The QMJHL President Cup championship series ended abruptly for Shawinigan Cataractes goaltender Charles-Antoine Lavallée.
No, the ex-Wildcat didn’t get hurt.
He was at the opposite end of the ice when overage winger Pierrick Dubé buried the series-winning goal 41 seconds in overtime in Game 5 against the Charlottetown Islanders.
“I think for, like, the first second or two, I didn’t even realize that it was a goal and that we actually won the (President) Cup,” Lavallée said. “After that, I was just so happy. It was just fun to celebrate that with each of my teammates.”
Lavellée had entered the game early in the second period with his team trailing 3-1. He shut the door from there with 14 saves in more than 35 minutes of action, helping the Cataractes to their first QMJHL championship in franchise history.
Defenceman Sam McKinney, who played six games for the Wildcats in 2020-21, was also a member of the Cataractes but did not appear in any playoff games this year.
“I think it’s pretty fun,” Lavallée said of winning the title. “I worked pretty hard since I started at 16 years old with the Wildcats and I think it’s fun to see that hard work pays off. It’s really nice to be President Cup champions.”
Lavallée was a third-round pick, 40th overall, by the Wildcats in the 2018 QMJHL Entry Draft. He played 31 games over two seasons with Moncton before being traded to the Cataractes during the 2019-20 season. This year, he played in a career-high 30 regular season games and added five more in the playoffs.
“We had a tough season,” he said. “We had lots of injuries. I don’t even know if we had one game with a full lineup during the season, so it was hard to suggest that our team were contenders to win the Cup. To me, I wasn’t really surprised at all, even when we arrived in the final, because we had a really good group of players all together.”
The Cataractes were the third seed in the QMJHL Western Conference playoffs. Shawinigan swept the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Gatineau Olympiques before going the distance in a five-game series win over the Québec Remparts in the semifinals.
Lavallée said he always believed in his team, but that belief intensified after taking down Patrick Roy’s Remparts. Québec finished first overall in the regular season.
“I think after that, we were like, ‘All the chances are with us for the final and we have the potential to win it all,’” he said.
Heading into the tournament, it was not clear if Lavallée or his longtime goalie partner Antoine Coulombe would start the Cataractes’ tournament-opener against the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
Coulombe held a slight edge in games played during the regular season and won nine playoff games, but Lavallée went 4-0 in the playoffs, including the President Cup-clincher.
“This year, both of us had a great year,” Lavallée said. “I think sharing the net every game it was pretty equal during all the year. I think, at the end, it was beneficial for us. When we played, we were in good shape. We’re fresh. In the end, I think it was beneficial for both of us and for the team.”
Lavallée said Shawinigan can be successful at the Memorial Cup if the players are able to relax.
“We need to approach the tournament like it’s a normal (game or series),” Lavallée said. “Memorial Cup is supposed to be something really hard, it’s almost a dream for players like us. I think, (it’s important) to minimize pressure and keep having fun like we did during the (playoffs).”