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Walling: The Mooseheads' greatest year... so far

Alex J. Walling
5/23/2013 8:09:46 PM
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Regardless of what happens in Sunday's Memorial Cup final, the Halifax Mooseheads will have completed their finest season in franchise history.

The franchise was formed in the spring of 1994 when league president Gilles Corteau said "It is with pleasure that I welcome the Halifax Mooseheads as the first ever Maritime team in the QMJHL".

I covered that announcement for TSN and the start of junior hockey kicked off in Atlantic Canada.

The next year, the Moncton Alpines were in the league, then came the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Moncton Wildcats, Bathurst Titan, PEI Rocket, the John's then came in, being the St. John's Fog Devils in Newfoundland and the Saint John Seadogs from New Brunswick.

The Moncton Alpines were awarded a franchise in 1995 but were poorly run and their games drew barely a few hundred fans.

The league took over the franchise after the 1995-96 season and handed it over to Robert Irving, who changed the name to Wildcats and that franchise has done very well since. In fact, Moncton held the Memorial Cup in 2006 and the Wildcats made it to the final before losing to the Quebec Remparts, who were coached by Patrick Roy.

Looking at the junior hockey map in Atlantic Canada, it resembles the American Hockey League map that existed from 1971 when the Nova Scotia Vees came to Halifax and became the first Canadian team to win the Calder Cup. 

The Vees left in the summer of 1993. There was no hockey at the Halifax Metro Centre in the fall of 1993.

From the first game in October of 199,4 the city fell in love with junior hockey and fell for the Moose. From that time on, "Moose Mania" became part of the Atlantic lexicon.

Nineteen years is a long time and the Moose watched several Atlantic teams who came in after them win the President's Cup, emblematic of the league championship.

They watched Bathurst with Roberto Loungo take the Cup in 1999, Moncton Wildcats in 2006 and recently in back-to-back years watched Jonathan Huberdeau and the Saint John Seadogs win the Memorial Cup and two straight league titles.

Prior to this year, the Moose went to the league finals twice. In 2005, they played Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic and in 2003, they led the the Hull Olympiques 3-2 before losing Game 6 in Hull and Game 7 on home ice.

They've been to the Memorial Cup once before in their history. In 2000, they hosted the event at the Metro Centre. They made it as far as the semifinal in a tournament won by Brad Richards and Rimouski and featuring the antics of the Barrie Colts and Mike Jefferson, now known as Mike Danton.

The Mooseheads have had good teams but when they were strong, there always seemed to be stronger teams.

In their first season, their star was goalie Jean Sebastian Giguere, who was a throw-in in a trade. It was his goaltending that prevented Halifax from finishing in the basement. That was an accomplishment for a first-year team.

One year, Alex Tanguay was on the team and Ladislav Nagy scored 71 goals, despite missing a month representing his native country at the World Juniors) but they ran into a very strong Bathurst team.

But this year is their most remarkable season ever. They have yet to lose 10 games this season and have advanced to the Memorial Cup final. They started the season on a 16-1 note and finished with six straight wins at the end of the season. In the playoffs, the Mooseheads won 16 out of 17 games, including 14 straight. Those are amazing stats.

By now, most have heard of Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin but this team has so much depth. MacKinnon and Drouin don't have to score because so many others can. In all, they've got six players who scored 30 or more goals. That's offence and that's balance.

The unknown star to many Canadians is the goalie, Zach Fucale. He played big minutes last year as a 16-year old and starred this season. He reminds many of the 16-year old Giguere and may be the first goalie taken in this year's NHL Draft.

"This is the best team in Mooseheads history," said sports columnist Chris Cochrane, who has followed the team since opening day. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime team or once every 25 years. They are special."

Drouin became a star during the World Juniors but Mooseheads fans remember him from last season's playoffs when the favoured Quebec Remparts led 3-1 and Halifax beat them in Game 7 with Drouin scoring a bunch of goals, including the winner in the decisive game.

MacKinnon has starred since day one and, in the first game of the Memorial Cup against the Portland Winterhawks, may have played one of the best games ever at the tournament. He scored three goals, showed some nifty passing skills and played defence in a showcase way.

He has been compared to Sidney Crosby. Like Sid, he is from Cole Harbour, a standout at an early age but the more we see him, it's the lower body strength he has that resembles Crosby. Haligonians have watched him and scored five goals in a game against the powerful Quebec Remparts.

There is no guarantee that they will win on Sunday, after all this is a one-game showdown and anything can and may happen. But it's been a tremendous year and regardless of the Sunday outcome, it's been the best Mooseheads year ever.

For TSN.ca I'm Alex J. Walling

Alex J. can be reached via email at: ajw@eastlink.ca




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