SHAWINIGAN, Que. — The defending MasterCard Memorial Cup champions are awake, and not a moment too soon.
The Saint John Sea Dogs scored early and controlled the pace against Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rival Shawinigan, winning each team’s final round robin game 4-1 on Wednesday. The Sea Dogs will now play in the semifinal on Friday, awaiting the winner of Thursday’s tiebreaker between Shawinigan and Edmonton.
Asked if his team is now playing up to the standards it had during the playoffs, Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant still believes there’s another level to their game.
“It’s gotten better every period and I agree, there’s still another step for me,” he said. “It sounds cocky, but I think we can still turn it up a notch. A lot of guys were good tonight and there’s still a little bit more from some other guys (missing).”
The Sea Dogs got the start they were looking for and shut it down from there on out. Jonathan Huberdeau scored his first of two goals on a nice play in tight. Shawinigan goalie Gabriel Girard tried poking it away, but Huberdeau kicked it up to his skate and put it in the open side.
The Cataractes’ frustrating night was only beginning. The Sea Dogs were relentless on the forecheck and finished every check along the wall.
Late in the first period, Shawinigan defenceman Morgan Ellis gave Maxime Villemaire a mouthful of wood with a cross-check to the face at the Cataractes’ blueline. Pierre-Olivier Morin then took a hooking penalty to give the Sea Dogs a two-man advantage. Stanislav Galiev picked the far side top corner over Girard’s glove to give Saint John a 2-0 lead heading into the intermission.
“My stick kind of slipped up his stick I think or his arms, but obviously I don’t want to take a penalty like that because they have a deadly PP so that wasn’t my intention,” Ellis said. “That’s hockey. Things like that happen and you obviously learn from it and just try to be careful next time.”
“They started with a little bit more intensity than us,” Cataractes’ head coach Eric Veilleux said. “They led 2-0 and after that I think they shut the game down pretty well after that to protect the lead.”
The Sea Dogs thought to have taken a three-goal lead early in the period while still on the power-play. Huberdeau spun past a diving Jonathan Narbonne by the goal line and tried jamming it in the short side. Danick Gauthier poked at it, but after a video review no goal was added.
“I didn’t get an explanation, to be honest with you,” Gallant said. “(The ref) didn’t’ come over, didn’t say anything.”
The score remained the same until there were less than five minutes remaining in the second period. Huberdeau was stuffed on another close chance, but the Sea Dogs would score 22 seconds later.
Nathan Beaulieu kept the play in at the offensive blue line and fired it towards Girard, who made the stop, but let a juicy rebound hit the ice in front of him. Ryan Tesink poked it through his pads to spot his team a three-goal lead. Tesink was given a golden helmet by his teammates for what they call the dirty dog award.
“I think they were really happy with the way I’ve played,” Tesink said. “I’ve tried to bring it all tournament no matter what the case is or the score is.”
The Cataractes would score late in the second period, but it was all they would muster. They were unable to create much offence against a suddenly defensive Sea Dogs team.
“We’re missing a lot of chances and it’s costing us some games like today,” forward Michael Chaput said.
Shawinigan forward Loik Poudrier missed a golden chance to bring his team within one in the third period. His shot for an open cage was deflected out of play by Kevin Gagne.
“It’s a different game for sure (if Poudrier scores), but it’s just part of the game,” Gagne said. “(Corbeil) gave me a little pat and that was it.”
The Cataractes missed an opportunity to clinch a berth into Sunday’s final. They would have finished first in round robin play by virtue of their win over London. Instead, now they will face the prospect of playing in the tiebreaker on Thursday.
“That definitely wasn’t our scenario that was planned for us, we definitely wanted to win, we didn’t and now we can’t keep dwelling on that,” Chaput said.
“Playoff time is here now and it’s do or die now,” defenceman Brandon Gormley said.
Saint John avoids the tiebreaker. Any team hoping to reach the final after playing the tiebreaker would be facing the prospect of playing three games in four days.
“That was the goal, that’s pretty big,” Gagne said. “Back-to-back games in this tournament isn’t the easiest thing to do so we wanted to focus and get that bye to the semifinals and be ready Friday.”