LONDON, ONT. - Antoine Bibeau was the star of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship series.
First game of the Memorial Cup, too.
The Maple Leafs prospect kicked aside 51 shots and stopped a Bo Horvat penalty shot in the third period to lead the Val d’Or Foreurs to a 1-0 win over the host London Knights before 8,863 Friday night at Budweiser Gardens.
Anthony Mantha scored his 82nd goal in his 82nd game in the first period, and it stood up.
The Knights, who hadn’t played in 34 days after being knocked out in the second round of the OHL playoffs, missed a lot of glorious chances, many off the stick of leading point-getter Max Domi.
The Knights knew they were in great physical condition heading into the tournament.
They worried, though, about their scoring touch.
“Hands and feet,” forward Matt Rupert, a three-Cup veteran, said. “That’s what has to catch up (after a 34-day layoff).”
The early chance that caused the biggest buzz was a London long-distance clearing defensive zone clearing attempt that hit an unaware Bibeau in the pads.
The Val d’Or goalie was caught napping — and who can blame him?
The Foreurs won the Quebec league title in Game 7 Tuesday night in Baie-Comeau and arrived by plane back home at 3 a.m.
They had to return to the airport at 11:30 in the morning to fly to London.
But the puckstopper woke up in a hurry.
The Foreurs still played with the desperation of a team that knew the value of a first-game win.
The Knights surrendered the first goal in their opening Cup game for the third straight year. This was their first loss in four Cups and first at home after a perfect 4-0 tournament in 2005 here.
The Foreurs, though, were road warriors in their playoffs. They won the final game of all four of their series in an enemy rink.
They weren’t fazed by the atmosphere.
“There were 10,000 people at the (Halifax Metro Centre) for Game 7, and we won,” Val d’Or coach Mario Durocher said. “Baie-Comeau is a smaller rink and it’s more noisy than anywhere in Canada. Some of the media checked the decibels and it was higher than the Bell Centre — and it’s only 3,000 people. It was crazy.
“Our guys went through those things.”
Durocher went through this tournament 12 years ago in Guelph as bench boss with the Victoriaville Tigres.
His team started 0-2, won their last-gasp round-robin game, a tiebreaker and a semifinal before losing in the final to Kootenay.
No one wants to go through the wringer like that.
“You go get to the third game and the last five minutes, the pressure was on us to win,” Durocher said. “But you win that first game, you put the pressure on the other teams. We look at it as a Game 7. We’ve played those and we spent a lot of energy during the playoffs preparing to make it like a Game 7.”
“You miss a couple of D and your goalie, it’s tough treading,” Hunter said. “You’ve got to replace them with younger guys and they’re not quite ready for this level yet.”
Nikita Zadorov wanted the assignment of playing against Val d’Or’s top line. He had been talking about it all week.
“It’s a good challenge for me if I’m matched against him,” Mantha said. “I need to show people I am able to play against the best players in the country and I think he’s one of them.”
He accomplished that.
The Knights, for their part, showed they could still compete with a league champion.
But they showed little of the finish that got them 316 goals this season. If they don’t recapture it in the next few days, they’re in big trouble.
London Free Press 3 Stars
1. Antonie Bibeau, Foreurs. Perfect.
2. Anthony Mantha, Foreurs. Lone goals.
3. Anthony Stolarz, Knights. Just one allowed.
1. Val d'Or, Mantha 1 (Henley) 16:20
Nice deke in tight.
Penalties – Presseault, Vdo (high-sticking) 5:27, Tierney, Ldn (hooking) 6:18, Horvat, Ldn (tripping) 7:28.
Penalties – Beauregard, Vdo (slashing) 1:53, Austin, Ldn (roughing) 5:49, Anderson, Ldn (slashing) 7:11, Gauthier, Vdo (tripping) 9:53, Mantha, Vdo (hooking), Tierney, Ldn (unsportsmanlike conduct) 10:19.
Missed penalty shot – Horvat, Ldn 6:02
Penalty – Marcotte, Vdo (high-sticking) 5:41.
Shots on goal by
Val d'Or 9 5 14—28
London 20 13 17—51
Goal: London: Stolarz (L, 0-1); Val d'Or: Bibeau (W, 1-0)
Power plays (goals-chances): Vdo 0-4. Ldn 0-4.
Referees – Scott Oakman, Brett Iverson. Linesmen – Dustin McCrank, Mike Hamilton.
Attendance – 8,863 (8,863).