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A season to remember: Mooseheads a model franchise on and off ice

 

Selected as hosts of the 2019 Memorial Cup presented by Kia, the Halifax Mooseheads put together a formidable campaign that saw the club finish atop the QMJHL’s Eastern Conference with a 49-15-2-2 showing, good for 102 points as the team captured its seventh division title since 2000.

There was then little let up in the postseason as the Mooseheads first battled back against the Quebec Remparts to come out of the opening round in seven games before sweeping the rival Moncton Wildcats, followed by a six-game set that ousted the Drummondville Voltigeurs, a club that finished second place in the Western Conference with 107 points.

That set up the Mooseheads for a final round match versus the first overall Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, a squad which had rewritten the record book in 2018-19 as it set a new QMJHL high-water mark for 59 wins in a single season, while also putting together 25 consecutive victories to match a CHL record originally set in 1974 by the Sorel Éperviers.

Ultimately, the Mooseheads came up short in repeating their 2013 run, when the club captured the President’s Cup as QMJHL playoff champions and later went on to claim the Memorial Cup for CHL supremacy, falling to the Huskies in a hard-battled six games before losing to that same club by a 4-2 score in the Championship Round at the year-end tournament.

“Obviously after a year like this and a good tournament, it’s disappointing for the players and for the fans, but as a coach, I couldn’t be more proud of the work our team did,” Mooseheads head coach Eric Veilleux said following the loss. “It was a tough loss but we have to admit that we were playing a very solid hockey team. They were well coached, they played well, and they had a great season. They weren’t in first overall for the whole season for no reason. We need to give a lot of credit to the Huskies. They had an unbelievable season and it’s well deserved.”

Despite the defeat, there is still much for the Mooseheads, as well as the Halifax community, to be proud of. Impressively but not unexpectedly, the crown jewel of Atlantic Canadian junior hockey once shined through as tremendous hosts of the year-end celebration, with both fans and volunteers coming out in droves as nearly 10,000 supporters packed the Mooseheads’ home barn nightly, while more than 600 locals dedicated their time to help make the event memorable.

“(The fans) were great. They supported us all year. We saw it today. They were loud,” Mooseheads leading scorer Samuel Asselin said following Sunday’s loss. “They’ve been incredible all tournament long. It was a great tournament and it just didn’t work out today. I am really grateful that I had the chance to be part of something like that. The friends I made here, the brothers I made here, it’s a year that I am going to cherish forever.”

Meanwhile, this season the Mooseheads continued to demonstrate their long track record of player development as they are expected to see another of their talents in right-wing Raphael Lavoie selected early in the NHL draft.

The Chambly, Que., native, who ranks 20th among North American skaters per Central Scouting ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft, was one of the Mooseheads’ top players this season as he finished third in team scoring with 32 goals and 41 assists for 73 points in 62 appearances. Not yet finished, Lavoie then found another gear in the postseason as he potted a league-leading 20 goals, six more than the next highest scorer, and a performance that helped him earn CHL Player of the Week recognition in early April.

“He has the physique, skating ability, and the talent to be a top pick,” Mooseheads majority owner Bobby Smith said earlier this season. “The last two years, he has been a top-end player getting special attention from the other team every game.”

In doing so, Lavoie stands to become the latest top pick from a strong development program that has seen a host of first-round selections in recent years, including 2018 with Filip Zadina (Detroit Red Wings), not to mention Jonathan Drouin (third to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2013), Nikolaj Ehlers (ninth to the Winnipeg Jets in 2014), and Timo Meier (ninth to the San Jose Sharks in 2015), plus a pair of first-overall picks in Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche, 2013) and Nico Hischer (New Jersey, 2017).

From challenging for two trophies to seeing another of its players on the cusp of joining hockey’s highest level, it certainly helps take the sting out of a successful season that ultimately ended on a sour note.

“It was hard but I am so proud of this team. It was an honour to be captain,” Antoine Morand said on Sunday. “I was on the other end last year (with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan). I am going to be a mess for a couple of days, but at the end of the day, everybody on this team can hold their head up because they were incredible.”

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