Sunday, 27 May 2018

Titans Of Junior Hockey

At the start of the CHL season, the three leagues had their favorites as to who would be traveling to Regina, Saskatchewan for the 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup. The perennial powerhouses would be mentioned. The slight underdogs would be given a nod. The host team in the Regina Pats impressed pundits. It would be none of these teams who would emerge the victor in the end. When all was settled tonight, though, the league's smallest-market team would stand above the rest in capturing their first Memorial Cup in franchise history!

In living in one of the NHL's smallest markets in terms of population, there's always this stigma that the team is fighting the current as it makes its way upstream alongside the teams in major NHL markets. The great equalizer, though, is that the team's ownership and management have to be on the same page in making moves and decisions that even the odds regardless of the amount of fan support. Winning is the key to bottom-line success in all levels of hockey, and the Acadia-Bathurst Titan leveled the playing field with shrewd player moves and an ownership group set on seeing Titan hockey thrive and survive in New Brunswick.

The Titan are owned by a group of 28 people that includes steel industry businessman Leopold Theriault, Darryl Stohart, and Philadelphia Flyer Sean Couturier. Theriault sits as the chairman of this ownership group, and he and his partners have ensured that the Titan will remain in Bathurst for the foreseeable future after years of speculation that the Titan may relocate. Instead, this group laid the financial groundwork in 2013 for the Titan to be stable, ensuring that management could begin building a squad that would be highly competitive within the QMJHL and beyond.

The Titan has known change over its 49-year history. Starting as the Rosemont National in 1969, the team would become the Laval National in 1971, the Laval Voisins in 1979, the Laval Titan in 1985, the Laval Titan Collège Français in 1984, and finally moving to Bathurst, New Brunswick from Laval, Quebec in 1998 where they became the Acadie–Bathurst Titan.

For the last twenty years while calling New Brunswick home, the Titan have only been the QMJHL champions once, advancing to the Memorial Cup tournament just once, and winning a grand total of zero games at that tournament way back in 1999. They went 0-3 at their only appearance in the Mastercard Memorial Cup to date as the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, so there was hope that this tournament would be different.

They needed overtime, but the Titan picked up their first win at any Memorial Cup tournament with a 4-3 overtime victory over the WHL's Swift Current Broncos on Saturday, May 19. They followed that win with another victory over a WHL team in the host Regina Pats by an 8-6 score on Sunday, May 20. They would drop their May 22 game against the OHL's Hamilton Bulldogs by a 3-2 score, setting the stage for a three-way tie-breaking siutation as all of Hamilton, Regina, and Acadia-Bathurst finished with 2-1-0 records.

Thankfully for the Titan, they finished with the best goal differential among the three tied teams, so they advanced directly to the Memorial Cup final, ensuring that the Titan would play for Canadian major junior hockey's biggest prize! Who would they play? Hamilton and Regina would clash for that right, and Regina claimed a 4-2 victory on Friday to set up tonight's Memorial Cup final between the host Regina Pats and the QMJHL champion Acadia-Bathurst Titan.

Remember how I stated above how ownership and management needed to be on the same page when it comes to leveling the playing field with the teams in the larger markets? Titan GM Sylvain Couturier made incredible deals through the season, acquiring players such as scoring dynamo Samuel Asselin, goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick, sniper Mitchell Balmas, offensively-minded defenceman Olivier Galipeau, and Philadelphia Flyers first-rounder and blue-chipper German Rubtsov. These players were added to Titan players such as Noah Dobson, captain Jeffrey Truchon-Viel, and Ethan Crossman, and the Titan went bananas following the trade deadline with all their new arrivals.

The Titan posted a ridiculous 23-4-2 record for the remainder of the regular season and followed that up with a 16-4 record in the playoffs. Needless to say, the Titan stormed through the QMJHL playoffs in eliminating Chicoutimi in six games, sweeping both Sherbrooke and Victoriaville out of the playoffs, and winning the QMJHL's President's Cup in six games over Blainville-Boisbriand. They didn't lose a game between March 28 and May 4 in the QMJHL playoffs - a rather remarkable achievement!

In the Memorial Cup final, Adam Holwell scored in the first period to put the Titan up through 20 minutes in a period in which they dominated from start to finish. The Titan continued the barrage in the second period, suffocating the Pats in every zone while carrying the play entirely through the frame. And in the third period, the captain showed off why he's one of the best in the nation when Jeffrey Truchon-Viel set up the second Titan goal.
Viel went through the legs at full speed to get past Montreal Canadiens prospect Cale Fleury before feeding the puck to Samuel Asselin out front where it found the back of the net past Max Paddock to make it 2-0. That kind of move in a game of this magnitude with a one-goal lead takes some serious moxie, but the Titan were showing the moxie all night so kudos to Viel who will be on highlight reels for the next week with that move!

Ethan Crossman added an empty-netter with 30.3 seconds remaining, and the celebration was on as the Titan captured the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup with their 3-0 win over the Regina Pats! For the city of just under 12,000 people, Bathurst is the smallest city to win the Memorial Cup since Flin Flon, Manitoba captured the Memorial Cup in 1957!

Take nothing away from Regina, Hamilton, or Swift Current as they battled hard, but the Titan looked like the best team in the tournament from the moment the puck dropped on Friday, May 18. The Titan are the first QMJHL team to win the Memorial Cup since the Halifax Mooseheads in 2013, and the eighth different QMJHL team to win the Memorial Cup since 1983 when the tournament format changed to the three CHL conference champions and the host team.

Congratulations to the Acadia-Bathurst Titan, your 2018 Memorial Cup Champions!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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