Host Halifax looks strong in winning opener over Prince Albert

Samuel Asselin know what it takes to win a Memorial Cup.

The 20-year-old Asselin, who won the Canadian Hockey League’s biggest prize last season with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, had a goal and an assist as the Halifax Mooseheads beat the Prince Albert Raiders 4-1 on Friday in the 2019 Memorial Cup opener.

“We had a couple great meetings with the boys that had been there before too and we talked about the importance of the first game,” said Asselin.

“It’s huge. The first win, get the monkey off your back and I think that’s what we did.”

Asselin, from L’Assomption, Que., tied for the tournament lead last year with five goals in four games and went on to be No. 1 in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 48 goals in the 2018-19 regular season, potting nine more in the playoffs.

He’s made a major impact for Halifax this season after being acquired in a September trade even though his previous career high for goals was 17.

“I was told he would be one of the best third-line centres in the league,” said Mooseheads head coach Eric Veilleux. “But I played him on the second power play and after Christmas I had no choice but to move him to the first. A big addition for our team.”

WATCH | Halifax opens Memorial Cup with win over Prince Albert:

Samuel Asselin recorded a goal and an assist as the host Halifax Mooseheads beat the Raiders 2-1 on Friday night. 1:21

Asselin, who went undrafted and is still looking for an NHL team to take notice, has been playing with more assurance in himself since the last Memorial Cup.

“I think it’s the confidence,” said Asselin. “I had my chances every year I just didn’t put the puck in. This year everything I touched went in.”

Alexis Gravel did his part for Halifax with 23 saves. Xavier Parent, Jake Ryczek and Antoine Morand also scored for the host Mooseheads while Maxim Trepanier chipped in with three assists.

Noah Gregor found the back of the net for the Western Hockey League champion Raiders. Ian Scott stopped 33-of-36 shots for a squad that faltered in the spotlight.

“I thought we were watching at the start,” said Prince Albert coach Marc Habscheid. “Just real nervous I guess.

“We come from a small town, small building, the bright lights kind of hit us and that’s on me. I have to prepare them better.”

A pro-Mooseheads crowd of 9,926 at Scotiabank Centre was chanting “We want the Cup” before the puck even dropped, and Halifax gave them even more reason to cheer by going ahead 2-0 in the first period.

Raphael Lavoie took the puck below the goal-line and got a friendly pick from the official on a Raiders defenceman before centring a pass out front to Asselin, who one-timed it past Scott from in close at 10:49.

Halifax Mooseheads’ Maxim Trepanier, left, is hit by Prince Albert’s Noah Gregor in the opener of the Memorial Cup on Friday. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Asselin fooled Scott with a fake shot and pass to Parent, who had a wide-open net to put the puck into at 18:44.

The Mooseheads didn’t let up to start the second and were outshooting Prince Albert 10-1 halfway through the frame only for Scott to make a couple timely saves.

Scott’s efforts paid off when Gregor, from the top of the crease, tipped a Max Martin point shot past Gravel at 10:46 to make it 2-1 Halifax.

The Raiders took four straight minor penalties in the second and it came back to haunt them on the fourth.

Ryczek restored the two-goal lead for the Mooseheads while on the man advantage with 4:08 to play in the second, blasting a one-timer past Scott from the top of the face-off circle on a cross-ice feed from Trepanier.

Scott was pulled with 2:25 to go only for Morand to add an empty netter.

After going the distance last season, Asselin ended up playing 69 regular-season games this year in a 68-game schedule because of the timing of his trade. It’s been a lot of hockey in a short period of time but all worth it.

“I had a long season last year and this year another long season,” said Asselin. “To have a chance to win again is really special.”

Round-robin play at the national major junior hockey championship continues Saturday with the Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm against the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who beat the Mooseheads for the President’s Cup only on Saturday.

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