London – One is the Memorial Cup’s leading plus minus player and captains the most impressive team in the tournament.
The other is a goalie who has led an upstart QMJHL team into the elimination bracket of the tournament.
It has been a winning week for Maple Leaf prospects Matt Finn of the Guelph Storm and Val-d’Or goalie Antoine Bibeau.
The 20-year-old Finn leads the tournament with a plus-eight as the Storm, the class of the field so far, await the winner of Friday’s game between Val-d’Or and the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Drafted in the second round, 35th overall in 2012, the six-foot-one Toronto native is coming off a superb campaign in which he finished plus-57 in regular season play, plus-17 in the OHL playoffs and plus-eight in the Memorial Cup.
Finn’s game is simple enough. At six-foot-one and 205 pounds, his body is NHL ready and at some points in the tournament he has chucked opposing forwards around like rag dolls. His first pass is precise, he quarterbacks the team’s defensive coverage and he has proven all but impossible to go around while retaining the puck.
“I’ve been trying to keep it simple and do the little things, win battles and get pucks up to our forwards,” said Finn. “They can take care of business on the other end. I don’t need to be in on the rush every time.”
“I think when you talk about Matt what you talk about are the details,” said Guelph coach Scott Walker. “He’s got one of the best sticks I’ve ever seen. He has a knack of getting the puck off the guy, stopping the play cold and then sending the puck the other way.”
A passable skater, Finn’s skill set will likely see him eventually end up on the second pairing as a dependable rearguard with some offence to spare.
“I think my skating has improved,” said Finn who has not scored but assisted on eight goals. “This tournament has been huge for my development.:
Finn seems unlikely to crack a Maple Leafs blue line with three other defencemen, the Marlies Stuart Percy, Andrew MacWilliam and Petter Granberg readying to challenge next season. The Leafs already have youth on defence with 20-year-old Morgan Rielly and 23-year-old Jake Gardiner.
Still, you don’t hurt yourself when you captain and command the team likely to be the best junior outfit in the country.
“Every game is a big game in this tournament,” said Finn. “When I get to the pros that’s what it’s going to be like. You’ve got to be ready every game,” he said. “That’s what teams want: players who want to win and will put their bodies on the line.”
“The bigger the game, the more of a factor he has been,” said Leafs’ vice president of hockey operations Dave Poulin. “He’s a tenacious, gutsy player. I think the whole OHL is watching his success.”
Bibeau, meanwhile, has faced more shots than any other goalie at the tournament. While Guelph’s Justin Nichols leads statistically (.941 save percentage, 2.43 goals against average as opposed to Bibeau’s .934 percentage and 2.98) Bibeau is six-foot-two, probably five inches taller than the undrafted Nichols. Bibeau’s size makes him the best pro goalie prospect at the tournament.
Bibeau started the tournament with a 1-0 win over London in which the Knights outshot Val d’Or 51-28. He was beaten for six goals in 49 shots against as Guelph handled Val d’Or 6-3 but rebounded to stop 50 shots as the Foreurs beat the Oil Kings 4-3 in double overtime.
The Leafs took Bibeau in the sixth-round of last year’s draft which isn’t terrifically surprising based on the meandering junior career of the Victoriaville, native.
“I was so happy to be drafted by the Maple Leafs,” said Bibeau, a likeable kid with a calm streak highly valued by the Foreurs coaching staff. “To be chosen by an Original Six team and an organization with the Leafs’ history was fantastic.”
As a rookie Bibeau played just three games for the old Lewiston Maineiacs and probably was not directly responsible for the team going out of business. He played two seasons for the Prince Edward Island Rocket amassing good but not spectacular numbers. The Rocket traded Bibeau to Charlottetown who in turn flipped him to Val d’Or midway through this season. At one time his rights were also held by the Gatineau Olympiques. You get the idea.
Bibeau’s play is the principal factor in the Foreur’s first Memorial Cup appearance since 2001.
“We were expecting to have a good run, maybe not winning the championship but we showed a lot of character so here we are,” he said.
Val-d’Or coach Mario Durocher said the play of his goalie hasn’t come as a shock even if Bibeau’s regular season (fifth in the league in goals against and save percentage at 2.80 and .913) weren’t especially eye-catching.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “We beat him in the playoffs last year when he played for PEI but he was terrific so we knew what we were getting.”
“The goalie I would probably compare him with most would be Martin Brodeur, maybe not so much in style but in his personality,” Durocher said. “As a coach it’s wonderful when you have a goalie who is so calm in the net.”
“I don’t have one goalie I try to imitate,” Bibeau said. “I try to take good things from every goalie and come out with one style. I like how Pekke Rinne uses his size and how calm Carey Price looks when he is net so I try to borrow those pieces.”
“I think with Antoine you get a goalie who really only cares about only one statistic: wins,” said Poulin. “If he wins 7-6, he’s still happy with his night because his team got the victory.”