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.

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