Alex Wall is competing in his first Canadian junior hockey championship and while he says that fact, "hasn't hit me yet," he's very excited about it.
The Moncton Wildcats, whose roster includes Wall, a native of Mount Pearl, and Bonavista's Scott Trask, defeated Saint John Sea Dogs 7-4 Monday night and are now in Brandon, Man., where they are representing the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) at the 2010 Master Card Memorial Cup.
The Wildcats' opener is today against the Western Hockey League champion Calgary Hitmen (Rogers Sportsnet, 4:30 p.m. NT). The host Brandon Wheat Kings and the Ontario Hockey League champion Windsor Spitfires opened the tournament Friday night.
"We have a good team and if we play our game, we can compete with anybody here," Wall said.
"There are a lot of good teams here, so we're going to have to battle pretty hard."
Wall, a 19-year-old defenceman, has appeared in 18 playoff games this spring, registering five assists and a plus-10 rating despite starting the post-season after coming off a concussion with about two weeks left in the regular season. He also picked up a shoulder injury in the last playoff series and he's just now getting back to 100 per cent.
Wall broke into the QMJHL with the St. John's Fog Devils, and moved to Montreal when the franchise sold.
He was traded to Moncton this year and totalled six goals with 23 assists in 62 games between Montreal and Moncton this season.
While he admits he didn't put up that many points during the regular season and playoffs, Wall considers himself an offensive defenceman.
"I'm a pretty good skater, and I love to jump into the rush to create another option," he said.
Wall's usual defence partner is Spencer Metcalfe, but the Wildcats regularly use seven defenceman and he is also paired up with Patrick Downe.
He said he was very pleased with his play this season and expects to see between 15 and18 minutes of ice time each game during theMemorial Cup tournament
"But it's the team first and we're going in to win a championship as a team," he said of the Wildcats, who are a veteran junior team with 14 players 19 or over on the roster.
Meanwhile, Trask, a 17-year-old six-foot rookie forward, dressed in two QMJHL playoff contests, and didn't register any points. He only became eligible to play for the Wildcats after serving a 15-game league-imposed suspension handed out for an illegal hit in the last game if the regular season.
"It was tough sitting out 15 games," Trask, a former Tri-Pen Frost midget player, said on the evenstrength.com website, "but I got through it and it's over now."
He scored three goals and added one assist in 46 regular-season games with 64 penalty minutes.
The Moncton Wildcats posted the QMJHL's third-best record of 48-14-2-4 this season, but lived in the shadow of the Saint John Sea Dogs, who finished the season ranked No. 2 in the CHL.
But Moncton downed their provincial rival in six games in the QMHJL's final series despite the absence of Nicholas Deschamps, the Wildcats' leading scorer. He sat out the series with a reported knee injury. Coach Danny Flynn says his status is "day-to-day" heading into the Memorial Cup.
The unexpected return of goaltender Nicola Riopel from the American Hockey League's Adirondack Phantoms midway through the season prompted a flurry of transactions during the trade window in December and January.
Flynn, who was Ted Nolan's assistant coach with the New York Islanders in 2006-07, dealt young talent to acquire 19-year-old forwards Deschamps from Chicoutimi, Kelsey Tessier from Quebec and Gabriel Bourque from Baie-Comeau to boost the offence. To help the defence, Goulds native Alex Wall was picked up in a deal with the Montreal Juniors.
"I spent eight years in the OHL and went through some Memorial Cups with the Soo Greyhounds," said Flynn.
"The mindset in the Quebec league is different in that at Christmas, virtually every team is a buyer or a seller.
"We knew going forward once Riopel came back from the American Hockey League that if we were going to try and make some noise in the playoffs, we were going to have to try and get a little older, particularly up front."
Moncton posted the lowest goals-against average in the QMJHL the past two seasons, so defence was solid. Flynn's moves improved offensive output from 3.65 goals per game to 4.05 by the end of the regular season.
Deschamps, a second-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks, had 39 goals and 57 assists to finish tied for the league lead in points.
Tessier, a Colorado Avalanche prospect, and Bourque, drafted by the Nashville Predators, compensated for the absence of Deschamps in the final. Bourque, who played for Canada's junior team this year, was named playoff MVP for his 19 goals and 10 assists. Tessier contributed 14 goals and 16 assists in 21 post-season games.
MEMORIAL CUP TEAM CAPSULES
Head coach: Bob Boughner, fourth season, fourth with team.
Secured a spot: Ontario Hockey League champions.
Regular-season record: 50-12-1-5.
Playoffs: Went 16-3 to win the club's second-straight title and third overall.
Final CHL ranking: No. 3.
Leading scorer: LW Taylor Hall tied for the league scoring title with 40 goals and 106 points in 57 games.
Top defenceman: Ryan Ellis was fourth among league defenceman with 12 goals and 61 points in 48 games.
Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer, who was acquired from Belleville, was 16-2 in the playoffs.
Brandon Wheat Kings
Head coach: Kelly McCrimmon, sixth season, sixth with team.
Secured a spot: Host team.
Regular-season record: 50-18-1-3, Western Hockey League.
Playoffs: Lost to Calgary in Eastern Conference final.
Final CHL ranking: No. 6.
Leading scorer: LW Matt Calvert and C Brayden Schenn shared the team lead with 99 points and tied for fourth in the WHL. Calvert topped the team with 47 goals and Schenn led the team with 65 assists.
Top defenceman: Colby Robak had 16 goals and 66 points in 71 games.
Starting goalie: Jacob De Serres, who came over in a deal from Seattle, assumed the No. 1 job in the playoffs after splitting time in the regular season with Andrew Hayes.
Head coach: Mike Williamson, ninth season, first with team.
Secured a spot: Western Hockey League champion.
Regular-season record: 52-17-1-2.
Playoffs: Went 16-7 in the playoffs for first WHL title since 1998-99.
Final CHL ranking: No. 5.
Leading scorer: RW Brandon Kozun led the WHL in scoring with 32 goals and 107 points.
Top defenceman: Michael Stone had 21 goals and 65 points in 69 games.
Starting goalie: Martin Jones led the WHL with a 2.21 goals-against average in 48 games and had a .919 save percentage.
Head coach: Danny Flynn, first season.
Secured a spot: Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions.
Regular-season record: 48-14-2-4.
Playoffs: Went 16-5 in the playoffs for the team's second QMJHL title in five years.
Final CHL ranking: No. 7.
Leading scorer: LW Nicolas Deschamps, who was acquired from Chicoutimi, tied for the QMJHL scoring title with 39 goals and 96 points in 64 games.
Top defenceman: David Savard led all league defencemen with 13 goals and 77 points in 64 games.
Starting goalie: Nicola Riopel returned from the American Hockey League in December to assume the No. 1 spot and posted a .930 save percentage in the playoffs.