The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles entered today's regular season finale against the Halifax Mooseheads having lost their previous three games. It would have made for a really sour note on which to enter the playoffs if they lost again today and made it four in a row to close out the season, but thankfully that didn't end up happening, as Cape Breton scored a convincing 5-1 win over the Mooseheads in front of a loud and enthusiastic sold out crowd at C200.
Today's win doesn't totally make up for the three losses that preceded it, but it at least sends Cape Breton and its fans into the playoffs on a positive note and in a generally good mood, and allows the team and its followers to enter the first round with at least a little bit of confidence. On the whole, the Eagles finish the season having gone 7-3 in their final ten games, which isn't too bad.
Dean Ouellet paced the Eagle attack today with a pair of goals, allowing him to finish the season with 40. Dean worked extremely hard all year and showed great patience and hand-eye coordination tipping pucks in in front of that net throughout the season, and a 40-goal year is a great reward for the man that many consider to be among the hardest-working players in the Q. Ouellet's 40 goals this season are a huge improvement from the 17 he scored last season. As well, this is the first Eagle team ever to possess two players with 40 or more goals on the season (Cam Fergus obviously being the other one, having finished the season with 53 tallies).
Also scoring for Cape Breton were Chris Culligan, Scott Brannon, and JC Sawyer. Culligan's goal was his 30th of the season, and it was just as nice to see "Culli" hit 30 as it was to see Dean Ouellet hit 40. Chris scored his 30 goals despite seeing virtually no time on the #1 powerplay unit all season. It should also be noted that he was the team's second-leading scorer at even strength this season. With Culligan hitting 30 goals, the team finishes the season with FIVE guys who scored 30 or more on the season, also a new Eagle high. Previous high was four 30-goal scorers, in 2000-2001.
In other milestones, Ondrej Pavelec played 25 minutes of shutout hockey today to ensure that he will win the Jacques Plante Trophy for the lowest GAA, and Paul McIlveen had two assists to establish a new team record for points in a season by a right winger. Pavelec was pulled after 25 minutes to protect his goals-against average......... whether or not you agree with such a tactic is totally up to the individual I guess! As well, I can't help but point out that McIlveen's second assist was kind of "fabricated" so as to give him the record.......... he was the third-last guy to touch that puck before Sawyer put it in. Not at all taking away from the excellent seasons that either McIlveen or Pavelec had, but I couldn't help but point out the small "asterisks" that maybe should go along with those records. It's my duty as an objective and impartial blog type guy!
One achievement that can't be disputed at all is the Eagles' finishing with the highest goals scored total in the QMJHL this season and thereby securing the Luc Robitaille Trophy. Cape Breton's five goals today put them at 308 for the season, while runner-up Baie-Comeau scored three to finish at 304. This is a great team accomplishment, especially in a league where offense is usually what wins championships. It's also a great offensive turnaround for a team that, despite boasting above-.500 records, had trouble scoring goals in each of its previous two seasons. It is nice that the Eagles were able to get this trophy honestly, unlike last year's Quebec Remparts, who required running up the score 16-3 (yes, you read that correctly!) on the Rimouski Oceanic in their final game of the regular season last year to secure the same award.
JC Sawyer scored three points in today's season finale to finish the year out with 77, the most of any QMJHL blueliner this year. It is the first time the Eagles have ever had a league-leading scorer at any position.
In the plus-minus category, the Screaming Eagles can be proud to finish the season boasting the top three plus-minus men in the entire league. Chris Culligan led the way with a +45 rating this year, while JC Sawyer was second at +40, and James Sheppard third at +39. This is a real testament to what great two-way players these three guys have become, and the fact that the Eagles had the top three +/- guys in the league says something about the way they dominated their opposition over the course of the season.
Cape Breton finishes with a 46-22-2 record, for 94 points, second overall in the league. Their 46 wins and 94 points are the second-highest for the team all-time in each category, behind only 2003-2004's 49 wins and 103 points. As well, this year's +108 goals for/against differential was just shy of 03-04's team record of +109. However, with a good playoff showing, this year's team would easily be considered to be far superior an Eagles team to the 03-04 edition! It was a fun season to watch, especially from home ice where the team boasted a 28-7 record and filled the net like no Eagles team has ever done before.
Anyhow, enough of season-ending stats and stuff. It was important to get one last win so as not to enter the playoffs on a four-game losing streak, and thankfully the Eagles were able to pull it out. The sold-out crowd was also nice to see, although it would be even nicer to see such a crowd show up for, oh you know, a playoff game that actually matters (today's game was meaningless in the standings)!
Stay tuned this week for an analysis of the upcoming Eagles-Fog Devils series, which gets underway Friday and Saturday night from C200. The first season is over, and has to be considered to have been pretty fun and successful, but the second season is now upon us, and it's the second season that is infinitely more important, especially for a franchise starved for playoff success like the Screaming Eagles are.
Is this the year that Cape Breton takes home their first QMJHL title? We start finding out on Friday.