SHAWINIGAN, Que. — Anton Zlobin is happy his coach made him take one last shift.
The Russian forward who scored his team’s first goal of the game would score the overtime winner to lift the Shawinigan Cataractes to the MasterCard Memorial Cup title, but nearly missed his shift. As the overtime dragged on and the weary Cataractes were feeling heavy legs, Zlobin asked head coach Eric Veilleux to leave him on the bench.
"I’m tired," Zlobin pleaded.
"Go," Veilleux responded. "Just go."
Zlobin did as he was told and skated out a few feet before turning back. He wanted to make a deal.
"If we lose the faceoff," he said, "and the puck gets out, I’m coming out (of the game)."
It was a deal Veilleux couldn’t resist.
"No problem," he said. "You have a deal. Go to the faceoff."
The Cataractes lost the draw, but it didn’t matter. The puck stayed in the zone and next thing Zlobin and his coach knew, the puck was off his blade and in the back of the net.
"I just shoot the puck with all I can," Zlobin relayed after the game. "After when I see red light, I’m so excited."
As were the fans, who packed the building and sat in the stairs to jam every last Cataractes fan in Centre Bionest to watch their team win their first championship in their 43-year history. The Cataractes are the lone remaining team from the original Quebec Major Junior Hockey League not to win a championship before their drought finally came to an end on Sunday night.
Veilleux had difficulty putting into words the feeling. After the Cataractes had been eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, rumours circulated that he may not even be the team’s coach when the tournament started. He was behind the bench on Sunday, silencing his critics.
"I’m sure you know how I feel; I feel great," he said while smiling. "You should ask (my critics) how they feel now."
Michael Chaput was named the tournament’s most valuable player, but refused to lift the award.
"Cause hockey’s a team game and I wanted to raise that Memorial Cup before I raised the MVP trophy," he explained.
Zlobin, with both goals, was the game’s first star, but there was no doubt amongst the players which was most valuable on this night. Goaltender Gabriel Girard stopped 35 of the 36 shots he faced, many of them the game-changing type.
He robbed Jared Knight from right near his crease with just a minute left in regulation and made a reverse butterfly stop to deny Andreas Athanasiou in overtime.
"When I saw Girard make that save, I knew we were going to win the game," Chaput said.
"He’s been rock solid for us all tournament long and I’m really happy for him," defenceman Brandon Gormley said. "He’s a competitor and I’m just so happy that he can step up and we wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for him."
The Knights scored the game’s first goal barely five minutes into the first period. Ryan Rupert proved it was never safe to turn the puck over against the Knights. Rupert intercepted the puck near the half-wall in the offensive zone and as the play went up ice, ripped a shot past Girard to give his team the lead.
Girard knew the room for error was razor thin from then on.
"When I got on the ice for the third period, I knew that probably the next goal will win the game," he said. "So the third period was like an overtime for me. I could not give a goal because I knew that it may be the game winner."
It was the Cataractes’ fourth game in five days. They became just the second team in MasterCard Memorial Cup history to win the trophy after going through the tiebreaker to get to the final, following in the footsteps of the 2009 Windsor Spitfires.
Their road was even tougher, as they had one less day to accomplish their feat.
"I was thinking I didn’t even know if I would have enough energy to lift the cup after the game, but it’s pretty light when you get it," Gormley said.
Asked how much he had left in the tank, defenceman Morgan Ellis responded: "Nothing. I can barely stand up."
The Cataractes became the second QMJHL champion in a row after the Saint John Sea Dogs, whom they beat in Friday’s semifinal, won last year. Shawinigan became the first host team since the 2007 Vancouver Giants to capture the trophy on home ice, and did so with a local player lifting the cup.
"It’s a dream come true," captain Michael Bournival said. "It’s the Memorial Cup – it’s the biggest trophy to win and it’s the first trophy in the organization.
"We’re champions of Canada."