Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Better Know Your Memorial Cup Team: Moncton Wildcats

The Memorial Cup, which crowns the best in major junior hockey, starts on May 14th and as a (dis)service to you folks out there; I'll do my best to breakdown the teams you may or may not know. As a note-- I'm a hack and probably won't get all the facts or anything like that straight, so bear with me.

The final team is now in the Memorial Cup and it's a team who has been there in the past few years, albeit in the perfect position. The Moncton Wildcats return to the Memorial Cup for the first time since 2006, where they hosted the event and won the QMJHL to boot. However, they weren't able to win on home ice, as they lost in the final. The story of this team is similar to that of the 2006 team, as the Wildcats were one of the top teams in the Q this season. They repeated their record from last season at 48-14-2-4, but were able to get out of the second round this time around....obviously.

One of the big stories will be the defense, as they let in the least goals in the Q this year at 164. It starts in net with Nicola Riopel, who had three shutouts in his 16 wins and only lost four in the entire playoffs. This is after Riopel came back from the AHL in Adirondack with the Phantoms. While Shane Owen is reliable enough to be called on, odds are they won't go to him at all. Riopel will be the guy to carry this team in net and should be able to deal with the pucks that may be thrown at him.

The defensemen are very offensive minded, but responsible in their own zone. They are led by Mark Barberio, who had 60 points and +39 in the regular season with 22 points and a +10 in the playoffs-- which should be able to help out on both sides of the puck. David Savard was able to transition his game from offensively in the regular season to a more defensive look at him as the playoffs came around. The most consistent through the regular season and playoffs is Brandon Gormley; who is more defensive minded and should help out Riopel should he need it. They'll also have an edge physically, as they boast Spence Metcalfe, who had 166 PIMs in the regular season, but of course toned it down in the playoffs with only 16. Odds are they'll throw Metcalfe out in roles where they would need to set a tone for the game.

Up front, one disturbing stat is the fall-off of Nicolas Deschamps; who had 52 points in 33 games after being traded to Moncton, but only has 14 points in his 15 playoff games. Luckily, Kelsey Tessier picked up the slack, leading the team with 30 points in the playoffs, while Gabriel Bourque is packing some punch on the score sheet, as well, with 29 points. All three were acquired midway through the season, which shows that GM Bill Schurman knew what his team needed in terms of forward production and got what he needed to get the team to this point. Especially considering the defense-first minded team, the trio of Tessier, Bourque, and Deschamps should be able to keep this team well rounded-- pending Deschamps waking up on the big stage.

The Wildcats could possibly be the most defensive oriented team in the Memorial Cup and they'll be up against very explosive offensives, who also have a defensive element to them. For the Wildcats to succeed, they'll need to hope for Deschamps to get back on track and hope they can play a shutdown game against the other three teams. Riopel should be tested a lot and if he isn't able to handle the pressure, it could spell the end for the Wildcats. Yet, they were able to go throughout the season with a defensive mindset, as well as the playoffs. They defeated the top-ranked Quebec League team in the league in the Final and should have a lot of confidence going into the Memorial Cup, especially in an underdog setting.

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