The Halifax Mooseheads and the Sherbrooke Phoenix entered a pivotal Game 5 of the best-of-seven semi-finals series with a trip to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Final and a chance at winning the Gilles Courteau Trophy as league champions on the line.
Related: Halifax Mooseheads Have Become Contenders
Winning this series is the focus for both teams for now. However, it also means facing off against an undefeated Quebec Remparts club, with head coach Patrick Roy at the helm, who haven’t lost in the playoffs yet, even sweeping a very strong team in the Gatineau Olympiques on their way to the Final.
Prelude to Battle
This series has turned into one of the most hotly contested playoff series in the 2023 QMJHL Playoffs. It is the only series thus far to go past five games, apart from the Moncton Wildcats versus the Baie-Comeau Drakkar which went to seven. Sherbrooke arrived in Halifax and swept the first two games in Moose Country thanks in large part to a dominant performance by Montreal Canadiens prospect Joshua Roy.
The Mooseheads went into Sherbrooke on a mission and it’s a brand-new series now. After sweeping Rounds 1 and 2, Sherbrooke, who hadn’t lost at home in regulation since Nov. 13, lost two straight vs the Mooseheads in this series to return to Halifax tied 2-2. Halifax put on their best performance of the postseason in Game 4, beating the Phoenix 5-2. A game that showed the Mooseheads can cut the mustard.
The Mooseheads’ high-flying offense has arrived in this three-game winning streak and has been the difference in this series. But with it returning to Sherbrooke for Game 6, they will also need to contend with a highly motivated Phoenix squad and defend against the dynamic duo of Roy and 2023 NHL Entry Draft first-round hopeful Ethan Gauthier.
The Battle at Citadel Hill
Game 5 began with fast-paced, end-to-end action. The nerves were evident in the younger Mooseheads, and it took an early save by goaltender Mathis Rousseau to give them a spark as the Phoenix were looking to strike early.
I can see everything and because of that I know what’s gonna happen before it happens, so I think I can tell what Sherbrooke kind of wants to do so I kind of already know where they’re going so that helps me.Mathis Rousseau – Halifax Mooseheads Goaltender
But that aggression was used against them as Halifax used the open ice to give defenseman David Moravec a wide-open lane which he exploited for the early goal, his first of the playoffs. This early goal, and a power play (PP) immediately following it, settled the Mooseheads’ nerves.
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Sherbrooke tried to respond with a heavy forecheck, generating sustained offensive zone time and several scoring chances. However, Rousseau stood his ground and stopped several Grade A chances at point-blank range to frustrate the Phoenix attackers. Scoring the first goal has been important for both teams in the playoffs so far.
Since the start of the series the first goal has been very important. The team with the first goal always got a boost of energy and our goal tomorrow is to be aggressive and get that first one.Justin Gill – Sherbrooke Phoenix Forward
The Mooseheads were able to provide a pushback in intensity, and using this, moved back up the ice. Once there, they pinned the Phoenix skaters in their own zone, whose fatigue allowed Evan Boucher to set himself in the slot, unchecked. With fatigue setting in for the Phoenix defenders, Josh Lawrence and L’Heureux were able to win the puck battle on the endboards and feed Boucher the puck for a one-timer. This turned the tide in the game, giving the home team confidence, who then raised their intensity and began to dictate the pace of play.
An early goal in the second period by team captain Attilo Biasca gave Halifax a 3-0 lead and visibly deflated the Phoenix who could be seen slumping on the bench. The goal forced head coach Stephane Julien to pull his starting goaltender, Olivier Adam in favor of Samuel St-Hilare to shake his team up. Despite the all-out efforts of Roy to will his team back into the game, it was not enough as the other Phoenix skaters had difficulty keeping up with his grit and pace.
Officials (who are notoriously criticized by QMJHL fans) did an excellent job of keeping control of the game and only made a penalty call when there was a blatant infraction, allowing the two teams to decide the outcome. Yet, the fourth Halifax goal (Moravec’s second of the game on a perfect feed from L’Heureux) led to frustration taking over the Sherbrooke skaters as they lost their disciplined approach and fell into penalty trouble.
As Sherbrooke opened the third frame with energy and pressure, the Mooseheads responded with a goal by Nashville Predators prospect Zach L’Heureux who created his own breakaway off a blocked shot and gave Halifax a five-goal lead. His consistent play, grit, and role as resident pest helped lift the Mooseheads in this afternoon’s tilt. But the real star of the game was Rousseau who stopped all 26 shots and was relied on to stop 16 high-danger scoring chances.
For the first time in this series, the home team earned a victory as the Mooseheads take a 3-2 lead. Fans in Halifax left the arena to the sounds of “I wish I was in Sherbrooke now”, a classic sea shanty that the Mooseheads players all look forward to as they look to close out the series on Sunday (May 7).