to move into a tie for second place.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Regular season game #31; Cape Breton Screaming Eagles vs Gatineau Olympiques

Tonight, Eagles fans receive a rare treat as one of the teams from the West Division, the Gatineau Olympiques, comes to C200 for its yearly visit.


The Eagles enter this game with a record of 18-11-1 for 37 points, which has them in third place in the eight-team East Division, two points back of the second-place Moncton Wildcats (who play at Halifax tonight) and seven back of the division-leading Lewiston MAINEiacs (who are idle). Nipping on the heels of the Screaming Eagles are the Bathurst Titan, who are just two points behind with a game in hand. The Titan play host to the PEI Rocket tonight. Cape Breton sits tied for fourth overall (coincidentally enough, tied with the Gatineau Olympiques) in the 18-team QMJHL. They're coming into this game having won their last game, 7-3 over the Halifax Mooseheads, but having lost the three games prior to that one. It's therefore important that a good effort is put forth tonight so that the team can really distance themselves from their recent three-game skid. Tonight's game is the third of a six-game home stand, on which the team currently sports a 1-1 record. The Eagles are 11-3 in total on home ice so far this season.

The Gatineau Olympiques have a very good team year in and year out and are always very well-coached and extremely difficult to play against. They enter tonight's game with a record of 17-8-1-2, good for 37 points and as stated before, a tie with the Eagles for fourth overall in the QMJHL. They sit in second place in the 10-team West division, behind only the Val d'or Foreurs.



Gatineau is led by one of the best forward lines in the league, featuring former PEI Rocket Viatcheslav "Slava" Trukhno at left wing, Howie Center native Brett Morrison at center, and Philadelphia Flyers 1st round pick Claude Giroux at right wing. Giroux is third in league scoring with 57 points in 28 games and has been one of the league's best all-around players all season; a real "new NHL" style of player. Trukhno is one of the league's flashier offensive talents, sits seventh in league scoring with 52 points in 25 games, and his 38 assists are second-best in the league. Local boy Morrison has 41 points in 26 games, good for a tie for 16th in league scoring, and he has the league's best faceoff win % at 64.5%. As said, this trio is truly one of the league's best, and the Eagles' checking line and PK will have to zero in on this line tonight.

Les Olympiques also have quality second and third lines made up of guys like captain Keven Petit, JP Chabot, Matthew Pistilli, Michael Stinziani, and crasher and banger Darryl Smith.


Their defence is a bit young and unproven but it's been doing the job for the most part so far. Their D corps is led by 20-year-old Martin Frechette, who is tied for second in the league (with Screaming Eagle JC Sawyer) in points among defencemen with 33 in 28 games. They've also recently received a defensive boost with the return to the lineup of defensive defenceman Jonathan Carrier. Another source of offense from the blueline is Maxime Mallette, but he did not play in the Piques' last game so he may be injured and unavailable for tonight. Another solid D for Gatineau is former first round Q draft pick Brad Tesink.


In goal, Gatineau possesses a decent, but not great, overager in Olivier Laliberte. Whether or not he'll backstop them all season or they'll go after someone a little more proven for their playoff run remains to be seen. While he's not a superstar though, the southpaw Laliberte is solid and reliable, and can give the opposition fits on any given night. In fact, in an interview about two years ago, he was actually Sidney Crosby's answer to the question "Which QMJHL goalie do you find the hardest to score on?" He's not a big star, but he's competent, and often plays well enough to win. He'll most likely get the start tonight, as Gatineau has been playing "musical backup goalies" all season, with none of them really sticking around.


Cape Breton dropped their only other meeting with the Gatineau Olympiques this season by a score of 6-4 at the Robert Guertin Arena in Hull, PQ back on September 22. They led this game 3-2 after two periods but a third period collapse sealed their fate for that night. Over the past few seasons, the Eagles have had a lot of trouble matching up against the Olympiques. The last five regular season matchups between the two teams have all been Gatineau wins, and the Piques also defeated the Screaming Eagles 4-1 in games in a 2005 first round playoff series. Add it all up and the Screaming Eagles have lost nine of their last ten games against this perennially successful hockey club. Gatineau's knack for finding a way to win was no more apparent than their last visit to C200 back in January of last season, when they erased a 3-0 deficit after two periods to beat the Eagles 5-4 in a shootout. Cape Breton will surely need one of their better efforts of the season to beat this very tough team tonight.


Probable Eagle line combinations heading into tonight's game:

Dean Ouellet-Cam Fergus-Paul McIlveen
Chris Culligan-James Sheppard-Scott Brannon
Brendon MacDonald-JC Gauthier-Brad Gallant

The fourth line could be any mix of Francois Gauthier, Alex Quesnel, Mickey MacDonald, and Stephen Ceccanese. I am pretty sure that forward Robert Slaney is still playing defence what with the injuries to Charlie Pens, Etienne Breton, and Daniel Fazzalari.

The Eagles will need the consistent and balanced attack from the top two lines that they got on Saturday night against the Mooseheads in their 7-3 victory, and will need the checking unit to really key on Gatineau's top forwards, against whom they'll likely be matched up for much of the evening.


Defencemen available for tonight: JC Sawyer, Oskars Bartulis, Jason Swit, Mark Barberio, and I believe that callup Spencer Corcoran is still with the team for the time being. As stated earlier, Robert Slaney has been playing on defence as of late and could do so again tonight. Sawyer and Bartulis will likely log major minutes what with the injuries on the blueline to Pens, Breton, and Fazzalari.


In goal, it's unsure as to who will start. Ondrej Pavelec struggled in his last outing, being pulled after three goals on five shots against Halifax on Friday night, but it was most likely due to him battling the flu that night. David Davenport was spectacular in relief that night and won the next night as well. The start could be given to Davenport based on his success in the last two games, but if his battle with the flu bug is over, the team might choose to give Pavelec the nod to try and get him going again. I'm not going to predict a starter because I'm quite unsure as to what they'll do.


On the powerplay, the Olympiques enter the game with the second-best rate in the league at 26.0%, while the Screaming Eagles are third at 24.9%. The Eagles' top powerplay unit currently consists of Sheppard, Fergus, and Ouellet up front with Sawyer and McIlveen on the points. McIlveen is playing the right point on the PP because of a slight injury to Oskars Bartulis that hampers his ability to shoot the puck.

On the penalty kill, Cape Breton has fallen slightly over the past couple of games, dropping from third overall to fifth, with a PK % of 81.8%. Gatineau is doing surprisingly poorly in this area, with a PK % of just 77.4%, for 14th overall in the league, or fifth-to-last.


A chance for the Eagles to tie Moncton for second place in the division standings, and to move to within five points of Lewiston for the division lead. A chance for Cape Breton to prove that they can match up well against and defeat this fellow contender for the league title. If the Eagles want to prove that they're the real contender that most think they are this season, it would be good to prove that we can beat these guys.

As said earlier, it's always a treat to see a team from the West Division for once, so here's to a good game between two of the league's top teams tonight!