Road war­riors of the Q

QMJHL teams strug­gle on home ice to be­gin sea­son

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - Pa­trick McNeil Pa­trick McNeil is the play-by-play an­nouncer with the Cape Bre­ton Scream­ing Ea­gles. He’s hop­ing Win­nipeg’s post-sea­son fu­til­ity against Saskatchewan con­tin­ues this week­end. You can email Pa­trick at cb­, or Twit­ter: cb­se_pbp.

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.

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