In Game 7 of the Québec midget AAA final, the Grenadiers de Châteauguay's dream was quickly turning into a nightmare.
© photo courtesy of the Grenadiers de Châteauguay
The Grenadiers de Châteauguay celebrate after winning the Québec Midget AAA Hockey League title.
They were out-shooting the Phénix de Collège Esther-Blondin 6-2 less than three minutes into the game. The only problem was that those two shots against had both been goals.
"It was 2-0 after two minutes, but we started well. They got two shots and they scored, but I know with the offence that we have (we could come back)," said Châteauguay head coach Bruce Richardson. "When I called the timeout I said: 'We've been waiting for this moment for eight months. We've been working hard. There's 57 minutes left in the game we're not going to quit right now.' The guys bared with it, kept digging, kept working and they got one back and got the momentum back."
Richardson, a 15-year pro in the minors and Europe, has been coaching the Grenadiers for the past three seasons.
"It comes down to the attitude. I've seen a lot of things. I've been in in a lot of Game 7s and things like that. Sometimes as a coach you try to take your experience and share that: 'I've seen that. I've lived that. So don't tell me it's not possible. I've done it.' You try to give them that experience and communicate that to them," said Richardson.
Châteauguay scored six of the next seven goals in Sunday's Game 7 and won 6-4 to claim the Jimmy-Ferrari Cup. Now the Grenadiers have their sights set on the Telus Cup in Moose Jaw starting Monday.
Châteauguay went to the Telus in 2006 when they were still called the Patriotes. They lost 8-0 to the Prince Albert Mintos in the semifinals and finished third.
No Quebec team has won the Telus since 2001 when the Gouverneurs de Ste-Foy won the title.
"At the beginning of the year when we set our goals, our goal wasn't to win our league, it was to go and try to bring the Telus Cup back to Québec. It's been awhile that it hasn't come here and we want to represent Québec as well as possible," said Richardson.
It has been a tough season for Châteauguay who finished fourth in the Québec AAA standings with a 25-16-4-1 record. They lost their two goalies — Étienne Montpetit and Ryan Coughlin— to injury in consecutive games.
"During the middle of the year we struggled. We had a lot of injuries and we lost both of our goalies. For a period of two months they were both out of the lineup," said Richardson. "We had to bring up some goalies from the younger leagues to spot in. They did a tremendous job, but still they aren't your goalies. It was tough. We went through a lot of adversity."
They finished the regular season healthy and won their first six playoff games. They swept Collège Notre-Dame de Rivière-du-Loup in three straight games before defeating Trois-Rivières 4-1 in the quarter-finals. In the league semifinal they defeated the Cantonniers de Magog in six games.
"In the playoffs we were on a mission to win the cup in our league," said Richardson. "It was a long two months of playoffs. It was long. It was worth it."
The final series was full of surprises and twists and turns.
Châteauguay won Game 1 on the road by a 10-2 score. In Game 2, Esther-Blondin came back with a vengeance and out-shot Châteauguay 52-19. The Grenadiers won the game anyway 3-1. They came home with a 2-0 series lead and promptly lost the next two games. The series would follow that path as the road team won each of the seven games.
Montpetit, the Grenadiers goalie, was named the MVP of the championship series. In addition to his 51-save performance in Game 2, he faced more than 40 shots in four of the other games in the championship series. He posted an .926 save percentage in the playoffs.
"Étienne is a good goalie. He competes hard in net. He's been playing well," said Richardson. "I always say it can be in the NHL or anywhere, but when you get in the playoffs you need your goalie to make the saves. When things are not going right, you need your goalie to make that key save.
"Our goalie gave us that momentum when we needed it and he made the saves when we had breakdowns. It gives a boost to your players — you can play your game boys, go out and score goals and don't worry because if you make a mistake I'm there to back you guys up."
Richardson was also quick to praise back-up Coughlin and said he will need both goalies to be sharp at the tournament.
"He didn't get a chance to play much in the playoffs, but I'm not going to be scared to put him in at the Telus Cup," said Richardson. "With seven games in seven nights, you need to have two goalies. If we want to make it far in that tournament we're going to need to use everyone on our team."
Alexandre Payusov and Pascal Laberge had a strong post-season for the Grenadiers. Payusov had 12 goals in the playoffs and Laberge had 11. Laberge is expected to be an early pick in the upcoming QMJHL draft.
Brandon McCulloch led the Grenadiers with 54 points during the regular season, while Justin Samson had a team-high 22 regular season goals. The pair are both Rimouski draft picks in the QMJHL.
"Our team is not about one guy. It's about the depth we have. We try to play as much as possible with four lines and six D. Everybody contributes to our success," said Richardson.
They were the last team to book their place at the Telus and admit that they don't know a lot about their opponents heading into the tournament. The rest of the six-team field was decided a week earlier.
Richardson gave his troops two days off after the title win and is hoping that the momentum from the championships series win should serve them well when they open the tournament Monday against the Okanagan Rockets (4 p.m., Mosaic Place).
"I have a group of kids that are so dedicated. They have the attitude that they want to compete and they like challenges," said Richardson. "We've got a great group of kids and we're going there as a unit and we're going there on a mission."