A month ago, the Halifax Mooseheads had a brutal defence corps, sub-par goaltending and questionable work ethic. That, at least, was the opinion of many diehard followers.
But as the Mooseheads eliminated the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League quarter-finals in five games with a 5-2 win on Friday at the Metro Centre, many of those concerns have been silenced.
The Mooseheads — who face the Gatineau Olympiques in the semifinals starting Saturday in Halifax — have stepped up their game and are now halfway to a President’s Cup.
“All of the question marks surrounding our team after the trade deadline are really being erased as far as defence and goaltending,” Mooseheads captain Andrew Bodnarchuk said. “Yeti (goaltender Mark Yetman) has been huge and our defensive corps has been stepping up after taking a lot of heat.”
It only took the Mooseheads five games to send the Screaming Eagles to the golf course, but the short series is deceiving. If the Mooseheads hadn’t scored two empty-net goals in Game 5, four of the five games would have been decided by a goal, and the other game was tied going into the third period. And that’s not even mentioning the more than 45 overtime minutes the team’s played.
Battle of Nova Scotia may be an overused phrase, but it truly applied to a series few fans will forget.
“It was special — everyone on both sides is going to remember this for a long time,” Bodnarchuk said. “It was a good atmosphere in both rinks, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
The Mooseheads raised their level of play — particularly their work ethic — against a Screaming Eagles team built around a determined group of scrappy veterans.
“We strive to be a hard-working team,” Mooseheads winger Ryan Hillier said. “That’s one of the things people don’t give us credit for. We have speed and skill, but we work pretty hard, too. We need to make that part of our identity.”
The 19-year-old Yetman — the team’s backup until February — had a 2.61 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage in the series, and was at his best with the game on the line.
“It was a real tight series and it could have flopped the other way if he didn’t stand on his head as he did,” Bodnarchuk said.
The Mooseheads had the weekend off but return to practice this morning. Bodnarchuk said the players feel the team is playing its best hockey of the season and that intense practices this week will help them.