Finding A Feeling - Coping With The Lockout

On Sunday I took in a game in Blainville-Boisbriand to help fill the gap left by the lockout, this was what I found.

After several weeks of talking about it with a few friends, we finally decided it was time to get together and make the drive from NDG, to Kirkland, then to Blainville-Boisbriand to see some hockey. I didn't know what to expect from it going in, as I'd never seen the Armada play before. I knew that they were a top QMJHL team and that their opponent, the Saint John Sea Dogs, had lost their head coach, Nathan Beaulieu, Charlie Coyle, Tomas Jurco, Zack Phillips, Danick Gauthier, among others in a single summer. They were the QMJHL's reigning titan for 3 years, now just 10-10-0.

But they still had Jonathan Huberdeau, so we were all hoping that he would give us a one man show to put up a competition of some sort.

Driving into town, the amount of traffic near the arena was shocking. There was nowhere to park at the arena and we began to wonder if we'd even get tickets. If we could though (Spoiler: we did), I was beginning to suspect this would be a good idea. As we walked towards the arena, fond memories of growing up in Moose Jaw and heading to the now destroyed "crushed can" with my father to see Ryan Smyth and the Warriors cropped up. I remember the smell of the ice so fondly, banging on the old school, unmovable glass that would likely kill a player in the NHL. There's a certain atmosphere that I associate with junior hockey, and I was looking forward to it.

But the Armada aren't the Warriors, they're newer. The team is just two years old after Joel Bouchard bought the Montreal Junior, Louis Leblanc's old team. The Centre d'excellence Sports Rousseau isn't the Civic Centre, it's a brand new arena with stands in the shape of a horseshoe, the owner's box directly above the ends of the shoe.

There was no smell though. This place definitely has hockey, but it doesn't smell like hockey. The arena is strangely sterile. Too clean. Too proper. For the first time I realized what Ellen Etchingham was talking about in her epic writeup traveling the country through junior rinks. And despite it's modern and seemingly swank design, there's a pretty big flaw in the setup. The curve of the horseshoe, where we bought tickets, is behind net where the visiting team shoots twice. Why would they do that? Wouldn't you rather showcase the scoring of your club to your home fans than the scoring of the opponent? It doesn't really make sense, but I guess Mr. Bouchard wants to have the best seat in the house.

In spite of that criticism, it seems like Bouchard is doing a fine job of running a hockey team. From the drop of the puck it was evident that there was a large gap in talent between these two teams, as the Armada didn't allow a shot until about 11 minutes into the period.

I didn't really count scoring chances or possession, but by eyeballing it and confirming with the shot clock, I'd be comfortable saying that the Armada fired 30 more shots through the course of the game than the Sea Dogs. The teams didn't look so much like they were at the opposite ends of a league's standings, it looked like they belonged in different leagues.

This wasn't really helped by Huberdeau playing like he was locked out of hockey along with the rest of the NHL. I can't really bring myself to blame Huberdeau though. He's dominated this league for 2 years on a dominant team, he's signed to a contract worth $9.675M, why the hell would he break a sweat for $50 a week on a basement dweller? When the lockout ends, he'll be on the Panthers. If the lockout doesn't end in time, he's assured of a spot on Team Canada for the World Juniors. Where's the motivation for him?

The game itself was a good old fashioned barn burner, with the Armada exploding for 8 goals. It was an okay game for what it was, and if you're going to go to one of these things, you want to get your money's worth in goals.

The tickets are moderately priced for such a new venue, great seats are had for just $16. There's a downside to such cheap tickets though. For example being seated next to 3 twelve year old girls who think it's funny to hit the paper noisemakers the arena provides off of your left arm. The overexcited young ladies were so invested in the hockey game that they refrained from texting their friends for 2 whole minutes of gameplay, and two of them left after the second period (not that my arm is complaining).

Perhaps I'm spoiled living in Montreal and going to Habs games, or perhaps Armada fans are spoiled with such a brand new team being so good, but the crowd of 2751 (below the Armada's average of 3017 per game somehow) people were abnormally silent for such an epic blowout. The atmosphere was very Toronto, with clapping after goals, and dead silence between them.

In the second period when the Armada began to smell blood in the water and began their run of 7 straight goals, I began to imagine how the Bell Centre would react to a game like that. You definitely wouldn't be able to hear the person next to you talking, and no one would be texting. The air would be electrified with excitement, hungry for even more goals. Habs fans are a ravenous hoard, never satisfied. Armada fans seemed complacent after it was 2-1.

During warmups the three of us instantly agreed who would be our favourite player on this unfamiliar team. Number 57, Christopher Clapperton of Cap-d'Espoir, QC. The 5'10 forward has a great hockey name and that was enough. We cheered loudest for his goal of course. Despite 55 points in 56 games last year, no one took a chance on young Clapperton in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

Despite Danick Martel scoring a hat trick and an assist to go along with a +4 rating and 7 shots, the most notable player of the game was Stefan Matteau. To put it succinctly, Matteau is a douchebag. He doesn't really hit unless you have your back turned, and when efficiently knocked off the puck on two consecutive breakaways, he nearly lost it and faked a two hand chop to the face of a Saint John defender. Matteau ended up scoring a few shifts later, cherry picking at the blueline for about 8 seconds behind the Sea Dogs defense. He seemed to me very much like a bigger Brad Marchand, although with nowhere close to the talent or skating ability, though his diving skills were passable.

It was an alright time all in all, in spite of the various disappointments. However Blainville-Boisbriand is a long way to go for "alright". There's no replacing the quality of hockey we're treated to and pay good money to see in the NHL. So put on your serious boots Mr. Fehr and Mr. Bettman, and let's get this shit show over with.

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