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The Quebec City Meute and the curious case of underachieving teams


Victor
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The Quebec City Meute and the curious case of underachieving teams

 

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There have been relatively few surprises thus far in the S63 VHL regular season. The top four spots are occupied by the four cup favourites and it's not yet clear who will have home ice advantage in the playoffs, while the lottery teams are about as mediocre to bad as expected. Minor upsets were caused by the Toronto Legion, who continue to give some hope of a wildcard round upset, but they are also relativ ely in line with expectation – the big surprise was that GM Ryan Power chose to build a team in this way in the first place.

 

Instead, perhaps the most unexpected development has been the curious drifting of last year's finalists, the Quebec City Meute. No longer a young and up and coming team, this was expected to be the season the Meute really made a name for themselves. With, on paper, the best defensive pairing in the league in Casey Jones and Colton Rayne, the Meute have certainly kept it tight at the back and Tristan Iseult has benefited as the Shaw and Clegane Trophy favourite given the odd struggles of Norris Stopko. But in terms of goals, there has been a dearth of those, and Quebec finds itself staring at the prospect of a wildcard round to start the playoffs. Only 1 player, Veran Dragomir, is scoring above a point-per-game mark, with 55 in 51 games, despite being the 4th highest forward in TPA league-wide.

 

This is not a new development, as even in high-scoring S62, only one Quebec player (Rayne with 101) cracked the 100-point mark. It's also far from a new development in the VHL in general, with the Meute having a large amount of historic examples to look at with both hope and dread.

 

S42 Cologne Express

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When I look at the current Meute, the S42 Express is the first team that comes to my mind. Three seasons on from coming away with the top two picks in the highly stacked S40 draft, Cologne appeared in the same state of mediocrity. Their top scorer was Thomas O'Malley, with 78 points by some distance the lowest of his career (he'd end up being one of the few 900-pointers in VHL history). They had 85 points, some way behind the three favourites New York, Quebec, and Helsinki. Then lo and behold, the Express turned up the style in the playoffs, won the franchise's only championship, and shook off the offensive shackles going forward. In S43 and S44, they became the VHL's most entertaining team, O'Malley twice leading the league with 50+ goals and 130+ points, and a host of other forwards from Bismarck Koenig to Christoph Klose to Xin Xie Xiao all benefiting. They lost two straight finals, but overall are definitely an example of how things can still turn around for Quebec.

 

S41-S42 Helsinki Titans

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At the same time as Cologne found a way out of their strange mire, their European rivals in Helsinki provide a cautionary tale of how things might never get better. A much hyped team which accumulated highly rated young players like James Faraday, Don Draper, and Jake Wylde never really got going, despite high TPE levels. In Season 41, the Titans won a playoff series but went out to Riga in the conference finals, after a very mediocre regular season where their top scorer, Faraday, only had 73 points. Things improved in S41 when Helsinki got a first-round bye and Faraday got up to 98 points, followed closely by Naomi Young on 95, but this more promising regular season was followed by another conference final defeat. The Titans then blew things up and although that rebuild ended with back-to-back cups in S45 and S46, that was little consolation for the players who put the effort into a couple very disappointing runs.

 

S61-S62 HC Davos Dynamo

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Of course, Quebec doesn't have to look that far back for examples of a similar situation. The recent version of Davos broke an uncharacteristically long cup drought but was still an odd team. They never really excelled in the regular season and lived life on the edge in the playoffs, despite getting over the line in S61. The Dynamo were led by Gabriel McAllister, his generation's finest player, but he didn't crack the 100-point mark during his time in Switzerland, again despite a very high-scoring S62 league-wide. Now back in Seattle, McAllister is back to his best, cementing his first ballot Hall of Fame career with likely another Scotty Campbell Trophy. Similarly, Joseph Bassolino, probably Davos' second best player, struggled to make an impact on the league in his Dynamo days, but a move to Riga (and defence) puts him currently second in league scoring, 86 points through 51 games already being a career best. It may be that Quebec still manage to pull off a Continental Cup win in the next season or two, but for guys like Dragomir, Beau Louth, and Samuel Gate, perhaps their best chances of individual success lie elsewhere.

 

So which will it be? Will the Meute go the Cologne route of it all coming together suddenly and gloriously or will this be the modern day Helsinki – good on paper, but underachieving on the ice? Or perhaps they'll go for the middle route – the team succeeds but the players do better when they move on. It could still go any way.

 

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