Although the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has been playing for weeks, this past weekend was the real start of the junior hockey season in Canada.
The Ontario Hockey League had two games on Thursday night and then nine games Friday, with every team playing by Saturday. The Western Hockey League started with a full slate on Friday.
In short, business picked up. That also means, of course, that it's time for the triumphant return of My Weekend in Junior Hockey.
To keep things interesting for my readers I tried to avoid some of the clichés of the first weekend of a sports season. Phrases like “home opener”, “kicked off” and “young season” were routinely eliminated.
Instead there was a variety of stories that looked at the struggles of Canadian Hockey League rosters as they try to fill the gaps left by players departing for the National Hockey League, or the epic amount of travel time when prospects are sent back to junior from pro training camps.
I also took a look the hottest start of the QMJHL season and the emergence of a new star in the East.
All in all, I’m pretty proud of these stories. They’re tight and have a a fairly wide range of topics beyond the final score. Hopefully every weekend this season goes so well.
Friday, Sept. 24 2010
QMJHL - Audy-Marchessault scores six points in Remparts’ rout
Jonathan Audy-Marchessault's coming out party isn't over just yet.
Audy-Marchessault had a hat trick and a six-point night as the Quebec Remparts trounced the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 12-2 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action Friday night.
OHL – Jared Knight the hero as Knights top Whalers in shootout
Jared Knight had to take the long way to get to the game, but he still wound up the hero Friday night.
The aptly-named Knight had the shootout winner as the London Knights scratched out a 3-2 win over the Plymouth Whalers in Ontario Hockey League action.
WHL – Gallagher’s five-point night lifts Giants over Bruins
Brendan Gallagher scored twice and had three assists as the Vancouver Giants posted a 9-4 win over the Chilliwack Bruins in Western Hockey League play Friday night.
Jordan Martinook's first of the season came with less than three minutes remaining in the second. The 18-year-old forward tipped Neil Manning's point shot past Bruins starter Lucas Gore at the 17:41 mark of the second period.
Saturday, Sept. 25 2010
QMJHL – Voltigeurs outlast Sea Dogs to remain undefeated
The Drummondville Voltigeurs needed extra time to hold onto their perfect record.
Ondrej Palat and Alexandre Comtois scored in the shootout as Drummondville rallied to a 7-6 win over the Saint John Sea Dogs in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action Saturday night.
OHL – Grubauer shuts out former team as Kingston tops Bulls
Philip Grubauer made an impression on his current and former team Saturday night.
Grubauer had a successful return to Belleville as the Kingston Frontenacs blanked the Bulls 3-0 in Ontario Hockey League action.
WHL – T’Birds take advantage of Winterhawks’ depleted roster
The first month of junior hockey is always rough on rosters as many players are trying out with NHL clubs, and the Portland Winterhawks are no different.
Burke Gallimore scored twice to help the Seattle Thunderbirds to a 4-1 win over the Winterhawks in Western Hockey League play Saturday night.
Sunday, Sept. 26 2010
QMJHL – Lefrancois strong as Oceanic earn win over Mooseheads
Skill met savagery as the Rimouski Oceanic won a physical game Sunday afternoon.
Felix Lefrancois scored twice and added an assist as the Oceanic cruised to a 9-2 win over the Halifax Mooseheads in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL – Spitfires soar in rematch of final, beat Barrie Colts
The Windsor Spitfires soared in a rematch of last season's Ontario Hockey League final.
Alexander Khokhlachev and Stephen Johnson both scored twice to pace the Windsor Spitfires to a 7-5 win over the Barrie Colts on Sunday afternoon.
WHL – Wheat Kings take down Pats, Americans beat Thunderbirds
REGINA -- Mark Stone and Brenden Walker both scored and had an assist to lead the Brandon Wheat Kings to a 3-1 victory over the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League Sunday afternoon.
Paul Ciarelli also scored for the Brandon (2-0-0) with his first of the year.
The former captain of Canada’s world junior team has now been charged with assault causing injury months after he knocked Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts to the ice with an elbow to the head.
Cormier was suspended by the QMJHL for the rest of the season, a punishment that was supported by the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, preventing the New Jersey Devils’ prospect from playing out the rest of the season as a professional.
Criminal charges, however, take things to a whole new level.
There is going to be a huge outcry over this – both positive and negative – and then gas will be poured on the issue during the first intermission of tonight’s broadcast of the Vancouver Canucks-Chicago Blackhawks game when the CBC’s Don Cherry is given some airtime on Coach’s Corner.
Hits to the head, French-Canadian players and the law weighing-in to judge hockey? Oh man. This is like the perfect storm of Cherry Pet Peeves.
In any event, a ton of ink is going to be spilled in over the possibility of a hockey player doing time for an act on the ice.
Of course, the big question is – should Cormier even be charged in the first place? It pains me to say it but, yes, he should.
As evidenced by the strong reaction of the Canadian Hockey League, the QMJHL and the NHL that play was definitely outside the normal parameters of safe play. Further, there’s an argument to be made that Cormier did it on purpose. The video evidence certainly makes it look like Cormier purposely targeted Tam.
Despite the protests of some fans, there is precedent for the law getting involved in overly-physical hockey disputes. In fact, it’s happened on 14 different occasions since 1900.
If that happened on the street it would undoubtedly result in the victim pressing charges, so why shouldn’t it on a rink?
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but for justice to be completely done, Cormier must go through a criminal trial.
Patrice Cormier has had a change of heart, and all it’s going to cost him is what little credibility he has left.
The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Cormier announced yesterday that they would be appealing the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s season-long suspension of the 19-year-old forward.
“He could serve up to 48 games, that's too much,” said Huskies coach and general manager Andre Tourigny.
“I respect the decision of the QMJHL even if I find it too severe. I deeply regret the circumstances surrounding this event and I wish Mikael Tam a speedy and full recovery. Thanks for your attention,” said Cormier in a short statement read to the Canadian Press by telephone.
This is a departure from his statement Tuesday morning: “I fully respect the Quebec Major Junior League's decision regarding the Mikael Tam incident.”
Earlier this week I had criticized that particular statement by Cormier because there was no actual apology to Tam. He still hasn’t apologized and this appeal is much worse, adding insult to injury.
Cormier could have continued his career in, as Tourigny said, just 48 games. If he had accepted his punishment, acted contrite whenever asked about the incident and worked hard on the ice to develop as a player, he’d likely make the NHL within two years.
But now he’s rubbing some salt in the wound, and not winning over any supporters.
Although I felt that the suspension was a fair punishment for what was clearly a malicious hit, other corners were calling for a lifetime ban. I can only imagine the ink that will be spilled if Cormier’s suspension is shortened.
That said, I do understand the team’s motivation behind the appeal. Rouyn-Noranda paid a hefty price to acquire Cormier. Specifically, they sent two promising players in Michael Beaudry and Alexandre Mallet (both just 18 years old) as well as three first round draft picks and one second round draft pick to the Rimouski Oceanic for Cormier and Jordan Caron.
To lose one of those players to suspension for the rest of the season – and possibly for the rest of his junior career if he moves on to the NHL or AHL next year – cripples the Huskies playoff chances. Rouyn-Noranda’s playoff window is closing, and Tourigny knows that he gave up the team’s future is bleak without those four picks.
The problem is, of course, that although Cormier might not play again this season, he’ll definitely be playing somewhere next year. The same can’t be said for his victim, Mikael Tam.
Although Cormier’s suspension is a bitter pill to swallow, it did give him the opportunity to move on. The same can’t be said for Tam. Cormier should be counting his blessings, not the number of games he’ll be missing.
Of course they did. Really, it’s the only option the league’s disciplinarian had after the former captain of Canada’s World Junior tournament team laid Mikael Tamof the Quebec Remparts out with a vicious elbow.
But there are still lots of questions, the biggest and broadest of which is: where do we go from here? Not just Tam and Cormier, but the game itself.
By all accounts, Tam has already begun to recover. He hasn’t shown any signs of a concussion and he’s been released from the hospital. All good news, to be sure. But no one is sure if he’ll be able to re-join his teammates, or when. Sad when you consider that the 18-year-old defenceman was having a career season with 10 goals and 12 assists.
Cormier, of course, will be spending most of his time training on his own. Lou Lamoriello, the GM of the New Jersey Devils who drafted Cormier 54th overall in the 2008 draft, has already stated that the team will not place him in the American Hockey League or on any other teams affiliated with the Devils.
"We will honour the league's suspension, have not considered, and will not explore other avenues for his return this season," Lamoriello said in a press release.
This won’t be the end of Cormier’s career though. He's still a top-flight prospect who might be able to bounce back from this incident. Certainly, if he keeps his head down, his nose clean and continues to develop as a player, the Devils will have to consider calling him up to the NHL in the next few seasons.
Cormier has issued his own public statement, saying, in part, “I deeply regret the circumstances surrounding this event and wish Mikael Tam a speedy and full recovery."
No apology to Tam, just some best wishes. As so often happens in incidents like this, the injured party has to deal with the consequences of the play, while the offender is able to, eventually, resume their career. I wouldn’t want Cormier on my team, but the world of hockey has found roomin its heart to forgive a lot of players after similarly vicious incidents. Todd Bertuzzi is the first name that comes to mind.
And that brings us to the real problem: violence in hockey.
After all, everyone abhors Cormier’s cheap shot, but no one knows how to remove dirty hits from the game. I know that I enjoy watching a good hockey fight, as I think most people do, and there’s nothing like a good, solid hit. Hockey is an intrinsically violent game.
But there is a semi-permanent, translucent line in hockey that a player can cross where finishing their check somehow becomes a late hit. Standards seem to change case by case. This line needs to be better defined, with clearer consequences outlined. How else can hockey separate good violence from, for lack of a better term, bad violence?
I’m not sure. Hockey and hockey culture will always be physical, and tough players will always be admired. It would require an incredible sea-change to adjust the attitudes of players, coaches, officials and fans.
Suspending Cormier is certainly a good step. He’s a very visible junior hockey player, and as I mentioned in an article last week, he’s a repeat offender. It sends a strong message to the hockey community, and was the natural conclusion to a nasty chapter in QMJHL history.
Forcing Cormier, and other offenders at all levels of hockey, to engage in public awareness campaigns might be productive as well.
However, the most effective solution would be to force the offending player’s team to forfeit the game.
Had Quebec lost that game (the Remparts rallied to win 3-2 in the shootout), I feel that the QMJHL should have ruled the game as a forfeit for Rouyn-Noranda. If this became standard practice in junior and professional hockey leagues, I think it would create a sense of peer pressure that a cheap or dirty hit hurts the team in the standings, and players and coaches would do a better job of policing themselves. After all, no one wants to be directly responsible for costing their team a game, in addition to be suspended and fined.
It will take a huge, systemic change to eliminate dirty hits from hockey, but I think it’s time that better minds than mine began to apply themselves to this problem.
This video has been making the rounds Monday morning, and it’s pretty tough to watch.
At about the one-minute mark Team Canada’s world junior captain Patrice Cormier comes off the Rouyn-Noranda bench, skates through centre ice and lays out Quebec’s Mikael Tam with a vicious elbow to the head.
Ironically, of the three leagues that comprise the Canadian Hockey League, it’s the Q that has a reputation of a softer, finesse style of play that emphasizes goaltending and skilled scorers. The events of this weekend underscored the fact that this really is not the case.
According to TSN.ca: “Following the hit, Tam was convulsing on the ice before being taken off on a stretcher. Tam suffered trauma to the skull and brain and lost many teeth. He is now in stable condition in hospital and will remain under observation for at least two days.”
Although I followed the results of that game, the summary really didn’t do justice to the viciousness of that hit. After all, "Penalties: ROU - Patrice Cormier (03:32)(maj.), ROU - Patrice Cormier (03:32)(match)" isn't much of a story.
As TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted: “This Cormier elbow is sickening on so many levels. I have never been so discouraged about the game of hockey as now.”
The QMJHL’s Disciplinary Prefect, Raymond Bolduc, is currently investigating the incident, and the league will take action in the next day or two. I expect that Cormier is looking at some lengthy time away from the ice.
Watching the Tam video is reminiscent of Cormier’s hit in a preliminary World Junior Championship match against Sweden where he hit Sweden's Anton Rodin with an elbow and bloodied his nose.
I thought Cormier took unnecessary penalties throughout the WJC tournament, and his actions definitely hurt Team Canada’s performance in the playoff rounds.
Also on Sunday, Bolduc suspended Tommy Tremblay of the Shawinigan Cataractes for four games. Bolduc found that Tremblay had been the aggressor in a fight with the Victoriaville Tigers’ Guillaume Goulet.
The left-winger earned two game misconducts during the game, and the league tacked on another two after reviewing videotape of the incident on Saturday. Additionally, the Cataractes were fined $500.
I follow the QMJHL pretty closely, in fact, it’s my favourite junior hockey league. Although it’s not nearly as rough and tumble as the Western Hockey League, I think its physicality is under-rated.
Although line brawls (like the one that happened between the Vancouver Giants and Prince George Cougars Saturday night) are rare in Quebec, the QMJHL has its fair share of truculence.