Nova Scotia

Halfway into rebuild, Halifax Mooseheads are off to strong start

The Halifax Mooseheads have nine points through six games. But the team's new head coach is optimistic about more than that.

Team is 4-1-0-1, but coach Sylvain Favreau sees several other reasons to be excited by team's progress

Elliot Desnoyers, 19, is the captain of the Halifax Mooseheads. He says this year's practices have been the most gruelling of his four years in the league. (Shawn Davidson)

Halifax Mooseheads captain Elliot Desnoyers knows what it's like to play on a contending team, as well as a rebuilding one.

Before he joined the Mooseheads last season, he played two seasons for the Moncton Wildcats. In his final year with Moncton, the team was in second place with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's regular season almost finished, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the league shut down the season.

On a team stocked with veteran talent, Desnoyers said some of the players had already signed professional contracts, and he was absorbing lessons from them.

"Compete every day," said Desnoyers, now 19. "These guys came to the rink and they wanted to score, they wanted to win their battles."

Now Desnoyers has the chance to pass along lessons to other players, both on the ice and off it in places like the weight room.

Sylvain Favreau is in his first year as head coach of the Halifax Mooseheads. His coaching philosophy includes coming up with personal development plans for players based on five pillars. (Trevor MacMillan/Halifax Mooseheads)

"You do everything the right way and take good pride in doing the right thing because the little details are going to make you a better player," he said.

The team has spent the past two years in a rebuild that came about after the team hosted the 2019 Memorial Cup, which it lost in the final.

After the season, the team traded away key players like Max Trépanier, Jared McIsaac and Benoit-Olivier Groulx for draft picks to begin the rebuilding process.

Desnoyers, right, spent the off-season with the Philadelphia Flyers. He was selected by the Flyers in the fifth round of the 2021 NHL draft. (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press)

After two disappointing seasons, the team is off to a strong start with four wins, a loss and a shootout loss through six games.

But the best is yet to come, says head coach Sylvain Favreau.

He spent the past four seasons with the team as an assistant coach, but was made head coach before the season. By Favreau's estimation, the team is halfway into its rebuild.

Player development plans

Favreau has implemented a development plan for each player that is based on five pillars: physical, tactical, technical, mental and academic. He said the team is assigning a value to each pillar and coming up with a strategy to help the player grow. It's a marked departure from how teams are often run.

"There's an old school kind of hockey coaching where it's a general plan for the team, it's one-size-fits-all and I really think with today's younger generation, they all have different needs ... so we're basically trying to get 23 players to become better so your team becomes better," he said.

Members of the Halifax Mooseheads react to their 4-2 loss to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the Memorial Cup championship in Halifax on May 26, 2019. The team has been in a rebuild since that loss. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Favreau sees other reasons for optimism beyond the good start to the season.

He points to a game against the Charlottetown Islanders that the team lost 4-1 and was thoroughly outplayed. Favreau said the game could easily have been 8-1, but the team fought hard to prevent it from becoming a blowout.

There was also a game against the Shawinigan Cataractes that the Mooseheads led 4-1 and ended up winning 6-4.

"[Shawinigan] kept crawling back and crawling back," said Favreau. "For a young team, it's impressive to see that we're learning how to win games and close games."

The Mooseheads' next game is Saturday night in Halifax.

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