MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — The Saint John Sea Dogs captured the franchise’s first MasterCard Memorial Cup in just their sixth season of existence.
The Sea Dogs defeated the host Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors 3-1 in the championship final to become the first Quebec Major Junior Hockey League winning team since the 2006 Quebec Remparts. Saint John also hold the distinction of becoming the first Maritime team to win the national championship since the league expanded in the late 1990s.
"If I’m dreaming, pinch me," overage forward Michael Kirkpatrick said. "It’s unbelievable and I couldn’t write the story better myself."
The Sea Dogs wrote a picture-perfect MasterCard Memorial Cup story with wins over the Majors and Owen Sound Attack in their first two games. They lost to the Kootenay Ice in their final round robin game, but had already earned a berth in the final.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Majors, who lost Game 7 of the Ontario Hockey League final in overtime to the Owen Sound Attack, also on home ice.
"Losing sucks," Majors head coach Dave Cameron said. "I can say that, but when it’s all said and done, you take the emotion out of it, you scrape everything away and you ask that your team doesn’t leave anything on the ice and my team didn’t leave anything on the ice."
Saint John had not played since Tuesday, sitting around the hotel room for four days before coming out with a strong performance. Any question whether the Sea Dogs would be rusty after waiting so long was answered early when the QMJHL champs came out buzzing.
Ryan Tesink took an early roughing penalty, just 2:09 in, but it created the chance that led to the game’s first goal. Pittsburgh Penguins first-rounder Simon Despres unleashed a wrist shot after stepping over the blue line that rose over Majors goalie JP Anderson’s shoulder to give the Sea Dogs the lead.
Zack Phillips then scored what wound up being the game-winning goal at 13:17 of the first period. Kirkpatrick went hard on the forecheck and reached the puck first behind Anderson’s net, passed it to Jonathan Huberdeau who found Phillips alone in front of the net. Phillips squeaked it under Anderson’s pad to make it 2-0.
Mississauga was only able to put one puck behind Saint John goalie Jacob DeSerres through 35 shots. Their brash, physical style gave them momentum and made it difficult for the Sea Dogs to stay afloat.
"When they throw the body like they throw the body, our guys looked a little timid after that," Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant said. "They played OK, but it wasn’t the same fire we had and the same jump we had. We held on at times and we did a pretty good job and Jacob (DeSerres) was a key to it."
DeSerres made a critical stop late in the game with the Sea Dogs leading 3-1 on Devante Smith-Pelly. The Majors sniper tipped a point shot, then had another chance on the rebound, but couldn’t get the puck past DeSerres’ right pad.
"The whole second period he was standing on his head and I think we only had two scoring chances so we weren’t helping him very much," Saint John captain Mike Thomas said.
Huberdeau, who may have been playing in his final game as a junior capped the historic win with the insurance goal late in the third period. The Majors were pressuring offensively, looking to tie the game, and a pinch led to a two-on-one between Phillips and Huberdeau.
The product of St. Jerome, Que. took a pass from Phillips, pulled the puck to his backhand and beat Anderson along the ice.
"I think this is the best thing you can do," Huberdeau said. "Taylor Hall did it last year and this year I do it. You never know if it’s your last game or not, but if it is, it’s nice to finish with the Memorial Cup."
Huberdeau received the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the MasterCard Memorial Cup’s Most Valuable Player. He was also named to the tournament’s all-star team, along with teammate Nathan Beaulieu.
Despite a successful regular season, where the Majors won the Hamilton Spectator Trophy as regular season champions, the host team lost both the OHL final and MasterCard Memorial Cup on home ice.
"There’s no other worse feeling in the world," Cizikas said.
"You can’t really say a whole lot right now because the emotion is there," Cameron said when asked what he will say to his players. "But the message I’ll give them at the end of the day is they gave themselves a chance to win an OHL championship and a chance to win the Memorial cup. It didn’t work out. Life’s not always fair."
Owen Sound’s Andrew Shaw captured the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as the top scorer while teammate Jordan Binnington was named the Haps Emms Memorial Trophy recipient as most Outstanding Goaltender. Mississauga defenceman Marc Cantin was named the George Parsons Trophy winner as Most Sportsmanlike.
Binnington, Shaw, Smith-Pelly and Majors defenceman Stuart Percy were also named to the tournament’s all-star team.
The QMJHL has the least amount of MasterCard Memorial Cup victories since 1972 when the tournament format was introduced. With Saint John’s win, the QMJHL is now up to eight.
The last OHL team to win the MasterCard Memorial Cup is the Windsor Spitfires, who repeated last year.
The last time a host team won the tournament was the Vancouver Giants in 2007. Host teams have now lost three of the previous four title games.