Kyle Wellwood prepares himself for tonight's game
As the playoffs progress, the bandwagon choices start to involve unpleasant smells and selective memories. Always ready to serve the Barilkosphere, I offer you a team to which you may offer your temporary love. Submitted for your approval, the Drummondville Voltigeurs. The Voltigeurs take their name from a brigade formed during the war of 1812 (the one where we burned down the White House). Made up of of local colonists and natives, the Voltigeurs successfully repelled 3 American attempts to take Montréal. This year, a Voltigeurs hockey team that finished last season with a meager total of 33 points, led the Q with 112 points, a record year over year improvement for Canadian junior hockey. So far in the playoffs, they are unbeaten in 12 games and will meet the Cataractes in the league final starting May 1. As a booty call team, very similar in several ways to our main blue and white squeeze, they provide an example of the future we all hope for and how to get there.
So how did they do it? First off they decided that last season was going to be a long one. Instead of trading draft choices for more veteran talent to win a few more games, coach Guy Boucher and GM Dominic Ricard decided to play the kids and made 17 year old Marc-Olivier Vachon their captain. They knew it would amount to suicide in terms of team success, but believed the experience would be beneficial for the young players. This year began with a search for a few veteran players who could score. Taking advantage of a nightmarishly good power play, Yannick Riendeau (a Boston prospect) went from 49 points last year in Rouyn to 126 points this year in Drummond (hopefully he will suck for the Bruins), and Dany Massé (certain to choke as a Mtl prospect) increased his 79 point total in Bathurst last year to 110 on this year’s Drummond squad. In the first 8 games of playoffs, the power play was at 42.7% efficiency, accounting for 60 goals.
We are also talking about a team that rarely quits, starting with a management that was not content to rest on its laurels as success became evident during the regular season. A playmaking threat in the form of Christopher DiDomenico, an Ontario exile who had to go to the Q to prove he could still play, was added to an powerhouse offense late in the season. We should draft him. This relentless pursuit of victory was also shown in the Rimouski series. Despite the best efforts of Luca Cunti (am I alone in hoping that a hapless play-by-play guy is forced to describe some kind on-ice aggression between the Tampa prospect and Philadelphia’s up and coming James van Riemsdyk? - No matter how you pronounce the latter), Drummondville was unstoppable, stretching their playoff winning streak to 10 straight by overcoming a 3 goal deficit in the last 7 minutes of the 3rd period, including the winning goal with 17 seconds to go.
Nothing lessens booty call guilt, or remorse as the case may be, like the come back kid story of Mike Hoffman. Cut last year by both his hometown team in Kitchener and then Gatineau, Hoffman proved he could still score in Drummondville. He has also stepped it up a notch for the playoffs and is now 4th in the league in playoff scoring. In an effort to make a subtly obnoxious suggestion, I will note that he is undrafted and does not appear among the top 200 junior prospects. All agree however, that the principal cog in the machine is a defenseman, Dimitri Kulikov. As an assistant to Pat Quinn at the world U18 tournament, coach Boucher first began courting Kulikov to get him to play in Drummondville. By moving up in the draft, Drummond took Kulikov second overall, just behind Nikita Filatov. Kulikov is a nasty piece of Russian engineering, a + 34 that averaged a point a game during the regular season. Another guy who keeps the pedal to the metal, he is mean, fast and disciplined, with a knack for getting the puck to the net though traffic. In the 4th and final game of the 3rd round series against Rimouski that set the unbeaten streak at 12, Kulikov had 3 points and was 1st star of the game. Imagine him paired with OLAS; the opposing team’s trainer will need a back up supply of Depends for those who dare to cross our blue line.
Let’s be realistic, the Q is not the NHL. Any league that allows the Montréal team to name itself les Juniors, or the MAINEiacs of Lewiston, (no that’s not a typo), or a certain former NHL goalie to use his son as a backup goalie who smashes all the toilets in the dressing room after his dad pulls him for sucking so bad in one of the three games he appeared in all year then goes on to a rap career where he sings about how he was so misunderstood when his dad told him to beat the shit out of the opposing goaltender the year before…. well let’s just say that the cheese is not just in the poutine and forms a trail that leads all the way to the Bell Centre. But the Voltigeurs provide a rags to riches tale that inspires, and we can cheer (a) Leaf prospect(s?) in a way that allows us to move on after the excitement without strings. The coach is also a kind of fucking nutbar who forbids anyone involved with the team to say anything that may be construed as expressing doubt. Nonetheless, a Memorial Cup match in Rimouski between Drummond and Windsor might just be the best 18-15 game ever played, with or without Luca Cunti. So, let’s go les boys, lâchez pas.