Colum­nist Pa­trick McNeil tells the tale of two fran­chises.

A tale of two his­to­ries as Saint John, Blainville-Bois­briand clash in fi­nal

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Breton - Pa­trick McNeil Around the Q Pa­trick McNeil is the play-by-play an­nouncer and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager with the Cape Bre­ton Scream­ing Ea­gles. He’ll be in Aus­tralian foot­ball ac­tion this Satur­day at 1 p.m. at Open Hearth Park. Email him at cb­sepbp@gmail.com,

A gen­er­a­tion of hockey fans has grown up with an 18 team QMJHL, and in 2017 its two most re­cent en­tries will lock horns to crown a cham­pion.

One could be for­given for for­get­ting the link be­tween the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Blainville-Bois­briand Ar­mada, be­cause the two clubs have taken very dif­fer­ent roads since en­ter­ing the QMJHL in 2005.

Life for the Ar­mada be­gan as the St. John’s Fog Devils, who fin­ished ahead of the Sea Dogs in their first two cam­paigns in the league. But after three years on the Rock hav­ing only won a sin­gle play­off game, the Devils mor­phed into the Mon­treal Ju­nior. There was progress, but also heart­break, in­clud­ing in 2011 when the No. 2 seeded Ju­nior crashed in Round 2. In Blainville, the club has won nine of 14 play­off rounds since ar­riv­ing in 2012, but this is the first time the men in black and white have made the league fi­nal.

Had the Ju­nior per­formed as ex­pected in the 2011 post­sea­son, their op­po­nent would have been the Sea Dogs in the league fi­nal. In­stead, Saint John topped Gatineau in six games to be­come President Cup cham­pi­ons, and a year later would re­peat by sweep­ing Ri­mouski. Since the league in­tro­duced its league wide, 1 ver­sus 16 play­off seed­ing in 2011, the Dogs have won ti­tles in both years as the top ranked squad, and are now look­ing to be the first Mar­itime team to cap­ture a third President Cup.

Amaz­ingly, the Dogs have avoided fac­ing any other top four clubs in their play­off voy­ages as reg­u­lar sea­son cham­pi­ons in this for­mat. But Saint John didn’t have it easy this April in their six game se­ries against Chicoutimi, as the Sags were the first team to ever take a top ranked Sea Dogs club past five con­tests in the open­ing three rounds. Blainville-Bois­briand comes in as the slightly more rested squad. The Ar­mada dropped the opener to Char­lot­te­town, but re­sponded with au­thor­ity, win­ning the next four games and scor­ing 19 times in the process.

Saint John and Blainville split their reg­u­lar sea­son matches, both that took place prior to the trad­ing pe­riod. The Ar­mada won 3-2 at home in Oc­to­ber thanks to an Alexan­dre Alain over­time goal, but the Dogs coun­tered in De­cem­ber with a 4-1 win at Har­bour Sta­tion. Saint John cap­tain Spencer Small­man led the way over the two games, col­lect­ing five points. There is no post-sea­son his­tory to draw from, as the Sea Dogs haven’t played any in­car­na­tion of the Ar­mada in the play­offs.

Both teams have dodged ma­jor in­juries this spring, though Ar­mada sup­port­ers won­der what their group would look like if star de­fense­man Jérémy Roy hadn’t been in­jured 10 games into the sea­son. Fans in Cape Bre­ton will hope to see Mira na­tive Cole Regi­nato back in the lineup after he missed Game 6 in Chicoutimi. Regi­nato is the lone for­mer Cape Bre­ton player on the Port City squad, while for­mer Ea­gles Pier­reLuc Dubois and To­bie Bis­son are skat­ing for Blainville-Bois­briand.

Dubois was a ma­jor ac­qui­si­tion at the trad­ing pe­riod, and along with for­mer Voltigeur Alex Barré-Boulet, has helped tem­po­rar­ily re­make the iden­tity of the Ar­mada. Ranked third and first in play­off scor­ing re­spec­tively, the new for­wards have lifted a Blainville out­fit that fin­ished in the bot­tom half in goals for in the reg­u­lar sea­son, to one that is sec­ond in play­off goals this year. Alain has done his part as well, pro­duc­ing at over a point a game. De­spite a few or­di­nary per­for­mances in the semi-fi­nals, the Joël Bouchard coached side has an ace in nets with Sa­muel Mon­tem­beault and his .923 post-sea­son save per­cent­age.

Cal­lum Booth hasn’t pro­duced num­bers as eye pop­ping in goal, but the Sea Dogs can feel con­fi­dent hav­ing al­lowed less than two goals per game this post-sea­son. Mathieu Joseph is sec­ond among point get­ters up front, while the Saint John of­fense is really be­ing driven from the blue-line thanks to the ef­forts of Si­mon Bourque and Thomas Chabot, the lat­ter of who has posted a gaudy +24 plus/mi­nus in the play­offs.

The power play could be one weak­ness in the league lead­ing Sea Dog squad, draw­ing just three power plays per con­test and only pro­duc­ing at a 15.4 per cent rate. Blainville has been dev­as­tat­ing with their man ad­van­tage, scor­ing 32.8 per cent of the time. How­ever, the Dogs hold the Q’s top penalty kill in the play­offs, while Blainville have killed less than 75 per cent of its penal­ties.

At even strength or spe­cial teams, the fi­nal should be a great se­ries, and it all be­gins tonight in New Brunswick.

QMJHL PHOTO

The Saint John Sea Dogs hope to have Cole Regi­nato of Al­bert Bridge back in the lineup after he missed Game 6 in Chicoutimi.

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