Yet the road to that final series was hotly contested, so that even the King was keeping his eye on a number of would-be contenders, in case
any of them got on a roll. With so many strong players in the house, some were bound to. Every game was important from the get-go, as only
the top 5 from each pool of 13 or 14 in the opening round-robin would make it to the A-pool.
From one round-robin, those five were Angelo, Carlo, Sam, Eric, and yours truly. From the other, it was Andre, Burt, Pat, Peter, and Simon.
Bravo to Peter Anoussis for his much improved play, and bravissimo to Simon Decarie (still under 18) for playing his way into this mix! Honorable
mention to John Fayolle, who also played a strong round and just missed the cut by a point.
As he has done so many times, Pat "le phenomen" obliterated the A-pool, losing just one game, with Carlo close behind. After that pair -- an
omen of the finals -- it was more of a Pier 6 brawl, with everyone giving and getting lumps. I escaped with a 4-5 record, good enough for #5 seed
behind Andre, Sam, Carlo and Pat. Angelo, Burt and Eric remained close, while Peter and Simon got clinics in A-pool carnage.
The next ten players -- including yet more top-10 talents like Michael Brossard and Michel Decarie -- would wage their own round-robin war, with
the best six moving up to the round of sixteen. Five of them -- Denis, John, Julian, Michel, and Thierri -- soon paid the price of their promotion, as
they fell prey to the top A-seeds. The noteworthy exception was Michael, seeded #12 and therefore slated to play #5 -- yours truly. Seeding
means little; playoffs are about match-ups. Mike is a top-10 player, and has also become my nemesis of late. With an all-star goalie (as
always), a tenacious defense, and a better scoring touch today than thirty-five years ago, Mike prevailed in 5 games, deservedly making the
quarter finals. Like good wine, he is mellowing with age.
But in the quarters, Michael ran out of gas while Pat was hitting his stride, and le phenomen swept la classe in three straight. Rampaging Sam
similarly swept Burt, although Burt played a strong tournament overall, especially considering that he was also the organizer. Carlo dispatched
Eric in four games. But Andre had met his match in Angelo. Andre himself has vaulted into the upper echelon of the NTHL, and was ranked #2
going into Quebec. Angelo has returned to the game more recently, and is a mighty talent on the rise. Their thrilling quarter final went five games
and beyond, into overtime, where Angelo stung Andre with a right-wing pico, thus moving into the final four for the first time since his comeback.
He'll be there again before long, no doubt.
The semis, however, proved no contest on this day. Angelo was swept by Pat before he knew what hit him, while Carlo found that extra gear that
all champions have in their transmissions, and dismissed Sam in three straight as well. Disgruntled but not disarmed, Sam defeated Angelo in
two straight games to take bronze, so Angelo had to settle for fourth. Combined with his 5th place in Ste Adele and 6th in Rosemont, Angelo
now moves into 6th place overall, and is aiming higher.
That set up the final series, between Carlo and Pat. Carlo was in fine form, winning the first two games. But Pat refused to be swept, and fought
back to win game three. Game four went into overtime, so Pat was just a goal away from forcing game five, where anything can happen. Pat has
the highest-octane offense in the league, but time and again Carlo shuts him down in critical situations. He did it this time too, scoring in OT to
win the series 3-1.
As mentioned earlier, this marked Carlo's fifth consecutive NTHL victory, which would be a record if not for the King himself. Going back to the
2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, Carlo reeled off five straight in 2013-14, skipped Chicago, then won three more on the trot in 2014. That made
eight straight victories in eight tournaments played, an absolutely amazing feat. Now he's at it again, looking to equal if not surpass his own
The NTHL is a star-studded league to be sure, but Carlo is in a class by himself. The only player who can really challenge him at this point, and
spur him on to greater heights, is Carlo himelf. The greatest Coleco classic player of all time, the King is really an Emperor.
Yet even in the more mundane parts of the empire, such as the B-pool, events proved interesting in Quebec. For the first time in NTHL history,
two father-son pairs vied for the B honors. Michel had to play Simon in one semi-final, while yours truly had to play Julian in the other. Both
series went three games, as the sons were keen to supplant their fathers. But this time age trumped youth. Michel scored in game three OT to
defeat a determined Simon, and Julian pushed me to the limit before succumbing in our deciding game. Nonplussed, Julian rebounded by
beating Simon to win the B bronze, while I prevailed over Michel to take B gold. This may be the first time that a father-son pair shared an NTHL
podium, and it gave me a whiff of the pride that Gordie Howe must have felt, playing on the Whalers with his sons.