SHAWINIGAN, Que. — The road ended for the defending champion Saint John Sea Dogs at the hands of the host Shawinigan Cataractes 7-4 in Friday’s semifinal.
The Cataractes battled hard from start to finish and faced plenty of adversity along the way. When push came to shove after the Sea Dogs tied the game 4-4 midway through the third period, Shawinigan head coach Eric Veilleux had nothing more to do than look at this bench to realize everything would work out.
“I thought about it for about 10 seconds, ‘Do they need something? Do they need a timeout? Do they need to be told something?’” he said. “But after watching what was happening on the bench, I figured that nothing needed to be done. Nothing needed to be addressed.”
Momentum didn’t escape them long, and the Cataractes would take the lead for good less than four minutes later on what is becoming a recognizable goal. Morgan Ellis let a wrist shot go from the point that was tipped downwards by Yannick Veilleux. The puck somehow squeaked through and barely crossed the line.
Michael Chaput would add an empty-netter for his second goal of the game and Pierre-Olivier Morin scored once more for good measure in the dying seconds.
“The crowd was loud tonight from the beginning to the end and I think it gave us a lot of energy,” Chaput said.
The Sea Dogs scored first on a goal by Zack Phillips before the game was five minutes old. Shawinigan battled back tie to the game on a goal by Michael Bournival, who took three stabs at the puck beside Mathieu Corbeil’s net. Corbeil tried grabbing the puck with his blocker but inadvertently put it in.
Brandon Gormley then scored with a point shot that somehow found a seam through the Sea Dogs’ defence.
“It’s like the puck has eyes,” Chaput said. “When he shoots it, it just finds its way through. He has a great shot, he knows how to put it through the legs of the guys and when the bodies are in front, it just goes in.”
Saint John would tie the game in the first period, but were completely dominated by the hosts in the second period. Shawinigan outshot Saint John 20-8 in the second frame, but only led 4-3 heading into the third.
“We didn’t play well all night,” Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant conceded. “Shawinigan played really well, they played hard, they competed harder than us and that’s why they won the game. I was disappointed with our team game and give full credit to them, they worked hard and they battled and they made us make a lot of mistakes.”
The Sea Dogs could have gained momentum with an odd goal in the second period. With his team on the penalty kill, Huberdeau went for goal from his own blue line and expertly played the bounce off the ice. The puck hopped in front of Gabriel Girard and changed direction.
“I’ve never seen that in my career as a goalie, a goal like that,” Girard said.
“It’s lucky,” Huberdeau said. “I just shot and the ice is bad, so it was a bad bounce. You just put the puck at the net and it was a lucky goal. It doesn’t matter right now.”
“I think they caught a lucky break on (Huberdeau’s goal) and that could kill a lot of teams right there,” Gormley said. “It’s so hard to get goals and then when they get a lucky one like that, it’s kind of hard on the head, but I thought Girard did a great job of bouncing back for us and made some huge saves.”
It was Shawinigan’s third game in three nights. They lost on Wednesday when they last faced Saint John in each team’s final round robin game. Although disappointed, since a win would have put them directly into Sunday’s final, they regrouped and beat Edmonton in the tiebreaker on Thursday and Saint John in the semifinal.
They will now get a much needed day of rest.
“We want to play, as would any team,” Ellis said.
The Cataractes will now face the London Knights, whom they beat 6-2 last Sunday, in the championship final.
Although noticeably happy to have beaten the defending MasterCard Memorial Cup champions, the Cataractes’ players were already talking about preparation for their next game.
“The rule that coaches in the past and I’ve lived on is the midnight rule,” Ellis said. “You think about everything that’s happened and during the game and once midnight comes, that’s it and then we focus on what needs to be done next.”
The Cataractes became just the third team in tournament history to advance to the final after going through the tiebreaker. The 2009 Windsor Spitfires are the only team that went through the tiebreaker to win the tournament.
“All we need to do is play that one game,” Veilleux said. “That’s what they did yesterday. The same message was sent today and it won’t be hard to believe for the next one.”