The Halifax Mooseheads 25th season has been one of the club’s most memorable. They wrap things up as the only CHL team to make the weekly Top 10 Rankings in all 26 weeks of the regular season.
Preparing to host the 2019 Memorial Cup presented by Kia, the Mooseheads captured their first Maritimes Division title since 2014, edging out the Baie-Comeau Drakkar by way of regulation/overtime wins total for first place in the QMJHL’s Eastern Conference.
“There was an extra boost to get that extra point,” Mooseheads forward Keith Getson told the Chronicle Herald’s Glenn MacDonald following Saturday’s season finale 3-2 shootout loss to the Charlottetown Islanders. “It would’ve been nice to get the second one and get our 50th win of the season but we’re okay. We got it done, we got that point and we’re sitting first in the standings in our conference and that’s the main thing.”
The 49-15-2-2 Mooseheads wrapped up their most successful season since the club’s last Memorial Cup championship year in 2013. They posted the QMJHL’s top-ranked penalty kill (85.6%) and second-best power play (28.1%) along the way.
The Mooseheads feature a number of prominent names up front, among them a pair of former rivals who have won it all before. Coming off a Memorial Cup crown with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan last year in Regina, leading scorer Samuel Asselin (48-38–86) and injured Anaheim Ducks prospect Antoine Morand (22-48–70) prepare the Mooseheads for a lengthy run that won’t ultimately come to an end until late May. General manager Cam Russell has surrounded the two with other forward names that pack an offensive punch in fellow Anaheim pick Benoit-Olivier Groulx (31-49–80), New York Islanders selection Arnaud Durandeau (38-35–73) and sidelined top 2019 NHL Draft prospect Raphael Lavoie (32-41–73).
The club recently got a shot in the arm with the return of injured Edmonton Oilers prospect Ostap Safin on the wing and with him, New Jersey Devils pick Jocktan Chainey on the blue line.
“My conditioning is alright and I feel 100 percent healthy but on the ice I don’t feel like I did before,” Safin recently told the Chronicle Herald’s Willy Palov. “It’s taking awhile to play like I was before but I’m trying my best.
“Playoffs is coming up fast so you have to start playing your best,” added Safin, who has been limited to just 15 games this season. “I don’t care about scoring goals right now, I just want to get to playing my best so I can help the team.”
On the blue line, Halifax boasts one the league’s top-scoring defencemen in Detroit Red Wings first round pick Jared McIsaac. The 18-year-old finished the season with 62 points (16-46–62) over 53 games, giving him a total of 141 in a Mooseheads uniform, the second-most by a defenceman in franchise history.
While McIsaac carries the load, Justin Barron (9-32–41), Patrick Kyte (8-32–40) and Jake Ryczek (9-24–33) have filled out a very productive back end in Halifax, one known across the league to chip in offensively.
The goaltending tandem of Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alexis Gravel and 16-2-1-0 rookie Cole McLaren leads the Mooseheads into their first round series with Quebec, a team they lost both of their meetings against this season.
“Patrick is a smart coach with plenty of experience and I’m sure his team is going to be ready,” said Mooseheads bench boss Patrick Veilleux of his coaching counterpart. “He’s going to try and figure out a way to counter us but it will come down to us doing what we need to do and doing it well.”
With lingering injuries to both Lavoie and Morand as well as Maxime Trepanier to open the first round, Halifax will look down the depth chart, leaning on names such as Safin, overage centreman Keith Getson and 19-year-old winger Joel Bishop as they fire up their playoff push.
The Mooseheads open the playoffs with a pair of games on home ice Friday and Saturday before the series shifts to Centre Vidéotron in Quebec next week.
The KIA CHL Top 10 Spotlight takes a closer look at one team from the weekly KIA CHL Top 10 Rankings.
Past KIA CHL Top 10 Spotlight editions:
Sept. 26, 2018 – Halifax Mooseheads
Oct. 4, 2018 – London Knights
Oct. 11, 2018 – Victoria Royals
Oct. 18, 2018 – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Oct. 25, 2018 – Prince Albert Raiders
Nov. 1, 2018 – Ottawa 67’s
Nov. 8, 2018 – Moncton Wildcats
Nov. 15, 2018 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Nov. 22, 2018 – Red Deer Rebels
Nov. 29, 2018 – Drummondville Voltigeurs
Dec. 6, 2018 – Vancouver Giants
Dec. 12, 2018 – Everett Silvertips
Dec. 20, 2018 – Niagara IceDogs
Jan. 3, 2019 – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Jan. 10, 2019 – Saginaw Spirit
Jan. 17, 2019 – Portland Winterhawks
Jan. 25, 2019 – Rimouski Océanic
Jan. 31, 2019 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Feb. 6, 2019 – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Feb. 13, 2019 – Ottawa 67’s
Feb. 21, 2019 – Saskatoon Blades
Feb. 28, 2019 – Drummondville Voltigeurs
Mar. 7, 2019 – Everett Silvertips
Mar. 14, 2019 – Prince Albert Raiders