HALIFAX — Veteran Peter Abbandonato still remembers the heartache from his first Memorial Cup four years ago as a rookie. He wasn’t going to go through it again as a veteran.
The 21-year-old Abbandonato scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period as the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies beat the Halifax Mooseheads 4-2 on Sunday to capture the Memorial Cup for the first time in franchise history.
The overage forward, who played 264 career games for Rouyn-Noranda over four seasons, was a raw fourth-liner with the Huskies when they fell in the final of the four-team tournament in 2016 against the London Knights.
He did everything to erase that memory though, finishing the 2019 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season as the top scorer with 111 points in 68 games, and wrapped up his storybook ending on Sunday with the biggest goal of his career.
"It’s a completely different feeling, I remember losing it in overtime [against London] and I was really down," said Abbandonato.
"This is the last game of my junior career and I couldn’t be prouder. Amazing feeling, no words to describe it. Twenty guys in the dressing room pushed for 90 something games this season."
Rouyn-Noranda, a Quebec mining town near the edge the Ontario border — about 625 kilometres northwest of Montreal — with a population of about 43,000, joined the QMJHL in 1996 and won its first President’s Cup in 2016 before adding its second this year.
Abbandonato, one of three returnees from the 2016 squad along with goalie Samuel Harvey and defenceman Jacob Neveau, almost missed out on this year’s shot when he was diagnosed with mononucleosis before the third round of the QMJHL playoffs.
But his teammates got the job done while he watched from the stands and he was back in time to help capture junior hockey’s biggest trophy.
"Sad moment when the doctor told me, I couldn’t do anything about it but the guys pulled together and gave me another chance to play," he said.
"Jake, Sam, we stuck together, we were drafted together, we stuck together and are the proudest guys to wear this logo on our chest."
Huskies bench boss Mario Pouliot, fresh off being named CHL coach of the year, became just the third coach in CHL history to win a Memorial Cup with two different clubs, joining Don Hay and Bryan Maxwell, after capturing it last season with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
His top priority when he joined Rouyn-Noranda in the off-season was to meet with Abbandonato to discuss personal and team goals for the 2018-19 season.
"First guy I met during the summer when I got the job. We sat together, chatted, and he told me he wanted to be the best overage player in the Q, he wanted to get a shot at the next level. I told him I wanted him showing a positive example. All the credit to him. So happy and so proud of him," said Pouliot.
Felix Bibeau, Joel Teasdale and Vincent Marleau also scored for the Huskies while Harvey stopped 23 shots.
Samuel Asselin and Raphael Lavoie found the back of the net for the Mooseheads. Alexis Gravel made 31 saves.
"I thought we had a good start, kind of started playing on our heels (after that)," said Mooseheads captain Antoine Morand while fighting back tears.
"Have to give them credit. They never gave up… Don’t even know what to say right now."
Rouyn-Noranda and Halifax played each other eight times in May following a hard-fought QMJHL final. The Huskies beat the Mooseheads in six games to win the President’s Cup and then put up a 4-3 victory against Halifax in the round-robin portion of the tournament before meeting again in the final.
Chants of "Go Moose Go" from the sold-out crowd were in full force before the puck was dropped, with 10,595 fans packed into the Scotiabank Centre for the last Canadian Hockey League game of the season.
Asselin found himself alone to put back a rebound with 44 seconds to go in the first period for the game’s first goal and a 1-0 lead entering intermission.
Lavoie got in alone from the Rouyn-Noranda blue line after a turnover at centre and beat Harvey with a forehand deke at 5:26 for a two-goal lead, but it was all Huskies from that point on.
Bibeau put the Huskies on the board at 10:27 of the second, with his tournament-leading fifth goal sparking Rouyn-Noranda.
Teasdale, who was named tournament MVP, tied the game at 15:11 with a wraparound that fooled Gravel, who was on the opposite side of the net expecting the puck to be cleared by his defenceman.
Abbandonato made no mistake to give his team its first lead of the night, cutting into the slot and scoring at the 3:02 mark of the third with what turned out to be the game winner.
Marleau put the game out of reach three minutes later.
"It’s tough to describe, I feel fortunate to be here a second time," said Pouliot. "All the credit to the players, staff working with me. So happy for the Huskies fans. To bring back the two Cups will be amazing."
The Mooseheads pulled Gravel with two minutes to play, but couldn’t get the two goals they needed and had to watch the Huskies celebrate a championship on their home ice for the second time in less than three weeks.
"We wanted it so much but it didn’t happen," said Morand. "It sucks."
It was just the second time two teams from the QMJHL met in the final, with the Quebec Remparts beating the Moncton Wildcats in 2006.