The Memorial Cup Semifinal on Friday featured a second Montreal Canadiens prospect matchup as both the Hamilton Bulldogs and the Regina Pats came out of the Memorial Cup's group stage with two wins and a loss.
The Pats edged out a victory 4-2, but not before William Bitten distinguished himself by leading the Bulldogs to a late-game surge.
He broke open, reached a pass that bounced off the boards to the slot before Cale Fleury could, and roofed a shot over the glove of the goalie, cutting down the lead to only one goal.
It was one last display this season of what Bitten is about: breakaway speed and hard work. And it fired up his team.
The forward was playing down in the lineup for most of the tournament and the last half of the OHL playoffs, but after an up-and-down season where he missed on a ton of breakaway chances, it showed that he could come up clutch for his team and score when it matters.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the great defensive play of Regina in the last few minutes, including Fleury aggressively getting the puck out of the zone, diving to poke it across the blue line, led to an empty-netter to concretize the Pats’ win.
The Memorial Cup ended on a bittersweet note for Bitten. The Bulldogs accomplished a lot this season, and there's a lot of things to be proud of for the future Laval Rocket forward. He has to become a more consistent producer, but comes into next year as a potential leader already for the Rocket, leading by example on the ice. His multiple qualities will make him a great option for Joël Bouchard, who will be able to utilize him in all facets of the game.
After their semifinal victory, Regina moved on to face the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, the QMJHL team that was waiting patiently for the winner of the OHL/WHL match-up.
The Titan showed some dominance in the group stage of the tournament, and on Sunday, they proved to be too strong of an adversary for the Pats; one that they couldn't overcome despite their impressive performances just days before.
Regina displayed a strong will to start a comeback in the third period, but after being outmatched for the first two, they couldn't find the back of the net in the last third with the strong defence that opposed them. They fell 3-0, one win short of giving a Memorial Cup to their fans on home ice.
It was still a great display from the Western formation who got this far as the underdog team in the tournament. They took their revenge after their loss in the first round of the playoffs to the other WHL seed, the Swift Current Broncos, by coming out of the group stage and leaving the Broncos behind. They followed that up by beating a very strong Bulldogs team lead by Robert Thomas, likely the best player in the whole tournament.
Cale Fleury had a good Memorial Cup. He comes out of it having shown that he is a strong defender who you shouldn't rush the puck up against or go in the corner with.
There was a ton of hits from him, including the devastating one above that he gave in the dying seconds of the Final, as he really tried to make his presence felt versus opposing players at every chance they gave him.
But there is another sequence that will stick with me. It was a fun glimpse at how solid the defenceman has become, ready — at least physically — for the professional game if given the chance next season.
Fleury still has work to do on the defensive side before he becomes a force at the next level. This was evident against the Titan. Improving his defensive reads, gaining more experience as a team's go-to defender against other teams' fast-flying offensive threats, would go a long way into transforming him into the shutdown force he seems to aspire to become.
But it's important to remember that this isn't a role that Fleury has had for very long. Up until mid-November he was still with the Kootenay ICE. The fast progress he has already shown, gradually adopting this new style, is a sign that he likely hasn't reached any sort of ceiling in his game yet, but instead has plenty more growing to do.
The defenceman shouldn't be thought off as only a future defensive presence. He also has more to give on the offensive side. That’s not necessarily re-adopting the loose style he displayed with Kootenay, but rounding up his game to become the effective two-way player he can be.
He already has a good shot from the point, a hard slapper, and the ability to get quick wrist shots through traffic from the blue line. If he can consistently jump up in the play from the point, choosing the right occasions like he has showcased that he is able to, and continue pushing the play in the neutral zone with his skating, he could do some damage next year and put up impressive totals wherever he is.
Hopefully, that is joining William Bitten with the Laval Rocket.
This concludes our season of following the games of Habs prospects. I'd like to thank all of the readers of Catching The Torch. Your continuous support was greatly appreciated and made this series incredibly fun to write. We will be back next season with a ton more to cover.
Follow David (@RinksideView) on Twitter for prospect updates.