The Gatineau Olympiques are struggling these days, so you would think a return to the Robert Guertin Centre for a weekend homestand, where they have been almost invincible the last couple of years, would be just what they needed.
It isn't, at least not yet.
The Olympiques lost their fourth-straight last night, 5-2 to the Moncton Wildcats in a rematch of last season's QMJHL final (won by the 'Piques for their second-straight President's Cup).
Moncton's towering Bruce Graham (6-foot-6, 235 lbs.) was simply too much for the Olympiques to handle as he scored a hat trick in a game in which the Wildcats never trailed in front of a crowd of 2,266 at Le Bob.
Gatineau (7-5-2) will have a chance to get things going its way tonight at home against the Shawinigan Cataractes, who trail the Olympiques by just two points for first place in the Western Division. The Olympiques are also at home Sunday against the Victoriaville Tigres.
"I don't think we played a bad game, but we made some major individual mistakes," said Gatineau coach Benoit Groulx.
"When you play against Graham's line, you're going to get outmuscled. He's 6-6, he's got skill and he's going to get the puck. You have to play smart against him, you have to play hard, but the guys we had matched against him weren't able to do it."
Graham, 19, a New York Rangers draft pick, owned the ice around Gatineau goaltender David Tremblay and the Olympiques defence couldn't do much about it.
Graham got his first of the night one second after a penalty to Gatineau's Olivier Labelle expired at 10:04 of the first, sweeping in a rebound from the edge of the crease.
He made it 2-0 at 14:55 off a setup from behind the net by Charles Bergeron, flipping a puck high over Tremblay from near the left post. He completed the hat trick at 7:03 of the third when he made it 4-2, squelching a brief rally by the Olympiques.
The Olympiques' had their moments. Keven Petit had made it 2-1 when he converted a rebound at 15:58 of the first.
Shortly after the Olympiques benefited from a quick whistle that negated a goal early in the second, Moncton's Steve Bernier buried a pretty feed from Adam Pineault from behind the net to restore the Wildcats' two-goal lead at 6:09.
But the Olympiques didn't quit and were rewarded with a power-play goal at 11:13 by Nick Fugere, his second of the year. He slammed in a one-timer from the right wing behind goaltender Corey Crawford to close within a goal, but Graham decided it off a rush started when the Olympiques lost a draw just inside the Moncton blue line.
Pineault added an insurance goal at 14:01 of the third on the power play.
BUTT ENDS: Groulx and assistant Mario Richer were named yesterday to the coaching staff of the QMJHL's entry in the Canada-Russia Challenge next month in Quebec City and Montreal. Tremblay was also named to the squad which will face the Russian juniors Nov. 22 at Quebec City and Nov. 23 in Montreal. The Russians will be playing two games apiece against the Q, OHL and WHL. Last year's challenge saw the CHL win 5-of-6. Each league is represented by players eligible to play in the 2005 world junior championship. All the games will be broadcast on Rogers Sportsnet ... The game was delayed for five minutes in the third period when Moncton's Luke Pelham suffered what looked like an injury to his right knee and was taken off the ice on a stretcher.
1. Bruce Graham, Moncton
2. Adam Pineault, Moncton
3. Petr Pohl, Gatineau