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Locals lining up for crack at QMJHL championship

In this Dec. 12, 2018 file photo, Joel Bishop of the Halifax Mooseheads tips a shot wide in front of Cape Breton Screaming Eagles goalie Kevin Mandolese during Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action in Halifax. Bishop is one of six players from Newfoundland and Labrador whose teams are competing in the QMJHL playoffs, beginning this weekend.
In this Dec. 12, 2018 file photo, Joel Bishop of the Halifax Mooseheads tips a shot wide in front of Cape Breton Screaming Eagles goalie Kevin Mandolese during Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action in Halifax. Bishop is one of six players from Newfoundland and Labrador whose teams are competing in the QMJHL playoffs, beginning this weekend. - Contributed

A half dozen players from Newfoundland and Labrador are seeing action in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, which began in eight locations Friday night. And almost all of those players are on teams considered to be serious contenders for the Presidents Cup and the QMJHL championship.

Joel Bishop of St. John’s already knows he and the Halifax Mooseheads will be playing hockey late into the spring. That’s because the Mooseheads are hosting the 2019 Memorial Cup tournament.

But Halifax is also among the favourites to take the league crown; the Mooseheads are the QMJHL Eastern Conference champion after posting a 49-15-4 regular-season record with a deep lineup that includes Bishop, a fourth-year left-winger and one of the teams’s top defensive forwards, who registered 11 goals, 33 points and a plus-33 rating during the regular season.

The Mooseheads are facing the Quebec Remparts (27-28-13) in a best-of-seven first-round series. The Remparts’ lineup includes 18-year-old forward Matthew Grouchy (14 G, 33A) of Labrador City.

Halifax may be a conference champ, but owns the league’s third-best record. The Western Conference champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies finished first overall with an outstanding 59-8-1 win-loss line, followed by the Drummondville Voltigeurs (52-13-3).

Like the Mooseheads, the Voltigeurs boast a lot of depth, with a roster featuring no less than seven NHL draft picks. Bay Roberts native Dawson Mercer isn’t one of them, but eventually will be.

The 17-year-old Drummondville right-winger isn’t draft eligible until 2020, but Mercer already has played two full major junior seasons, including a 2018-19 campaign that saw him put up 30 goals and 64 points, more than any other Newfoundlander in the ‘Q’ this season.

The Voltigeurs are taking on the Gatineau Olympiques in the first round.

Back to the Eastern Conference, where the Baie-Comeau Drakkar were runners-up to the Mooseheads, even though they had identical records. Halifax got top spot in the conference by virtue of having 47 regulation and overtime wins, compared to 46 for the Drakkar, whose goaltending corps includes St. John’s native Lucas Fitzpatrick.

For the 18-year-old Fitzpatrick, it’s been a tale of two seasons. He began with the Shawinigan Cataractes, where he had a 6-11 record, .867 save percentage and 4.82 goals-against average, but following mid-season trade to Baie Comeau, he saw a drastic change in his numbers. Playing behind Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Alex D’Orio on the Drakkar, Fitzpatrick saw his frequency of starts dropped after the deal, but when he was given starts, his numbers were outstanding — a 7-0 record, 1.36 GAA and .937 save percentage, with two shutouts with the Drakkar, who are tangling with the Moncton Wildcats in the first round.

The fourth seeds in the Eastern Conference are the Charlottetown Islanders (40-21-7), whose lineup featured two players from this province — overage centre Jordan Maher of Gander and forward Brett Budgell of St. John’s, who completed his first full QMJHL season.

Maher, 21, who won a Memorial Cup with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in 2018, is with Charlottetown after being traded twice within seven months, first from Acadie-Bathurst to Halifax, and then from the Mooseheads to the Islanders.

He had solid numbers in his fifth QMJHL season, with a combined 15 goals, 32 assists and a plus-31 rating, the latter better than any other player on Charlottetown.

Budgell, who doesn’t turn 18 until June, had 18 goals and 33 points and was plus-10 as he played in all but one of Charlottetown’s games.

The Islanders are playing the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the opening round.

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Three other players whose names have been under the QMJHL heading on our Newfoundlanders Away list since the start of the season are not participating in the QMJHL playoffs.

Overage forward Jesse Sutton of Mount Pearl, 20-year-old defenceman Ian Smallwood of St. John’s and centre Liam Leonard of Clarenville, were with Acadie-Bathurst , which mortgaged the immediate future for its Memorial Cup run last season and paid the price in 2018-19, when the Titan struggled to a league-worst 8-54-6 record.

Sutton, who turns 21 next Friday, had 46 points this season, more than any other Titan player. That’s the collective of numbers with Acadie-Bathurst and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, with whom he began the season before a trade.

Smallwood also came to the Titan via a trade, from Cape Breton, and his combined scoring numbers (8-11-19) were the most of any Bathurst rearguard.

Leonard is the only one of the three to have spent the entire season with the Titan. He had 12 goals and 15 assists, most of any first-year player on the team. That contributed to his being named Bathurst’s rookie of the year at the team’s awards banquet earlier this week, where he also was honoured with the Fan’s Choice Award.

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Home cooking must have agreed with Cody Donaghey.

Since Donaghey and the Orlando Solar Bears visited his hometown of St. John’s for a pair of ECHL games against the Newfoundland Growlers earlier this month, the 22-year-old defenceman has seven points (3G, 4A ) in five games.

With a totals of 40 points (15 G, 25A) in 58 games, Donaghey is the Solar Bears’ second-leading scorer and third-leading point-getter among all blueliners in the ECHL.

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The top-seeded Mannheim Eagles rolled to wins in their first three games of a German elite league (DEL) quarter-final playoff series against the Berlin Ice Bears, led by St. John’s native Luke Adam.

The 28-year-old Adam had three goals, three assists and a plus-five rating in the three contests.

Adam is one of a number of ex-NHLers on the Eagles, whose roster also includes Andrew Desjardins, Ben Smith, Chet Pickard and Brendan Mikkelson and two former members of the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, Markus Eisenschmid and Cody Lampl.

brendan.mccarthy@thetelegram.com

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