Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Sherbrooke Phœnix

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The Sherbrooke Phœnix have taken hold of top spot in the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings.

Punctuating the past week with back-to-back victories over the Shawinigan Cataractes, plus a win versus the Saint John Sea Dogs, the club improved to 12-1-1-0 on the season, good for 25 points and first place in the QMJHL.

Highlighting the week for the Phoenix was Sunday’s record-setting showing in which two talents eclipsed the franchise high for points in a single game. Leading the way was captain and Pittsburgh Penguins first-round pick Samuel Poulin, who finished with an incredible eight points – the first QMJHL skater to score as many in one night since 2009 – while linemate Felix Robert also impressed in coming up with a hat-trick plus four assists to one up the previous high-water mark.

Through the first month of 2019-20, Robert and Poulin have been a dynamic duo for the Phoenix, holding down the top two spots in team scoring with 25 and 22 points, respectively. For Poulin, his performance comes on the heels of a 76-point campaign last year in which he led the team in scoring, while this season he has found another level in producing just shy of two points per game. The Blainville, Que., native has decorated the scoresheet in all but three contests, including a recent streak that saw him tally twice in four straight showings. The budding talent is quick to credit his early season success to his undeniable chemistry with Robert.

“We know each other well as players. We see each other on the ice,” said Poulin per Sebastien Lajoie of La Tribune. “It’s been two-and-a-half years that I’ve known Felix. We’ve played on the same line since last year, especially since the playoffs, with Alex-Oliver Voyer. We know where the guys are on the ice.”

Given Sherbrooke’s early success, the players are acutely aware that being the first-place team will only bring out the best in the opposition, something they are prepared to take on as the season progresses.

“Our core has reached maturity. We really have a good team. Chemistry is incredible,” Poulin told Lajoie. “From training camp, I felt the guys were ready and determined. We were all aware that we had a good club. At the same time, we cannot sit on first place. Going to the top is one thing, but staying there is another.”

Echoed Robert, “We know that in each game the other team will be more than ready to fight. We must not slow down and must continue our work as we have done since the beginning of the season. It’s fun to be on top, but it’s even harder to stay there.”

Although Poulin and Robert lead the charge offensively, Sherbrooke offers up exceptional secondary scoring, making it a challenge for the opposition to not focus entirely on minimizing the team’s top line. That valuable depth includes not only talented overager Voyer, but also 2020 NHL Draft hopeful Patrick Guay, a diminutive scorer who has notched six goals and five assists on the season. The fifth-overall pick from the 2018 QMJHL Entry Draft, Guay continues to grow his game and earn greater offensive responsibilities after finishing with a modest 36-point effort a year ago.

While the Phoenix have returned much of the same forward ranks as last season, the blue line core has a refreshed look following the graduation of veteran rearguard Ryan DaSilva, who led all defencemen and finished fifth in team scoring last year with 44 points. His departure has opened up ice time for the team’s next wave of blue-liners, including 19-year-old Gregory Kreutzer, a third-year skater who is producing at a point-per-game clip with two goals and 12 assists in 14 appearances after wrapping up last season with 31 points in 64 games.

Rounding out the back end is first-year goaltender Samuel Hlavaj, the 27th overall selection from the 2019 CHL Import Draft. The Slovak native has been a showstopper between the pipes as he remains unbeaten in regulation across 10 appearances to own a 8-0-1-0 record with a .919 save percentage that ranks third among QMJHL netminders who have suited up in as many games. In October, Hlavaj has found the win column in all seven of his appearances, including his past five contests in which he has allowed two or fewer goals, a stretch that also counted his first career shutout following an 18-save outing versus the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

Often unbeatable goaltending coupled with strong puck movers on the back end and gifted forwards with incredible chemistry has the Phoenix rising as a dominant force in only their eighth season. That sort of strength throughout the lineup will prove invaluable as the top-ranked club now looks to continue its winning ways on a road swing that next stops in Moncton before wrapping up in Cape Breton.

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