The Moncton Wildcats and Acadie-Bathurst Titan finished last season at opposite ends of the standings. So far, the story has been similar…with a major role reversal.
Titan finished second in the ‘Q’ last year. They easily walked through the playoffs on route to the President’s Cup and Memorial Cup Championship. The Wildcats struggled throughout the entire season, going 27-33-5-3 finishing 14th in the league. They did make noise when they upset Rimouski Océanic in the first round of the playoffs, before falling to Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in round two.
However, this year, there has been a change in fates for the two in the first three months of the season. Last year’s juggernaut has fallen towards the cellar of the league, while the other, who has had difficulty finding success in recent years, seems to have found their stride, and have found their way to the top of the league. Let’s take a look at how these teams got to where they are.
A Titan(ic) Fall
Titan’s run to the Memorial Cup was nothing less than spectacular. For a team that finished last in 2015, Bathurst has slowly climbed up the standings to the top of the league, all the way to finishing right behind the Armada in the final standings.
This year, let’s just say they have taken a huge step back. The defending Memorial Cup Champs have only won five games in their 28 games. Three of those wins were against Saint John’s, who are a whole two points behind Titan for last place in the league. A number of factors led to the club’s sudden, and sharp, decline.
The Scoring Went Adrift
I know it is redundant, but you cannot win hockey games if you cannot score, and Titan has not been able to put the puck in the back in the net. Bathurst’s 58 goals for are lowest in the league, even less than the last place Sea Dogs. New York Islanders’ first round pick, Noah Dobson is still helping lead the offensive attack. His 15 points is tied Marc-Andre LeCouffe for the team lead. However, that is a far cry from his point-a-game pace he had last year. His 69 points put him second in defensemen scoring last year. He also saved his best for the Memorial Cup, putting up seven points in four games. It does not help that Dobson does not have the same support staff as he had last season. Leading scorers Antoine Morand and Olivier Galipeau led the attack through the post-season, and who could forget Jeffrey Truchon-Viel’s performance in the Memorial Cup? Unfortunately, for this year’s team, there has just not been enough all around scoring for this team to be successful up front.
One of the biggest acquisitions last season for Bathurst was Evan Fitzpatrick from Sherbrooke Phoenix. He back-stopped Titan to the Memorial Cup, and really helped the team’s confidence. Fitzpatrick moved onto the pros, and Titan went out looking for an experienced net-minder to fill the gap. Sadly, the experience that Mark Grametbauer possesses is not the most noteworthy. The Halifax native came to Titan from Moncton, and his lackluster play carried over to Bathurst. He’s 5-14, with a 3.71 GAA, with a .901 SV%. Rookie backup Tyriq Outen has not been able to support Grametbauer in his time in the net. Outen is 0-8 so far this year, with an abysmal 5.64 GAA, and .874 SV%.
Unfortunately for Titan, it looks like they have taken a huge step back from the progress they have made in the past three seasons, and with star player Dobson most likely heading out the door, Bathurst is going to have start rebuilding if they want to get back to the top.
Experience Key In Moncton’s Success
The last time the Moncton Wildcats finished in the top-half of the league, Jakob Pelletier was not even in secondary school (high school for those outside Canada). Since then, Moncton has been mediocre at best, never able to get the same talent the bigger clubs have been able to (i.e. Drummondville Voltiguers, Quebec Remparts, etc.). This year, though, the Wildcats seemed to have found their touch this year. They are 21-7-2 through December 3rd, and sitting atop of the Eastern Conference. Moncton is just four points behind one of the best teams in the CHL, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. There are a number of reasons why this team has been as good as they have been this year.
Lamp Lighting Up and Down the Line-up
One aspect that Moncton lacked a year ago was depth scoring. This year, there is more goals up and down the lineup. It all starts with Jeremy McKenna. Last year’s leading scorer is out in front again with 50 points in 30 games. He is third in the league in goals (20) and assists (30), and is only a pair of points behind Peter Abbandonato, the ‘Q’s leading scorer. Pelletier is setting himself up to be a hot commodity come draft day next June. After putting up 61 points in his rookie season, the Quebec native is already averaging well over a point a game. If he can keep up at the pace he’s at now, he could easily reach 100 points by season’s end. Veteran centre Mika Cyr and Minnesota prospect Alexander Khovanov each have really stepped up their games, with each capable of setting career highs this season.
The Wildcats gave up the fourth most goals last season. This year, the team has greatly improved in their own zone. Only five players have a plus-minus under zero, compared to last year where there were 20. The defense has been led by over-ager Gabriel Sylvestre and rookie Jordan Spence. Sylvestre, the undrafted d-man from Blainville, is really settling in after coming over from Shawinigan last season, and is tied for second with Cyr in plus-minus with a +18. In his first season, Spence has established himself as a very capable two-way defenseman. His 21 points has him tied for fifth in defensemen scoring, and his +10 plus-minus is sixth-best among rookies.
Moncton has found the formula for success this season. If this club can keep it up, there is no question that Moncton will be a definite favourite to represent the QMJHL at the upcoming Memorial Cup.
stats from theqmjhl.ca