With the state of the pandemic worsening and the rules and regulations in different places across Canada ever-changing, the QMJHL season is becoming more and more difficult to play. There have been multiple instances only a few months into the season where the league has had to postpone games due to positive Covid-19 cases.
“Every time that there’s a specific situation, all kinds of issues that we might face, we’re always in solution mode to find a way to make sure our players are going to continue to play,” the commissioner said on a video call Tuesday. “Our players are going to keep faith in our season. They all know it’s not an easy situation.” – Gillies Courteau
The Maritimes Division is currently the division providing the least amount of problems related to Covid-19 with most of their scheduled games being played as normal. However, the East and West Divisions have had several teams with cases leading to postponements. Despite the varying degrees of success in each division, the league has done a good job in finding solutions for these issues as they arise, and remained adamant on completing their 60 game season.
The Quebec region has recently been moved into the “Red Zone” of Covid-19 Restriction Guidelines and as a result of this, the province has placed a ban on organized sports. This has forced the hand of Commissioner Courteau to follow the NHL’s suit and play games in a “bubble” setting. Here are the details of the league’s bubble format:
The seven teams that played out of the bubble are the Gatineau Olympiques, Drummondville Voltigeurs, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, Victoriaville Tigers, Shawinigan Cataractes, Chicoutimi Sagueneens, and Quebec Remparts (These teams were in the Red Zone where no organized sports were permitted).
The games were played between November 17, 2020 and November 27, 2020 at the Videotron Centre in Quebec City.
Each player and staff member was tested before entering the bubble and tested again every three days within the bubble.
Each team participated in six games, playing every club within the controlled setting once.
Each team will help to contribute towards the cost of the bubble while the league picked up any additional costs.
The league has also received help from the Quebec government to help ensure that the league can still run after they were awarded $12 million in financial-aid while each Quebec-based team was also awarded an additional $1 million in funds.
Suspension of Play
Despite all the leagues work to curb the spread of Covid-19 in order to play out the 2020-2021 season, it appears these maneuvers were not good enough. The QMJHL and it’s commissioner announced that it has suspended play over the month of December.
Due to the changing regional health guidelines in the Atlantic regions, the Maritime provinces and their respective governments have decided that they will no longer permit travel among their neighbouring provinces, making it virtually impossible for teams in the QMJHL’s Maritime Division to complete any games.
The suspension of play will be in affect beginning December 1st, 2020 and run until January 3rd, 2020. The League will have to continue to make adjustments and look at other possible ways over this “holiday break” to complete this season, while abiding by fluctuating regional health guidelines.
Who’s Hot and Who’s Not
Blainville-Boisbriand Armada – The Armada were one of the teams who had suffered a major Covid-19 outbreak with 18 members of the team testing positive. This outbreak stalled the start of their season back in October but they have since returned to play. The team has been able to shake off the rust with a perfect 6-0-0-0 start to their season. Their undefeated record puts them in a three-way tie for ninth in the league (with 12 points) which sets them up well to make up ground on the top teams since they have the second-fewest games played in the league.
Sherbrooke Phoenix – Sherbrooke was another team who suffered from early season outbreaks derailing the start of their 2020-2021 campaign. After playing Blainville-Boisbriand in the opening weekend the team was shut down after reporting eight members of the organization testing positive. Unlike the Armada, the Phoenix have not been able to get in the win column yet this season. The team has dropped their first three games since returning from their month-long layoff at the beginning of November. The team is now 0-5-0-0 to begin their season which is a massive step back after they finished as the best team in the league a year ago.
Players to Watch
Robert Orr (C) – Halifax Mooseheads
After a slow start to the year through the first month of the season, the first-year forward has elevated his play in the second month of the season. Thus far he has tallied seven points in his five November games played, moving him up to 13 points through his first 15 games in the QMJHL. On a young Mooseheads roster, Orr can be someone that will force the hand for more playing time and be put into positions to succeed as he establishes himself as one of the team’s better offensive threats.
Samuel Richard (G) – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
The Huskies goaltender only appeared in eight games for the team last year and is on pace to surpass that by a large margin this season. Richard is already up to five games played in which he leads the league in both save percentage (.940) and goals-against average (1.98). He has been the best goaltender on the team’s roster despite starting duties belonging to Zachary Emond. He is showing the team that he can handle starting reps and is making the best of his opportunity winning four of his five starts. He will look to steal more playing time from Emond moving forward.
Mikhail Abramov (C) – Victoriaville Tigers
The Tigers have only been able to play eight games this season and Abramov is making the most of each one. He is up to 13 points in those eight games and has been a driver of the Tigers’ offense. The Russian center is entering his third year in the league and put up career highs in goals (35), assists (41), and points (76) in 63 games played last year. Despite the shortened 60 game season this year Abramov can beat his career highs this season if he keeps up his current scoring pace, making him look like a steal for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fourth round back in 2019.
QMJHL Players at the World Juniors
With training camp already underway there are several players of the QMJHL that have been invited to Team Canada’s Selection Camp. There is tonnes of talent available to choose from and the QMJHL has sent over a total of nine players who will battle it out to try and make the final roster.
Colorado 2020 Round 1 – 25th overall
Vegas 2020 Round 3 – 68th overall
Los Angeles 2019 Round 4 – 95th overall
The three defensemen from the QMJHL selected to attend Canada’s World Junior Camp have all already been drafted to the NHL. Both Cormier and Spence have legitimate offensive upside and are first and fourth in scoring by defensemen in the QMJHL. Halifax Moosehead captain Justin Barron is a better all-around defenseman who can provide stability to the back end. Despite the success of each of these players thus far in their junior careers, there is a tough battle ahead to beat out 13 other blueliners for a spot on the roster. With returning defensemen Jamie Drysdale and Bowen Byram essentially a lock to make the team again this year there are only four starting spots on the blue line up for grabs.
Dallas 2020 Round 1 – 30th overall
Washington 2020 Round 1 – 22nd overall
New Jersey 2020 Round 1 – 18th overall
Calgary 2019 Round 1 – 26th overall
Pittsburgh 2019 Round 1 – 21st overall
2021 NHL Draft Eligible
The forward group that has been brought to the World Junior Camp while very talented is also very deep. Several of these players should make the team but will, unfortunately, be cut because of the amount of top-end talent upfront. Dawson Mercer should have a leg up to make the roster this year as he was part of Canada’s final roster in the 2020 tournament. While other potential returning players should include Quinton Byfield, Connor McMichael, and Dylan Cozens which also limits the remaining spots to make the roster.
Hendrix Lapierre has the upside to make the roster, but after injuries derailed his previous QMJHL season he has a lot to prove before cracking the roster. Mavrik Bourque could be somewhat of a sleeper considering his scoring upside because of his great release and strong play at even strength.
Due to the unique situation of the NHL season not having gotten underway yet, there is the opportunity that other players who would usually be playing for their NHL teams could be made available for the tournament including Kirby Dach and Alexis Lafreniere. This would further complicate the situation for the QMJHL forwards attending the camp and will no doubt make it very tough to claim a spot on the roster. The bright side is most of these players are still very young and should get another shot to make the lineup at next year’s tournament.
By the time next month roles around World Junior Rosters should be finalized and we will see if any of the QMJHL standouts will be selected and look further into their roles on the team. Come back next month as we continue to look at the role the pandemic plays on the QMJHL’s season and dive into some more 2021 Draft Eligible players.
By the time next month rolls around World Junior Rosters should be finalized and we will see if any of the QMJHL standouts will be selected, and look further into their roles on the team. We will also continue to look at the role the pandemic plays on the QMJHL’s season and the leagues intentions with the remainder of the season, while also diving into some more 2021 Draft Eligible players.
Julian Mongillo – Los Angeles Kings and QMJHL writer.