When the Halifax Mooseheads play their first playoff game Friday night at home, they'll be doing so with something they've been lacking for most of the season: a mostly intact lineup.
Key players such as Jocktan Chainey, Ostap Safin and Samuel Dubé missed large stretches of the season due to injury. In the case of Dubé, it was because of a blood clot, a rare injury for a player to suffer.
Even with a downsized lineup, the Mooseheads had a solid season. They finished third overall in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and won 49 of their 68 games.
"The nice thing is the consistency. We haven't really gone for a slump or a long downturn," said team general manager Cam Russell.
Halifax's success was overshadowed by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who set a league record with a 59-win season, beating the Mooseheads' 2012-2013 season where they won 58 games.
That 2012-2013 team was star-studded and featured Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Zach Fucale.
Russell said the team is expecting everyone to be available for Game 1, excluding forward Maxim Trépanier, who's recovering from a concussion.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Mooseheads will be playing the Québec Remparts, an almost .500 team coached by NHL legend Patrick Roy. The Moose played the Remparts twice this season and lost both matchups.
Automatic berth to Memorial Cup
Regardless of the outcome of the QMJHL playoffs, the Mooseheads are guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup.
That's because Halifax is hosting the national title tournament and will be playing in the four-team tournament against the winners of the QMJHL, OHL and WHL leagues.
"We're not really focused and concerned with the Memorial Cup, we're just focused on the playoffs right now," said Russell.
Beefing up its roster
One year ago, Halifax was announced as the host city for this year's Memorial Cup. The team began making trades during the preseason and regular season to solidify its lineup, plus some deadline trades to get the lineup just right.
"If you look at our team as a whole, you know our defence core is excellent," said Russell.
"All of our defencemen can skate and move the puck and defend. Our goalies have both been great all year and we've got four deep lines that can score, so, you know, once we're healthy, I really like our chances."
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