Last Friday, the Kelowna Rockets opened the Memorial Cup against the host Quebec Remparts and suffered a close loss by a 4-3 score. One week later, the two teams met again on a Friday night but with much higher stakes; a berth in Sunday's tournament final on the line.
The game began with some fireworks, as 13 seconds after the opening face-off Yanick Turcotte of Quebec and Rodney Southam of Kelowna dropped the gloves. It's hard to enjoy two teenagers wailing on each other these days, but these two were teeing off one another.
Quebec would break through just 3 minutes into the first period, when the Remparts got past Kelowna's coverage at the blueline for a 2-man partial breakaway. Adam Erne, carrying the puck, sold the pass to his teammate long enough to open up a hole between Jackson Whistle's legs to slide the puck home for a 1-0 lead.
The lead would be short-lived, however. Good forechecking work by the Rockets created some mismatches in the Remparts coverage, and Tomas Soustel made a quick pass out front to Chance Braid, who had a wide-open net to score on a helpless Zach Fucale.
The game settled into a rhythm for the remainder of the first period, but then at the very end of the first, Kelowna began to apply pressure. With two minutes left they appeared to score but it was immediately waved off due to a high-stick, and on a powerplay to end the period, the Rockets applied furious pressure but couldn't beat Fucale. Quebec escaped the period with a 1-1 tie, and a chance to regroup.
Leon Draisaitl immediately put them back on their heels, thanks to a power-play goal just 17 seconds into the second period. Quebec's D coverage was lazy on Kelowna's zone entry, allowing Draisaitl to slip behind the coverage and whip a quick shot past Fucale's shoulder.
The Remparts special teams were an issue all tournament and would burn them again just two minutes later, when Justin Kirkland found himself wide open in front of Fucale with nobody around him, and Kirkland was afforded way too much time to dance around Fucale and put the puck in the net for a 3-1 lead. The coverage was simply appalling on this goal, and Head Coach Phillippe Boucher used his time-out to try and settle the team down.
It didn't appear to work, since just 40 seconds later Kirkland would score again to make it 4-1 and it appeared the rout was on. Quebec appeared to have their spirits broken here in the second, playing their third game in as many nights against a well-rested Kelowna side that wasn't giving up easy chances and frustrating the Remparts into playing without discipline. Which leads to the real event of the period.
The Quebec fans had been unhappy with the officiating through much of the tournament (Boucher was fined $10,000 for comments he made after Wednesday's game) and it was reaching a boiling point tonight, as every perceived infraction was being met with a chorus of boos. When Dmytro Timashov was whistled for a holding call on Madison Bowey, the fans were incensed at their player receiving the only penalty when they felt Bowey committed a holding penalty on Timashov as well.
That power play would see Bowey booed relentlessly every time he touched the puck, and when Jerome Verrier checked Bowey and he retaliated by shoving Verrier to the ice (with no call), the fans had seen enough and began to pelt the ice with debris. While it was astonishing to see the fans in full-scale revolt, what was incredible was that the referees (QMJHL Officials, it should be noted) didn't appear to notice or care, allowing play to continue for about ten seconds while garbage rained down on the ice.
Now. it's laudable to be a fan base that cares to an extreme level about their team, and complaining about the officiating is the one unifying feature of all sports fans. But it's unacceptable to throw things on the ice. Full stop. The Quebec fans were being petulant and amateurish, the referees handled the situation appallingly (how do you not immediately halt play when garbage starts littering the ice? Or give the Remparts a penalty for this?), and the broadcast crew, having to tap-dance a little while the ice was cleaned up, were disappointingly sympathetic to the Remparts crowd, essentially giving them a pass for being complete clowns because of their "passion" and other such crap. It made me quite certain that if Quebec City does manage to land another NHL team some day, the Quebec City fans will be the Jets fans 2.0, just praised at every turn for showing up this time.
Anyways, the referees continued their masterful troll job by immediately awarding Kelowna a penalty shot (full bag of popcorn thrown on the ice), which the Rockets failed to convert. But then almost immediately after Josh Morrisey would score on a cannon shot to make it 5-1.
It's unclear whether it was any one thing that led to Quebec's unraveling here. There's obviously a fatigue effect of having just played two difficult games against Rimouski, while Kelowna was well-rested. But the Remparts were making defensive miscues everywhere, they let the frustrations with Kelowna and the referees boil over into numerous undisciplined penalties, and Fucale was simply not good (it was a surprise to me he wasn't pulled for Booth, considering how well he had played in relief on Wednesday).
Duclair scored early in the third to give Quebec a glimmer of hope, but Rourke Chartier and Cole Linaker would score in quick succession to make it 7-2 and snuff out any potential comeback. The Remparts went out with a whimper to a better, more rested, more disciplined team.
It was not the end that the Remparts would have envisioned, but nevertheless the fans gave them a proper send-off having played their final game at Le Colisee. Many Quebec players were struggling to contain their emotions, including a few who stayed on the ice as long as possible, long after the game was over.
For the Rockets, it's on to a rematch of their Tuesday clash with the OHL champion Oshawa Generals, who have been dormant since then, and it's the second year in a row the Final will be contested between the OHL champion and WHL champion.