Fans of the Canadian Hockey League won’t have to wait long for their first explosive matchup of the season. The very first game of the season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is a big one, with the defending champion Shawinigan Cataractes, taking on the up-and-coming Gatineau Olympiques, who figure to have a great season, and have a chance to win their first President’s Cup since 2008, with puck drop coming on Thursday, September 22nd, 2022, at 7 pm ET.
The host Cataractes are coming off a season where they won the President’s Cup, taking down the Charlottetown Islanders in five games. Their campaign in Saint John for the Memorial Cup, however, didn’t quite go as they would have hoped. Despite winning twice (once in overtime) and losing just once in the round robin, the new points format meant that the Sea Dogs were the beneficiary of the bye to the finals, not the Cataractes. Facing the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League in the Semi-Final, the Cataractes’ season ended when Jan Mysak scored in overtime.
In Gatineau, it was a season of building back up to what they have been in the past. They finished the regular season in second place in the Western Conference, with a record of 39-15-11-3, with 92 points. Their run in the playoffs was short-lived, however, as they lost at the hand of the Cataractes in the second round, ending their season in heartbreaking fashion. This season, the Olympiques are looking to continue their upward development, and with their league-high eighth President’s Cup.
In the 2022 playoffs, the Cataractes and Olympiques met in the second round, in a best-of-five series, that Shawinigan won with relative ease, when it was all said and done. Led by both Mavrik Bourque, the Dallas Stars prospect, and Xavier Bourgault Edmonton Oilers’ draft choice, the Cataractes won game one 6-5 in overtime. In game two, it was another close game, with the 3-1 decision once again going the way of Shawinigan. Back at home, the Cataractes closed out the sweep, taking down the higher-seed Olympiques 1-0, thanks to a goal by Pierrick Dubé, just a minute and six seconds into the game.
Admittedly, it’s pretty likely that both of these teams will be missing some of their big-name talent, with players away at various NHL rookie camps. Still, the Olympiques have been busy bringing in new talent, including making a trade with the Cataractes, netting Olivier Nadeau, who scored 35 goals in Shawinigan last season. They also brought in Charles-Antoine Pilote who will add some size to the blue line, Joey Vetrano from Victoriaville, Robert Orr who scored 44 points with the Halifax Mooseheads in 2021-22, and Colin Ratt, who is tied for the team lead in points in the preseason for Gatineau.
Gatineau still has in-house options, including draft choices from last season. Currently tied with Ratt for points is free agent invite, Genaro Fronduto, who has scored seven points, including five goals. Additionally, Joey Messina and Cristiano Spadafora have been excellent in the preseason, scoring five points each, and for Messina, it has come in just three games. Gatineau still has more talent to boast from there, including Cole Cormier who scored 28 goals last season, Tristan Luneau, Charles-Antoine Lavallée, Marcel Marcel, and Jonah De Simone, among others. Emerik Despatie will anchor a relatively inexperienced crease for the Olympiques.
For the Cataractes, it’s going to be a different kind of season, more than likely. With Bourke and Bourgault heading into what would be their overage seasons, there’s no guarantee that either of them will be back, and at this time, neither of them are. As well, they traded their leading scorer from last season to Gatineau in Nadeau, so they are now nothing like their previous selves. They won’t have the same big names to lean on, instead, they will have players like Mathis Cloutier (who they acquired via trade in the offseason), and a long list of rookies in the league. In goal, it appears like Rémi Delafontaine will be holding down the fort.
The Bigger Picture
This is a matchup that is quite hard to get a feel for. On one hand, the Olympiques should be the better team at the end of the season, but just how many of those big games will be available for them? At their home opener, the Cataractes will be raising their President’s Cup banner to the rafters at Centre Gervais Auto, undoubtedly providing a boost to the home side. This is a meeting with potential upset written all over it, and should provide an entertaining open to the QMJHL season.
Obviously, a win or loss here won’t define the season for either team, and both rosters will likely see considerable change sooner or later, but who wouldn’t want to start the season with a win? What team wants to lose when they raise a championship banner, and what team doesn’t want to spoil the night?
Other Notable Matchups
- Tuesday, September 20th, 2022, 7:05 pm EDT – Sudbury Wolves @ Barrie Colts (preseason)
- Thursday, September 22nd, 2022, 7 pm EDT – Niagara IceDogs @ Hamilton Bulldogs (preseason)
- Saturday, September 24th, 2022, 4 pm EDT – Kitchener Rangers @ Mississauga Steelheads (preseason)
- Friday, September 23rd, 2022, 7 pm AT – Charlottetown Islanders @ Halifax Mooseheads
- Friday, September 23rd, 2022, 7 pm EDT – Chicoutimi Saguenéens @ Quebec Remparts
- Friday, September 23rd, 2022, 7 pm EDT – Gatineau Olympiques @ Sherbrooke Phoenix
- Sunday, September 25th, 2022, 4 pm EDT – Rimouski Océanic @ Baie-Comeau Drakkar
- Friday, September 23rd, 2022, 7 pm MDT – Moose Jaw Warriors @ Regina Pats
- Friday, September 23rd, 2022, 7 pm PDT – Portland Winterhawks @ Kamloops Blazers
- Saturday, September 24th, 7 pm MDT – Calgary Hitmen @ Swift Current Broncos
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