On a night where an official was shoved and 13 minor penalties were handed out, it was a calmly won puck battle by a diminutive 17-year-old draft eligible defenseman that stood out the most.
Because it led to the game’s decisive goal.
Samuel Girard, standing 5-foot–9 and 165 pounds, forced a puck loose in overtime of the Shawnigan Catarcates’ game against the Gatineau Olympiques, allowing Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Dmytro Timashov to retrieve it and find Tampa Bay Lightning draftee Dennis Yan on the game-winning goal.
And while he didn’t register an assist, it was the kind of play — made under pressure in 3-on-3 — that has distinguished Girard as a top prospect ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft.
Despite being known as an offensive defensemen, it’s plays like this that distinguish Girard from other high-scoring players, according to Cataractes head coach Martin Bernard.
“He’s very good with his stick, he can play well one-on-one, he can contain, he can play well with his body,” Bernard said. “His principle aspect is actually his defensive side of the game.”
And yet, after going pointless, Girard still leads all QMJHL defensemen in scoring by a wide margin with 48 points in 42 games.
The final play of the game wasn’t his only standout play, either.
After surrendering the first goal of the game, Girard and his partner, fellow draft eligible defensemen Gabriel Sylvestre, didn’t show their youth again.
On several occasions throughout the game, Girard used his quickness to intercept passes that looked out of reach or beat opposing players to loose pucks and turned in transition to avoid getting hemmed in.
Twice, he led an end-to-end rush that created a shot on goal.
Playing on both the power play and the penalty kill, Girard successfully helped kill off an extended 5-on-3 while making a handful of patient plays at the blue line and in the defensive zone to find teammates in-stride with passes.
That first pass and vision, along with his ability to exit the zone and move along blue line, is what Girard said he regards as his greatest attribute.
His coach agreed.
“When he’s on the ice, he’s always an offensive threat,” said Bernard, who is in his third year behind the Cataractes bench. “He can feed the puck, he can skate with the puck, he can beat the pressure with his feet.”
Moving forward, the hugely talented defensemen is trying not to let the accolades interfere with the team’s goals. He thinks they have a shot at winning the Memorial Cup.
“I think we will have a good second season,” Girard said. “I don’t think about the draft, I think we have a chance to probably win it all.”
Bernard doesn’t think Girard should be too concerned about being selected by an NHL team, anyway. Regardless of his size, he’s too talented. His three points in two games at the CHL Canada-Russia Series certainly doesn’t hurt either.
“He’s not going to be drafted because of his physical aspect, it’s because of his offensive part of the game,” Girard said. “They’re going to draft that guy for his offensive tools.”
Girard may be right about his team’s potential for success too. Already leading the East Division, Shawinigan has been bolstered by two trade deadline deals, including one that brought in Timashov, last year’s QMJHL Rookie of the Year.
In the month of January, Shawinigan boasts a 5-0 record, outscoring their opposition 19-9.
After chaos ensued when Gatineau picked up a penalty at the end of back-to-back-to-back big hits and a pair of on-ice scrums in the third period, Girard could be seen calming down Yan — who shoved and yelled at an official after he was crosschecked with no call.
You couldn’t tell he was more than a year younger, five inches smaller, and 21 pounds lighter than his teammate, selected early in the third round of the 2015 draft by the Lightning.
That maturity, in a game where there wasn’t any for either side, paid dividends.