Quebec City, May 22, 2015
An empty-netter turned out to be the game winner was the Québec Remparts downed the Kelowna Rockets 4-3 in front of an enthusiastic home town crowd of 9,487 at the Colisée Pepsi in the opening game of the 2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Penalties and Remparts goaltender Zachary Fucuale played big parts in the win as the Rockets were assessed 44 minutes in penalties vs 26 for Quebec. Fucale, the Canadian Juniors gold medal winning goalie, turned aside 25 shots, including several in a relentless Kelowna attack in the third to secure the win.
The Remparts become the first host since 2008 to win the opening game of the MasterCard Memorial Cup, with 2008 also standing as the first year that commemorative jerseys worn by the host team were introduced to the event.
“I thought as a team we had a great start and that helped me get into the game,” said Fucale post-game. “When we start well it goes better for everyone. The fans were great tonight and really gave us a good atmosphere.”
The Canadian World junior gold medalist was busy from the outset, providing some early saves for Québec to set the tone for what would be a busy night in the crease.
After Fucale turned away Rodney Southam on a point blank chance early in the first, Nikolas Brouillard proceeded to give the Remparts a 1-0 lead with a rocket over the shoulder of Jackson Whistle off the ensuing offensive attack.
Brouillard, who led the QMJHL defencemen in scoring this season, stepped into a slapshot from the top of the circle at 5:18 as the Colisée erupted.
The buzzer would sound on the first period after excitement at both ends.
Kelowna’s Dillon Dube was thwarted by a quick lateral save by Fucale, sprawling across the crease to take away what looked to be a sure goal. A shift later, Anthony Duclair was stopped by the pad of Kelowna goaltender Jackson Whistle on a backhand deke from in alone.
The Remparts controlled the shot clock 12-9, but Fucale was called upon late in the frame to preserve the 1-0 lead.
Fucale’s strong play continued into the second as the Rockets picked up the pace. The Montreal Canadiens second round pick made perhaps his biggest save of the night, turning aside Madison Bowey and Justin Kirkland on bang-bang chances off the rush nearing the midway point of the period.
After Fucale provided another highlight reel save on a second period penalty kill, the Remparts returned to even strength where Matt Murphy further proved that anything can happen when you throw the puck on goal.
The veteran blueliner sent a low wrister toward the Kelowna net as the puck caromed through the legs of Whistle and trickled over the goal line to push the lead to 2-0 at 13:22.
The Rockets would try and swing the momentum, getting a late shorthanded marker off the stick of draft eligble forward Nick Merkley at 17:56. Cole Linaker picked up the lone assist with a nice cross-crease feed.
The Remparts started the third with a bang as New York Rangers prospect Ryan Graves jumped into the rush to give Quebec a 3-1 lead.
Graves collected a loose puck coming down the middle after Anthony Duclair was poke-checked by Whistle, beating the sprawling Kelowna netminder on a second effort at 2:08.
The Rockets weren’t done though. A seeing-eye powerplay wrister off the stick of Josh Morrissey at 12:43 found the stick of Gage Quinney enroute to the back of the net as Kelowna pulled back to within one with plenty of time to spare in the third.
With Fucale doing his job in the Quebec crease as the Rockets bombarded him with scoring chances late in the game, Whistle was also forced into action with a big save off Adam Erne with three minutes to go. Whistle his blocker on a hard wrister as Erne barreled in on a breakaway.
Erne wouldn’t miss two minutes later though, hitting the open net on a much needed goal as Leon Draisaitl would pull the Rockets back to within one with 35 seconds remaining.
After a tense conclusion, the Remparts would hold on to seal the deal on a 4-3 victory to open the 2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
The Remparts would outshoot the Rockets 30-27 in the victory while Kelowna finished the night 2-for-6 on the man advantage.
The Remparts look to continue their strong start to the tournament on Sunday afternoon at 4:30pm against the OHL Champion Oshawa Generals while the Rockets are off until Monday when they’ll face the QMJHL Champion Rimouski Océanic at 7:30pm.
Both games can be seen across the country on Sportsnet.
Kelowna returns to action on Monday night when they face the QMJHL Champion Rimouski Oceanic at 7:30pm EDT, live on Sportsnet.
(Photos: Aaron Bell/CHL Images).