The Canadian Hockey League playoffs are set to begin tonight on three fronts, with one game taking place in each of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.
The Montreal Canadiens have ten prospects that suited up in the CHL this season, and all but two of them will take part in the upcoming post season.
One of those prospects is goaltender Zach Fucale who enters the QMJHL postseason with the Halifax Mooseheads as defending President’s Cup and Memorial Cup champion.
The Mooseheads do not have the same firepower that led them a 120 point regular season a year ago, but they are still one of the most dangerous teams in the Quebec league, and finished second overall in the standings with 97 points this year.
A big part of their ability to stay at the top of the standings after losing Nathan MacKinnon, was the stellar play of Fucale this season. The Canadiens second round pick last June, led the QMJHL in wins with 36, posted the league’s best goals against average of 2.26 and was sixth in save percentage at .907.
The second place Mooseheads will take on the 15th ranked Charlottetown Islanders in the opening round of the Q post season. Charlottetown started the season on fire, as a young roster stormed out of the gate with a 10-2-1 record and were ranked as high as 4th in the CHL Top 10 ranking on October 23rd.
A loss to the Mooseheads that night sent the Islanders into a downward spiral, as they lost six in a row and have posted a record of 11-37-7 since. They sent most of their veterans packing at the trade deadline, and actually only use one of their three possible overage slots.
Halifax on the other hand is playing their best hockey of the season of late. They enter the postseason on a 13 game winning streak, and will surely extend that tomorrow when this series gets underway.
The Maritime Division rivals met nine times during the regular season, and the only win Charlottetown came away with was on opening night of the season. The Mooseheads were without Fucale and defending QMJHL MVP Jonathan Drouin, who were at NHL camps at the time.
The Mooseheads outscored Charlottetown by more than 100 goals in the regular season, (292-186) and Halifax allowed the third least (182) in the league. Charlottetown’s leading scorer Daniel Sprong finished the season with 68 points, but was outscored by four Mooseheads. Drouin and Q rookie Nikolai Ehlers paced the Mooseheads strong scoring attack with 108 and 104 points.
The Mooseheads are about as big a favorite as a hockey team can be in this series. Their 97 points in the standings nearly doubled the Islanders 50, but it will provide an opportunity for Fucale to pad some already impressive career postseason stats.
This will be Zach’s third playoff run as the Mooseheads netminder and he has a career record of 26-8 in the postseason. Prior to running the table last season, going 16-1 en route to winning the QMJHL President’s Cup and CHL’s Memorial Cup, Fucale backstopped a young Halifax team to the Q semi-finals in 2012.
At just 16 years of age Fucale led the team from a 3-0 series deficit against the Quebec Remparts, before falling to the Rimouski Oceanic in the third round. Fucale has played in seven career playoff series and won six of them, make that seven out of eight about a week from now.
My prediction: Mooseheads win handily in four and Fucale posts exceptional numbers in the rout. Fucale’s stats: 4-0 with a 1.75 GAA and .930 SV%.