It was hard not to spot Gabriel Fortier on the Saint John, New Brunswick ice.
In Game 1 of the CIBC Canada/Russia series, Team QMJHL was the first of the CHL leagues to showcase its junior talent on the national stage. The Quebec league has owned Team Russia in the history of this junior showcase, possessing a 17-11-1-3 record.
But it was the Russians who started out of the gate early, with a goal by Minnesota Wild prospect Alexander Khovanov. Team QMJHL appeared pedestrian and lethargic, only registering seven shots on goal in the first period.
World Junior Team Canada Head Coach Dale Hunter is an experienced veteran when igniting young players. And it was Fortier, the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, who lead the charge on both ends of the ice.
His goal to open the QMJHL scoring started with a face-off win in his own zone. Then, Fortier took the puck and unleashed a burst of speed into the offensive zone. Before he showcased a blazing wrist shot that beat Russian goalie Daniil Isayev glove side to tie the game at one apiece.
Fortier’s goal would be the impetus for the QMJHL scoring three goals on 13 shots on net. Drummondville Voltigeurs forward Dawson Mercer would record a goal and an assist, continuing his stellar season in the QMJHL. Edmonton Oilers first-round draft pick in 2019 Raphael Lavoie would whack the puck into the net after a scramble in front of the Russian crease to make it 3-1 for the QMJHL.
Despite the flurry of offense, the QMJHL would eventually succumb to the skilled Russian offensive attack. Minnesota Wild prospect Alexander Khovanov would register four points as Team Russia stormed back to overcome a two-goal deficit, defeating Team QMJHL 4-3.
Gabriel Fortier Possesses Natural Offensive Gifts
For Fortier, Monday’s Canada/Russia series game is a continuation of a solid start to his QMJHL season. Playing in his fourth season for Baie-Comeau Drakkar, the young forward has five goals and nine assists in 18 games played. This is coming off a season where he registered 83 points (35 goals, 48 assists) and played four games for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.
A second-round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Fortier possesses natural hockey fundamentals. He skates well and despite only being 5’10, he can be an effective two-way winger. This was demonstrated against Team Russia, where Fortier was often seen creating scoring chances (three shots on goal) while being strong on the backcheck. His handling of the puck and sense of the entire ice make him a valuable forward, someone Coach Hunter should consider bringing to Team Canada World Junior camp if he has a strong showing in Game 2 of the series.
Team Russia would outshoot Team QMJHL 28 to 23. The QMJHL, however, held the advantage in faceoff wins, beating Russia 35 to 32.
Game 2 of the CIBC Canada/Russia Series featuring the Russians and Team QMJHL is Tuesday night at 7 p.m. EST from Moncton, New Brunswick.