The Montreal Juniors will start the playoffs without their best all-around defenseman. David Stich (seen in photo) was suspended for a total 6 games, including the first 3 games of the playoffs, for hitting a player from behind in a game against the Lewiston Maniacs last week.
Losing Stich is a devastating loss. The Czech born defender is the team's 2nd oldest player, one of three "overage" 20 year olds on the roster. Without Stich in the lineup the team will need to rely on their young defensemen. Aside from veterans like Genest (20) and Bourgeois (19), the Juniors will be forced to give a lot of ice time to younger defensemen like Belanger (17), Narbonne (17), Provost (17) Ouellet (16) and Donnelly (16), all five of whom are rookies in the "Q" this year making it a very inexperienced defense corps to rely on.
So just how big a loss is losing David Stich? Well, having captained Czech Republic's Junior National Team at the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championships (in Ottawa), Stich brings that "big game" experience factor to the Juniors' blue line. Not yet convinced? Furthermore he's one of the few players on the Juniors roster with NHL related experience after being invited to pro camps during each of the past three summers, all on a tryout basis (Dallas in 2007, NY Rangers in 2008 and Chicago in 2009). Point is, the guy brings an competitive edge to the team.
At 6 foot 2 and 215 pounds Stich is the team's biggest defenseman. He uses his size well in front of the net and punishes opposing forwards along the boards. Stich finished the season with 6 goals, 17 assists and 23 points in 47 GP while accumulating 85 penalty minutes. He is second best on the team with a plus/minus rating of +12.
So who steps up for the Juniors in Stich's absence? Answer: Hubert Genest and Xavier Ouellet. Look for these guys to log some big time minutes, perhaps even 25 minutes each per game. Genest (20) played 28 playoff games during the last two season as a member of the Quebec Remparts and will be counted on to handle pressure. As for Ouellet (16), I think this will be his coming out party. He has played some extraordinary hockey over the past 4 weeks and that should only continue given this opportunity. We all know how good this kid will be over the next three seasons and should get a preview of that during this series.
Oh ya, and one more thing....who will replace Stich's toughness on the back end? Answer: Dillon Donnelly (16). If you haven't seen this kid's game you better get ready for it because it's built for the playoffs. Last Sunday Donnelly went toe to toe with Royun Noranda tough guy and New Jersey Devil draft pick Jean-Sebastien Berube. The outcome of the fight was a draw, but it's rare that you see a 16 year old kid hang in there with a 19 year old vet.
Originally I predicted that Montreal would beat Gatineau in six games. Here's to hoping the loss of David Stich doesn't push the series to seven!