The positive influence of two National Hockey League veterans has been an obvious bonus for la Ligue de Hockey Junior AAA du Quebec champion Cougars de Lennoxville.
Lennoxville become the final qualifier for the Royal Bank Cup national junior A championship May 3-11 in Charlottetown, P. E. I., by winning the Fred Page Cup championship April 27 in Cornwall, Ont.
Rookie goalie Jason Smith, 17, had his second shutout of the four-team tournament as Lennoxville defeated the Central Junior Hockey League champion Nepean, Ont., Raiders 4-0 in the Fred Page Cup final.
“Jason played very well,” said Lennoxville head coach Stephan Lebeau. “He allowed two goals in the first period of the opening game, then shut the teams down.”
Smith had a 0.67 goals against average, two shutouts and a 3-0 won-lost record in 180 minutes in Cornwall. He lowered his goals against average to 2.25, raised his won-lost-tied record to 36-7-1 and increased his shutout total to six in 2,612 minutes overall.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Smith led the league with a 2.29 goals against average, .920 saves percentage and three shutouts in 1,622 minutes during the regular schedule. He has a 2.18 goals against average, .913 saves percentage, 14-3 won-lost record and three shutouts in 990 minutes during the playoffs.
Smith has gained considerably from the teaching of goalie coach Vincent Riendeau, who played 10,423 minutes with four NHL teams, including 7,064 minutes in three solid seasons with the St. Louis Blues.
“Vincent was a great asset for our team, the goalies and Jason,” said Lebeau. “Jason is a good listener.”
Lebeau had 118 goals and 277 points in 373 games in six full seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Mighty Ducks. He was the American Hockey League most valuable player, outstanding rookie and scoring champion as a 20-year-old undrafted free agent.
Rookie coach Lebeau has enjoyed the experience as Lennoxville has boosted its record to 56-10-2 and two overtime losses in 70 games overall. Les Cougars have allowed 186 goals, for a goals against average of 2.65, and have scored 320 times, for an average of 4.5 goals per game.
Lennoxville led the league and Sherwood Division with a 41-5-2 record and two overtime losses during the regular schedule. It is 15-5 and has outscored the opposition 89-50 in the playoffs.
“I’m not a defensive-oriented coach,” said Lebeau. “We want to have the puck all the time.
“We want to put pressure on the other team. We try to keep possession of the puck as much as possible.”
He describes les Cougars as “a special group.
“It is a low maintenance team,” he said. “The players really understand the concept of a team game.
“It’s a very organized team. I let my players play.”
Centre Pierre-Luc Gosselin, who will celebrate his 20th birthday May 1, is Lennoxville’s leading scorer with 41 goals and 99 points in 70 games overall. He has 14 goals and 30 points in 20 playoff games after finishing in a tie for 10th in the league with 69 points, including 42 assists, in 50 regular-season games.Quebec Major Junior Hockey League veteran centre Carl Gagnon leads les Cougars with 67 assists and is second among Cougars with 94 points in 69 games overall. Gagnon, who will celebrate his 21st birthday May 3, was fourth in the league with 52 assists and was eighth in the league with 74 points in 49 games during the regular schedule.
“We have lots of depth everywhere,” said Lebeau. “That’s what helped us in the regular season and playoffs.
“We run four lines every game. If you can play every line, it’s good for the team’s energy.”
Gosselin, centre Alexandre Carignan, 18, and Gagnon led Lennoxville with five points each in the Fred Page Cup. Left winger Guillaume Taillon, who will celebrate his 20th birthday May 9, and left winger Julien Cardinal, 20, had three goals and one assist each.
“We were ready for the Fred Page Cup,” said Lebeau. “I was very pleased with the tournament.”
Cardinal has 10 goals and 21 points in 20 playoff games. Carignan has 15 assists and 21 points in 20 games.
Lennoxville will help open the Royal Bank Cup with a May 3 game against the Maritime Junior ‘A’ Hockey League champion Charlottetown Abbies. Charlottetown beat Lennoxville 7-5 when each team rested players in their final round-robin game in Cornwall.
“We’re going to play disciplined, intense hockey,” said Lebeau.
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