The rollercoaster ride of the regular season has come to an end for the Moncton Wildcats. The ups and downs were well documented and harshly criticized. Losing 9 of 10 games in a market like the Hub City doesn’t often fly without drastic changes occurring. It got so bad that the massive chunk of the fanbase called or actually yelled for Daniel Lacroix to be fired.
Many critics and fans alike thought that Lacroix had lost the room. The rollercoaster ride might be over, but can the staff and players put the past behind them and focus on the postseason?
Teams that experience adversity and perhaps question the course of their direction in the regular season can cause a lot of damage in the postseason, if they rediscover and recapture their identity.
Photo Credit Daniel St Louis
The Wildcats weathered the “wild ride” due in large part to the character within the room. The good was good, the bad was bad and the ugly was downright awful, but every player in that room responded and are better for it.
Are the Wildcats “Jekyll and Hyde” days a thing of the past?
It appears many pundits across the QMJHL are betting against the Cats in their first-round matchup against a very good young team in the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. Playoff predictions are easy to make from a far. Analytics, tendencies and stats don’t always tell the true story about a team and their potential.
There’s no question the Cats are in tough, but the ship hasn’t sailed yet when it comes to their playoff hopes and aspirations. When the Cats play as a group and there is consistency within that group from a line combination perspective, they are a very dangerous team. The Drakkar pose a serious threat in a 2-3-2 format and everyone knows they will be gunning for a split early at the Avenir Centre.
The Cats struggle like any Jr. team when they don’t support the puck, play as a 5-man unit or try to go out on their own and be too individualistic.
The acquisitions that Ritchie Thibeau and the hockey ops staff made during the trade period undoubtedly added character and two-way presence to the backend and forward group. Connor Trenholm and Oscar Plandowski are big pieces to the Cats playoff puzzle.
Where those players will play and the role, they will have entering the playoffs remains a bit of a mystery. Plandowski has had a revolving door of “D” partners, and it’s unclear if he will be matched up with Hugo Marcil or Adam Fortier Gendron. Plandowski’s versatility is critical for the Cats success, there’s no doubt the Cats will try to keep Morin away from the Drakkar’s top line. Plandowski and Marcil or Fortier-Gendron will have the task of shutting down their top guys.
Trenholm has found himself on the wing for the majority of his time in Moncton which is a bit perplexing given his ability and skill set to play through the middle. Don’t be surprised if Trenholm finds himself playing through the middle with Tomas Auger and Alexis Daniel. Auger can play his off side very effectively and that gives Lacroix the opportunity to throw that line out as a checking line or energy line. All three of those players are defensively responsible, skate extremely well and can generate offensive opportunities off the rush.
Lacroix will no doubt get the best out of his players and the best results by finding chemistry and sticking with his line combinations no matter what. Shift length, time on ice and the match up game could also cause the Cats some issues. If Lacroix decides to juggle his lines constantly which happened at certain parts of the season the team may struggle against a very underrated Drakkar attack.
The Cats didn’t have the luxury of resting or cutting ice time of their top guys due to the need to clinch home ice which will potentially come back and bit them, if the series goes the distance. The Cats top players have played a shit ton of hockey especially Etienne Morin and Jacob Steinman. This little break before the start of the postseason could pay dividends for the Cats.
Physicality, compete level and discipline will be the deciding factor in this series like any playoff series, but especially for the Moncton Wildcats. Any team that has experienced a rollercoaster ride at certain junctures of the season are prone to relapses especially when it the heats on. A panic free, composed brand of hockey is needed from top to bottom if the Cats want to advance.
Any team is beatable on any given night, especially come playoff time and that’s what makes the Eastern Conference so intriguing.
The Wildcats might be in tough, but the ship hasn’t sailed just yet.