Host Spotlight: Big game for small town

It’s been a long time coming, but the city of Baie-Comeau, Que. will host its first ever CIBC Canada Russia Series contest tonight as Team QMJHL closes out the six game encounter against Russia at Centre Henry-Leonard.

The home of the QMJHL’s Drakkar, Baie-Comeau hosts a population of approximately 22,000, making the city on the banks of the Saint Lawrence one of the CHL’s smallest markets.

Don’t underestimate the city’s modest size though. Supporting the hometown Drakkar for 20 years, Baie-Comeau sports a fan base known to include some of the QMJHL’s loudest and proudest supporters.

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, whose father Eric coached the Drakkar from 2004-09, can attest to how much Baie-Comeau loves its team.

“The crowd here is amazing,” Dubois said on Wednesday. “It’s a small rink and it’s like the fans are on the ice with you. I know for a fact that when my dad coached here they had loud crowds and I don’t expect anything less tomorrow.”

The hometown of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Baie-Comeau will cheer on Team QMJHL as it looks to close out a series that is already locked down with a 10-5 lead in points over Russia.

There might be a little love for Russia at Centre Henry-Leonard tonight though. Fast becoming a fan favourite in Baie-Comeau, 17-year-old Russian rookie Ivan Chekhovich leads the Drakkar in scoring this season and while he won’t suit up for his home country tonight, he looks to be a promising piece of the club’s future moving forward.

“We have a young team that is developing right now,” said Drakkar head coach Martin Bernard, who will serve as an assistant on the Team QMJHL bench. “It requires patience, but we have seen progress this season. Players need to be given opportunities to learn and grow.”

Bernard, who came from the Shawinigan Cataractes where he spent 2013 to midway through the 2015-16 season as head coach, had a role in the development of eventual Shawinigan stars Anthony Beauvillier, Samuel Girard and Brandon Gignac. With three 2016 first round picks in Gabriel Fortier, Xavier Bouchard and Shawn Element joining Chekhovich on the Drakkar depth chart, he sees some similarities in the situation.

“There’s a lot of good things here,” he continued. “Just like the players in Shawinigan, these guys will require patience and instruction, but we’re seeing lots of good things.”

Though the organization has yet to win a President Cup title, the Drakkar have given fans plenty to cheer about over the past five years, riding the performances of marquee names such as Jeremy Gregoire, Valentin Zykov, Felix Girard and Philippe Cadorette to the QMJHL Finals in both 2013 and 2014.

A town with a love for big game excitement, Baie-Comeau will get just that tonight.

“It’s an exciting night for the city,” Bernard added. “It’s a small town, but these fans have been behind the team for a long time and it’s nice to see them get rewarded with a game like this. Just like we saw in Chicoutimi, the QMJHL’s best can be a lot of fun to watch.”

The puck drops at Centre Henry-Leonard tonight at 7:00pm ET/4:00 pm PT, a game that can be seen live on Sportsnet ONE and TVA Sports 2.

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