© The Canadian Press
Antoine Bibeau of the Val-d'Or Foreurs is reflected on the glass at the Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont., Thursday.
QMJHL champions play host team tonight
By Donna Spencer
THE CANADIAN PRESS
LONDON, Ont. — The Val-d’Or Foreurs are riding a wave of adrenaline into the Memorial Cup.
Less than 48 hours after winning the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship in Baie-Comeau, Que., the Foreurs were on the ice Thursday in London, Ont., preparing for the Cup opener against the host Knights.
“For sure we’ve been on a high for two days,” Foreurs forward Anthony Mantha said. “We need to manage our emotions. The tournament is starting tomorrow. We need to be ready.”
Friday’s game pits the least-rested team against a club that will play its first real game in over a month.
The Foreurs went the full seven games to win both their QMJHL semifinal and final series. Mantha, a 57-goal man in the regular season, scored the winner with less than a minute remaining Tuesday against the Drakkar.
The Knights were eliminated April 11 in the second round of playoffs by the eventual Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm.
So it’s the fresh legs of London versus the battle-hardened, confident Foreurs to kick off the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
“For sure in the first period or two being game-sharp is an advantage,” Mantha said. “Maybe later in the game it’s going to become their advantage.
“For us, it’s (important) to start strong. Once you have the lead, it’s a little bit easier playing with the lead than being back one or two goals.”
London’s starting goaltender Anthony Stolarz will play his first game since March 25 because of a post-season suspension.
“I think there’s going to be a lot traffic in front of the net.” Mantha said. “He’s maybe not going to be sharp, I don’t know. I’ve never seen him play. For us, it’s going to be shoot the puck and go for rebounds.”
The Storm and the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings play their first game of the tournament Saturday. The Oil Kings clinched the WHL crown Monday, while the Storm sewed up their title last week.
The team with the best record after the preliminary round earns a bye to the final May 25. The second- and third-place teams meet in the May 23 semifinal. A tiebreaker game is played if two teams tie for third.
The Memorial Cup has been handed out to Canada’s junior hockey champions since 1919. Players in the tournament are 16 to 21 years old.
Val-d’Or is 540 kilometres northwest of Montreal. The Foreurs are making their third appearance at the Memorial Cup. They lost in the 2001 final to the Red Deer Rebels and went winless in 1998.
The Foreurs arrived at the Val-d’Or airport early Wednesday morning from Baie-Comeau and were on a charter to London that afternoon.
Head coach Mario Durocher’s ideal scenario is a win against the host team Friday followed by two days of catching up on rest before their next game Monday against Guelph.
“The first win is going to be the toughest one,” he said. “The quicker you get it, the better it’s going to be. You get one, you at least have a chance for a tiebreaker, so the first game will be important.
“We have two days of rest after that. Those two days off will be important I think to get that energy back for the rest of the tournament.”
Durocher coached the Victoriaville Tigres to the Memorial Cup final in 2002 when they lost the championship to the Kootenay Ice.
He was also head coach of Canada’s junior hockey team that won a silver medal in 2004 and featured players such as Sidney Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook and Ryan Getzlaf.
Led by Mantha, a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, the Foreurs were the only team in the QMJHL to crack the 300-goal mark during the regular season.
The six-foot-five, 204-pound winger led this year’s Canadian junior team in scoring with five goals and six assists in six games. Mantha also averaged a goal a game in 24 playoff games for Val-d’Or.
“When he came from Detroit’s training camp, he was a different player, an awesome player,” Durocher said.
The Foreurs boast offensive support from the back end as Randy Gazzola and Guillaume Gelinas were the top-two producing defenceman in the QMJHL this season.
“At the beginning of the season I was concerned about my offence,” Durocher said. “(We decided) our defencemen will be part of the offence and they caught on and liked it pretty quick.”
“They’re not making the attack. They’re supporting the attack. We want them to follow the forwards. We don’t want them to get caught and give up three-on-ones. We worked on that all season long.”
Captain Sam Henley, a six-foot-five, 220-pound centre, recently signed an entry-level contract with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
The Foreurs acquired goaltender Antoine Bibeau, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, and defenceman Ryan Graves, who is signed by the New York Rangers, during the QMJHL’s trade window. Val-d’Or gave up their first-round draft picks in 2013 and 2014 to acquire them from the Charlottetown Islanders.
With little time to top up the tank, the Foreurs must draw on their reserves to win the Cup.
“At the beginning of the season it’s ’oh, why are we doing skating at the end of practice and all that stuff and off-ice (training)?’ When you’re here in the Memorial Cup, this is where everything will pay off,” Durocher said.
“It’s going to be lesson for them for the rest of their life. To be a pro athlete, it’s 12 months a year. Your body is your business.”
Five Players To Watch
u Anthony Mantha, Val-d’Or Foreurs — At six foot five and 204 pounds, the QMJHL’s most valuable player scored 57 goals in the regular season. The Detroit Red Wings prospect was also Canada’s leading scorer at the world junior championships.
u Robbi Fabbri, Guelph Storm — The 18-year-old centre from Mississauga, Ont., was the OHL’s playoff MVP with 13 goals and 15 assists in 16 games. His stock is rising for the NHL draft in June.
u Chris Tierney, London Knights — The San Jose Sharks draft pick was a top producer in the regular season and playoffs for the host Knights. The Knights captain was also voted the Western Conference’s smartest player in an OHL coaches’ poll.
u Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton Oil Kings — The WHL’s playoff MVP is the catalyst for Edmonton’s smothering defence. The defenceman is a first-round draft pick of the New York Islanders.
u Kerby Rychel, Guelph Storm — A first-round draft pick of Columbus Blue Jackets, Rychel was a clutch goalscorer for the Storm in their OHL championship series against North Bay.
(The Canadian Press)
All Times Eastern
Val-d’Or vs. London, 7 p.m.
Guelph vs. Edmonton, 4 p.m.
London vs. Edmonton, 7 p.m.
Monday, May 19
Guelph vs. Val-d’Or, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, May 20
Edmonton vs. Val-d’Or, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 21
London vs. Guelph, 7 p.m.
End of Round Robin
Thursday, May 22
Tiebreaker (if necessary)
Third vs. Fourth places, 7 p.m.
Friday, May 23
Second vs. Third places, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 25
First place vs. Semifinal winner, 7 p.m.