There aren’t too many instances in the game of hockey where a team can come away satisfied after a loss, but Wednesday’s round robin finale at the 2019 Memorial Cup Presented by Kia presented one such example.
A three-goal second period helped the Halifax Mooseheads erase a 2-0 deficit, giving them just enough fuel to master the tournament’s tie-breaking formula in a 4-3 loss to the rival Rouyn-Noranda Huskies before a crowd of 10,004. The one-goal loss secures the 2-1 Mooseheads a spot in Sunday’s Championship Final.
The QMJHL champion Huskies charged back to outshoot the Mooseheads 18-2 in the third period, getting goals from William Rouleau and Jakub Lauko in the latter half of the frame to come out on top on the scoreboard but not in the event’s tie-breaking scheme.
“Everybody knew about the situation and the scenario we were in,” said Mooseheads head coach Eric Veilleux, whose club continually made the safe play throughout the third, passing up on potential odd-man rushes to chip pucks deep. “I have to give a lot of credit to our players for trusting the coaching staff and playing the way they did.
“We came out for the third period knowing what everybody knows and I hope I never have to go through that again I’ll be very honest with you, it’s really not easy.”
The Huskies, who would have had to have won by a score of 4-0 or by at least a five-goal margin to advance to Sunday’s Final, jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Halifax charged back in the second period.
“What happened in the second was really what I was worried about before the game,” said Huskies head coach Mario Pouliot. “We just tried to force the game to score more goals and got away from our system and gave them a lot of odd-man situations. I think we gave them more of those in the second period than we did in the entire QMJHL Championship Series.”
Highly familiar with one another following the six-game series, the Huskies and Mooseheads exchanged chances in the early going before Rouyn-Noranda finished strong with a pair of goals inside the final five minutes.
A failed Halifax clearing attempt resulted in the game’s first goal as Felix Bibeau was left alone behind a pair of Mooseheads defenders to take a feed from Jakub Lauko and roof it over the shoulder of Alexis Gravel.
Montreal Canadiens prospect Joel Teasdale extended the lead just over a minute later as draft eligible forward Alex Beaucage helped strip a Mooseheads defender of the puck, turning the play around quickly as Peter Abbandonato found Teasdale coming down the middle for a one-timer finish with 4:10 remaining.
Halifax responded in the second, wasting little time as Anaheim Ducks second round pick Benoit-Olivier Groulx wired a shot over the shoulder of Samuel Harvey just 48 seconds into the frame.
Mooseheads veteran Arnaud Durandeau netted the equalizer as the late man entering the zone off an odd-man rush moments later at 7:34. The New York Islanders pick took a pass from Jared McIsaac before snapping it past Harvey as the Halifax crowd rose to its feet.
Halifax captain Antoine Morand scored what turned out to be a big goal with 43 seconds left on the second period clock as the Mooseheads power play went to work. Morand finished-off a passing sequence with Maxim Trepanier and Keith Getson to give his team a 3-2 edge headed into the second intermission.
The Mooseheads outshot the Huskies 16-10 in the second period before the momentum shifted drastically in the third.
Gravel provided some timely saves in the opening half of the third before Rouyn-Noranda broke through at the midway point when William Rouleau came flying off the bench. The 18-year-old forward picked up the puck in the neutral zone, speeding over the line before releasing a shot that rose up and over the shoulder of Gravel on the short side at 10:13. Rouleau’s first goal since February 8th tied things at three before Rouyn-Noranda pulled ahead for good inside the game’s final minute.
Boston Bruins prospect Jakub Lauko came up with the winner, netting his second of the tournament on a wrister over the blocker of Gravel on the short side with just 55 seconds to spare.
Despite the result, Mooseheads fans went home happy as their team will suit up in its first Memorial Cup Final since the franchise’s first and only championship back in 2013.
“It’s strange to win a game and not be happy,” noted Pouliot post-game. “It’s tough to explain but at the end of the day I really liked how we finished.”
Rouyn-Noranda outshot Halifax 40-27 as Abbandonato earned first star honours. Halifax’s Groulx and Rouyn-Noranda’s Lauko were the game’s second and third stars respectively.
This marks just the sixth time since the Memorial Cup round robin format was introduced in 1983 that three teams have finished with identical 2-1 records requiring the tie-breaking formula to be used. The Mooseheads are the first team under those circumstances to advance straight to the Championship Final despite losing their last game.
The Mooseheads advance to Sunday’s Championship Final by virtue of holding a higher percentage (0.538) when implementing the tie-breaker formula (goals for (7) + goals against (13) divided into goals for (7)) using the two games played between the teams with equal records.
While the Storm’s tie-breaker calculation also adds up to 0.538, the Mooseheads advance based on their head-to-head result.
The Huskies tie-breaker calculation adds up to 0.429.
The Storm are the home team in the Semi-Final based on their head-to-head victory over the Huskies.
While the Mooseheads (2-1) will have three days off to prepare for the 101st Memorial Cup Final, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (2-1) will be back in action on Friday night when they take on the Guelph Storm (2-1) in Semi-Final play at 7:00pm ET/4:00pm PT.
• GAME CENTRE & HIGHLIGHTS