The Pontiac Senior Comets opened their second season in the Outaouais Senior AA Hockey League (OSAAHL) with a 6-3 loss at home on Saturday night at the hands of the Mont-Laurier Montagnards in front of a grieving crowd.
Taking place in the days following the sudden death of 17-year-old Véronique Bourque that shocked the community, the game opened with a red-carpet ceremony in her honour.
The day before the game, the Comets organization invited its fans, via their Facebook page, to wear the colour red in Bourque’s honour since it was her favourite colour.
Upon entering the rink, folks were handed little red scarves and bows to tie around their arm or pin to their chest in memoriam. A couple of Bourque’s framed photographs were displayed on the ticket tables.
Scheduled for an 8 p.m. puck drop, fans started packing the lobby around 30 minutes before and by the time warmups began, most of the seats in the rink were already filled.
Bourque’s family sat together in the VIP section of the stands behind the home team’s bench.
Following player introductions, a number of community leaders delivered heartfelt speeches, including Pontiac MNA André Fortin, Liberal MP Will Amos and Fort Coulonge Mayor Gaston Allard who gave their condolences to the Bourque family and reflected on the notion of sport as a unifier.
“I know it hasn’t been an easy week for a lot of you,” Fortin said. “It’s been a difficult week, where you have thought about someone who had a lot of compassion, someone who you loved a lot, someone who lived life to the fullest, who made the most of the short time she had alongside us.”
“It has been very difficult. But we’ve seen through the floods, through tragedies like the one from this week, we will get together and we will find ways to forgive,” Amos said. “This evening is a special night. The start of a great season, I’d like to thank all the volunteers and those who got together to put on this league.”
“I find it incredible how people can get together,” Allard said. “I’d like to thank Danick and the Comets organization for the gesture your guys put forth for that young girl tonight. It’s extraordinary. Thank you Fort-Coulonge.”
After a brief moment of silence, local singer Michaela Cahill got the crowd warmed up with a flawless rendition of the national anthem before finally getting the game underway.
In the first period, the Comets started out slow. Mostly chasing the game in the opening minutes, they struggled to get their legs underneath them and Mont-Laurier capitalized by opening the score with a goal on a partial breakaway just over two minutes in.
Shortly before the halfway point of the period, they bounced back with a breakaway snipe of their own coming off the stick of Matthew Warren assisted by David Croteau.
The rest of the period was tightly contested, with the Montagnards still winning much of the puck possession battle. The Comets looked relieved going into the break tied up at 1, until Mont-Laurier stunned them with a marker just 11 seconds before the buzzer.
In the second period, it was all Mont-Laurier, who scored three unanswered goals making it a 5-1 game going into the third. At this point, the Comets couldn’t seem to manage the puck very well nor were they able to keep up with the Montagnards high-flying first line.
By the third period, with a portion of the crowd having already left the building, the Comets came out with one last ditch effort but ultimately didn’t get the result they wanted.
They nightmare continued as the Montagnards made it 6-1 just over four minutes into the frame. But after that, the Comets showed some life as Warren notched his first career hat trick after scoring back to back goals both assisted by Croteau.
When the final buzzer went, it was 6-3 in favour of the Montagnards.
Statistically speaking, new line mates Warren and Croteau shined for the Comets with three goals and three assists respectively, while Oliver Donovan and Darcy Findlay were the only other Comets to record a point.
After the game, Comets head coach Jean-Francois Lavergne was quite positive about his team’s performance despite the result.
While he admits his team got outplayed in the first two periods, he’s proud of how his guys responded in the third, blaming their shoddy start on rust more than anything else.
“I think we saw in the third what our team will be during the season,” he said. “We’re looking at it like that. It’s a cliché, but we won the third period. For me it’s just some positive stuff to build on for next week.”
For the team’s new captain Findlay, it was important not to dwell on the result and remain positive after the loss.
“We played well in the third and now it’s just about making sure that we can carry that,” he said. “We weren’t focusing in the first two periods. We were just focusing in the third and it went well so we’re just going to build and get better.”
Despite what the score line indicated, especially before the Comets got back in the game late, Lavergne wasn’t panicking by any means. He believes his team’s downfall came with unforced errors and a lack of execution.
“When we weren’t making mistakes and we were doing our jobs well, I didn’t see a lot of offense on their part, I didn’t find them that dominant facing us,” he said. “It was really just mistakes that we made that we need to correct.”
Lavergne admitted that it was a difficult game for his team to play in.
While the loss left a sour taste in his mouth, Findlay felt grateful for finally playing competitively again. But he knows that he and his teammates have a lot of work to do.
“It feels good to be back on the ice,” he said. “To say that I thought I played contact again after being out for seven years is an understatement but I think there’s a lot of guys in the same boat.”
For Findlay, the key to success for the Comets lies in simplifying their game and sticking to their plan until they get to a point where they’re fully comfortable together on the ice, pointing to what happened in the third period as evidence of that.
“We started to put pucks on net in the third period, we probably doubled our shots in the last 20 [minutes], scored some goals and made it interesting,” he said. “So, especially early on in the season, less is more.”
Going forward, Findlay said the team’s mindset is about starting fast and improving upon every shift, which could lead them to accomplish great things this season.
“I think once we gel as a team, we come together and we build week after week, I think we’re going to be an elite team in the league,” he said.
For their next tilt, the Comets will hit the road with a meeting with the Forrestiers at the Gino-Odjick Centre in Maniwaki Oct. 12 and don’t return home until they play them again on Oct. 26 in Fort Coulonge.
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