Nova Scotia

Stellar play from Gravel, McLaren give Mooseheads big trade options

The Halifax Mooseheads got off to a slow start this season but it wasn’t because they were getting bad goaltending. The duo of Alexis Gravel and Cole McLaren have been rock solid and are seen by many as the best goalie tandem in the QMJHL.

The duo of Alexis Gravel and Cole McLaren are seen by many as the league's best goalie tandem

Alexis Gravel, 19, has been a workhorse in goal for the Mooseheads with 138 games played in his first three seasons. (Halifax Mooseheads)

The Halifax Mooseheads got off to a slow start this season but it wasn't because of bad goaltending.

The duo of Alexis Gravel and Cole McLaren have been rock solid and are seen by many as the best goalie tandem in the QMJHL. 

"For me, Cole is one of my best friends on the team," said Gravel.

The pair were teammates all of last season and they have a lot in common. Both Gravel and McLaren are big goalies who stand 6' 3", are both 19 and both attend Saint Mary's University. 

Gravel is from Quebec and has been a workhorse in goal for the Mooseheads with 138 games played in his first three seasons. He played in 72 games last season, including last year's playoff run and the Memorial Cup tournament hosted by Halifax.

His next goal is to hopefully get an invite to try out for the Team Canada world junior team and go to the tournament in the Czech Republic.

"I've been to the junior summer showcase but that doesn't mean I'll be invited to the training camp in December," said Gravel. "My goal is to spend Christmas between the pipes with Team Canada."

Cole McLaren, 19, is from Annapolis Royal and attends Saint Mary's University. (Halifax Mooseheads)

But Gravel, a Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, suffered a freak injury early this season that sidelined him for two weeks.

He had just filled a new fish tank when it fell off a table and landed on his terrarium, home to his pet snake. As he quickly got up to examine the damage, Gravel stepped on a sharp piece of glass that went 6 centimetres into his foot.

Gravel's mishap gave McLaren the opportunity to play several games in a row, something he hadn't done in his first season with the Mooseheads when he played in only 21 games.

In the eight games he has played already this season, he has a .921 save percentage and a 2.49 goals against average.

"You hate to see a teammate go down but on a personal level it was good because I got to get into a groove early in the season," said McLaren.

"In every league you want to become the starter eventually, so it was nice to get a little sniff of it and it leaves me hungry for more."

McLaren, known as Larry to his teammates, is from Annapolis Royal and once made 86 saves in a midget playoff hockey game that went into five overtime periods. His team, the Valley Wildcats, lost that game 2-1 even though McLaren made 49 saves in overtime.

With both goaltenders playing so well, it poses an interesting scenario for Mooseheads general manager Cam Russell. In all likelihood Russell will have to trade one of them.

"Having two 19-year-old goalies, you know the organization is going to want to get a little younger," said McLaren. "It will all come down to Christmas time [the league trade deadline] to see what the team's ultimate plan is, because as we've demonstrated so far, we have a very good team still."

Other teams in the league will likely be looking to make a deal for Gravel, a playoff-proven goaltender. Trading Gravel could bring a big return to Halifax, a team that has now won five straight games heading into their showdown with provincial rivals Cape Breton starting tonight in Sydney.

But there is another way to look at it. Trading McLaren away for another player who could step right into the Halifax lineup could put the Mooseheads in contention for a league title.

Add in the fact the Mooseheads are desperate for draft picks and it's a complicated scenario Russell will have to work through.

"It would be really weird to see me playing for another team," said Gravel. "Obviously I want to finish my junior career here in Halifax where it all began."

Many of the key Mooseheads players from last year are still with the team, including Gravel, new team captain Bo Groulx, Raphael Lavoie and Justin Barron. All four of those players have been selected to play in next month's 2019 CIBC Canada-Russia Series. The Q-League all-stars will play Russia's top juniors in Moncton and Saint John.

Halifax defenceman and Detroit Red Wings draft pick Jared McIsaac likely would have been selected to the team as well but he is still recovering from an off-season shoulder surgery. He is expected back in the Mooseheads lineup near the end of November.

About the Author

Paul Palmeter is an award-winning video journalist born and raised in the Annapolis Valley. He has covered news and sports stories across the province for 30 years.

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