Cam Russell sent a message to his team in the first round against the Victoriaville Tigres, benching star scorers and role-playing grinders alike for taking dumb penalties. The Halifax Mooseheads head coach had better hope the message stuck.
The Mooseheads are up against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s highest-scoring power play in the best-of-seven quarter-finals starting tonight and tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Metro Centre.
The Tigres converted on just 9.8 per cent of their chances in the first round, but the Screaming Eagles had a league-best 99 goals in the regular season, a 21.7 per cent clip.
Dumb penalties won’t go unpunished.
“We learned to be disciplined in Victoriaville, because we took penalties that ended up costing us. And we know we have to stay out of the penalty box,” Mooseheads blue-liner Graham Bona said. “Discipline is going to be the key to the series.”
Halifax is tied for second in the league after the first round — behind Victoriaville, coincidentally — with 41 minor penalties. Cape Breton is tied for second fewest with 25 in their series with the Lewiston Maineiacs. Both first-round series lasted six games.
Russell benched leading scorer Jakub Voracek and sniper Ryan Hillier, among others, midway through Round 1, and the team responded by taking just three penalties in Game 6.
“Special teams are going to make or break the series and we have to be disciplined,” Hillier said. “We didn’t do a good job in the first round, but we got our act together in the final game and stayed out of the box, and we’ve keep that up.”
Cape Breton, led by Dean Ouellet’s league-leading 24 power-play markers, converted on 16 of 52 chances (30.7 per cent) in the eight-game season series against Halifax.
Halifax, meanwhile, is no slouch, having finished fourth in the regular season with a 21.2 per cent success rate. Hillier and Peter-James Corsi led the way with 13 goals apiece.
Both penalty-killing units are mid-range at around 82 per cent.
The Mooseheads were 27-point favourites against the Tigres, but they finished just three points ahead of Cape Breton.
“It’s a completely different series,” Hillier said. “We know what Cape Breton’s all about. They’re a hard-working team, and they can score goals, whereas Victoriaville wasn’t that great offensively. It’s a whole new battle.”
The teams tied the season series at four games apiece. Five of the eight games were decided by a goal, and three of them went to overtime. Many of the contests were physical and fast-paced, and there was no shortage of fighting.
“It’s going to be an entertaining series,” said Hillier, who was playing bantam hockey the last time the Battle of Nova Scotia was staged in the playoffs back in 2003.
“We went back and forth all season and we’ve been rivals for a long time. There’s some bad blood between us, it’s going to be great for the crowd. We’re excited to get it started.”