Paul Byron and Claude Giroux
were the best players on the ice all night, so it was fitting that the Gatineau
Olympiques duo finished off the Halifax Mooseheads on Saturday.
Byron scored a pair of goals,
including the overtime winner, and Giroux added two assists, as the Olympiques
beat the Mooseheads 2-1 in Game 1 of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
best-of-seven semifinal at the Metro Centre.
The 18-year-old Byron used
his blazing speed to get in alone at 15:14 of overtime, taking advantage when
Mooseheads defenceman Justin Pender stumbled at the blue line. He made a great
deke to his backhand and roofed one behind Mark Yetman on a play that was made
for the highlight reels.
“I was going to try and use
my speed and beat him wide, but he fell and from there I don’t know what
happened because it happened so fast,” Byron said. “I thought it was going to
be a fluky goal. I never thought a goal like that was going to happen.”
Byron, Giroux and linemate
Matthew Pistilli combined for 13 of Gatineau’s
36 shots, and the unit was a threat to score on virtually every shift. Giroux
padded his league-leading scoring stats and now has a whopping 30 points in
just 11 games.
The Olympiques didn’t
threaten much when the top line wasn’t on the ice, but managed to get some
favourable line matchups despite having the last change as the road team.
“I expected them to be hard
on us (but) we got a lot of room and tried to do as much as we could with it,” said
Byron, a 5-foot-9, 144-pound draft choice of the Buffalo Sabres.
Added Giroux: “Everybody on
the bench is alert and aware and that’s what we need on the road. It’s very
important (to get the right matchups) if we want to win hockey games.”
Halifax’s top defence pairing of Andrew Bodnarchuk and
Guillaume Monast saw a healthy dose of Byron and Giroux, while a checking line
of Colby Pridham, Logan MacMillan and Andrew White was assembled to slow down
the big guns.
“Giroux’s a world-class
player and he’s skilled and smart and he plays hard, too, and Byron is
super-quick,” Pridham said. “They work well with (Matthew Pistilli). We’ve got
to be aware defensively but I thought we did alright.”
Pridham said the team can
“tighten up more” in the defensive zone, but of more concern was the fact that
the Mooseheads --- one of the highest scoring teams in the Q --- only found the
net once and put a quiet 33 shots on goaltender Ryan Mior.
“We have to get more pucks to
the net --- we’re a shooting team and I don’t think we challenged their
goaltender enough,” Pridham said. “He’s a good 20-year-old goaltender and it’s
his last kick at the can. We’ve got to challenge him more.”
Mooseheads goaltender Mark
Yetman, identified as Halifax’s weakness by Olympiques head coach Benoit Groulx
coming into the series, was the third star with a 34-save outing.
“I thought Mark was
excellent,” Pridham said. “Earlier in the game and in the middle he made some
excellent saves to keep it to one goal. We’re happy with him, we have
confidence in him, and we knew he was going to do the job for us.”
Game 2 is Sunday at 7 p.m. at
the Metro Centre. The series follows a 2-3-2 format, and the Mooseheads
certainly can’t afford to go to Gatineau
for three games in a 2-0 hole.
“We’re not going to get too
worked up, it’s just one game,” Pridham said. “The good thing is we’re going to
get back at it tomorrow. We can bring a better effort.”
The Mooseheads lost Ryan
Hillier in the third period to a lower-body injury. He was favouring his left
leg and the team is listing him as day-to-day, saying he “could” play in Game