Road warriors of the Q
QMJHL teams struggle on home ice to begin season
Supposedly there’s no place like home, but in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League these days there’s no guarantee home will be there for you to play.
Last weekend the Québec Remparts and Gatineau Olympiques saw their game halted with 1:54 remaining in the second period due to a power outage at Gatineau’s Robert-Guertin Centre. It’s the second time this season a game has had to be rescheduled, as a Blainville-Boisbriand/Victoriaville matchup that started on Sept. 21 had to finish on Oct. 10. Québec and Gatineau will resume on Jan. 14, with the Remparts leading 2-1.
Rink issues aren’t unfamiliar to Gatineau, as last season the Olympiques saw home matches postponed due to an ammonia leak. The latest postponement didn’t sit well with director of hockey operations Alain Sear, who described the situation as a “black eye.” Sear’s team has been hoping for a new rink for several years, but there have been several delays in the process and plans for a new rink are in excess of one million dollars over budget.
Having opened in 1957, the rink nicknamed “The Bob” is one of the older venues in the QMJHL. While older buildings generally lack the amenities that their newer counterparts have, the history they accumulate tends to build up an impressive atmosphere in its own right. The Olympiques are skating in the same rink that has housed seven QMJHL championship teams and the 1997 Memorial Cup, won by the host team.
But while the Guertin has a reputation of an imposing rink to visit, the numbers say otherwise. Since Gatineau’s 2008 President’s Cup triumph, they have lost 26 of 50 home playoff games. They have struggled in 2018-19 in their own barn as well — but they are far from alone.
Heading into this weekend, QMJHL teams were a combined 75-108 on home ice. (Although It’s worth noting that home teams had won 10 of the last 13 contests heading into Friday’s action.) Eight different clubs have an equal or better winning percentage away from home, with the Olympiques having the most pronounced difference in that direction: a 2-6-3 record in Gatineau, and 6-3-0 elsewhere.
This year’s numbers have been somewhat skewed by an unconventional 15-game road trip to open the calendar for the Halifax Mooseheads. As this year’s Memorial Cup hosts, they are expected to be strong, and lived up to the billing, winning 12 games on that epic journey. While it’s a very small sample size, the Mooseheads only won one of their opening three home contests, losing to teams from Cape Breton and Moncton that they were able to win against away.
Cape Breton, now on a fourgame road trip, is hoping their woes at Centre 200 concluded after winning their last two home games. A team as geographically isolated as the Screaming Eagles (with their closest trip being four hours on the bus), theoretically should have a greater home advantage and greater difficulty on the road. But through 20 games the Eagles were 4-6 at home and 6-3-1 on the road. The club’s three leading point getters all have a majority of their production off-island.
Mathias Laferrière has 14 points in away contests, and 12 at home. Egor Sokolov has collected 16 of his 25 points away from the Nest. And nobody in the league has a greater difference favouring road games than Mitchell Balmas, who has 17 points on the road, and four in Cape Breton. Balmas’s story is a unique one, as the 20-yearold from Sydney was traded to his hometown club ahead of his fifth season, but thus far has found his best success as an Eagle away from Centre 200.
Conventional wisdom is prevailing for most of the elite point-getters as eight of the top nine in the league have more points at home. Strangely, the lone exception is league-leader Peter Abbandonato of Rouyn-Noranda. The overage forward has recorded 20 of 33 points on the road.
Some teams in the “Q” have followed the traditional method of success. East Division leading-Baie-Comeau is 9-2 at the Centre Henry-Leonard, and heavily rebuilding Victoriaville is just above .500 thanks to an 8-1-1 record in their own barn.
While over 25 per cent of the campaign has been completed, it’s still a small sample size. It hasn’t proven consistent over the three major junior loops: In the WHL, home sides are 97-87, and it’s 102-74 in the OHL. As the season continues, Q fans heading to the rink will hope their local side can play more like their western counterparts.