HALIFAX — Eric Veilleux stood behind the Halifax Mooseheads bench before the opening game of the Memorial Cup and took in the moment.
Seeing almost 10,000 screaming fans cheering for their hometown team was a moment the Halifax head coach had never felt before at Scotiabank Centre.
As Veilleux and the Mooseheads prepare for the tournament’s championship game Sunday night against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, he’s hopeful the support will lead to success.
“I felt something towards my players. I saw them being amazed and being pumped and fired up about how loud it was, how much encouragement they were getting,” Veilleux said Saturday.
“Confident we’re going to use this to our advantage, that’s for sure.”
The final at the Canadian major junior championship is a rematch of the President Cup final where the Huskies defeated Halifax in six games.
Rouyn-Noranda also beat the Mooseheads 4-3 in the round robin finale on Wednesday, but the Mooseheads advanced directly into Sunday’s final on a tiebreaking formula.
In all, the two teams have met nine times this season and the Huskies won both games during the regular season.
Veilleux said all the previous matchups don’t matter as much as the final on Sunday.
“We know them enough. It’s useless for me to be here and start talking about them,” he said. “We know what we need to do.”
It’s only the second time two teams from the QMJHL will meet in the Memorial Cup final. The last time it happened was in 2006 when the Quebec Remparts defeated the host Moncton Wildcats.
It will mark the second-straight year a team from the QMJHL has won the Memorial Cup after the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, coached by current Huskies coach Mario Pouliot, won last year’s title over host Regina.
Rouyn-Noranda advanced into the final with a 6-4 win over the Ontario Hockey League’s Guelph Storm in Friday’s semifinal.
“You play, you train, you make those sacrifices to live those moments,” said Pouliot, who can become the first head coach in Memorial Cup history to win back-to-back titles with two different teams. “And when you’re there you just have to enjoy, play as hard as you can and kind of using your qualities, don’t think too much.”
The Huskies were as close as possible to winning their first Memorial Cup in franchise history in 2016.
Tied 2-2 against the London Knights, the championship game went into overtime where current Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk scored the winner for London.
Forward Peter Abbandonato, goaltender Samuel Harvey and defenceman Jacob Neveu, who has been injured, are all leftovers from that team seeking redemption.
“It feels great, let me tell you,” Abbandonato said of being back in the final. “I know in 2016 it was tough to get the loss but with the group of guys in the dressing room (this year), confident, we have a great group of guys, great team.”
Rouyn-Noranda captain Raphael Harvey-Pinard said the team wants to win it for the players who weren’t able to three years ago.
“They were so close in 2016. We just want them to touch it this year and win it,” he said. “We’re going to play the whole game for them.”
The Mooseheads are trying to win their second overall national title and first since 2013.
Both teams have players searching for their second-straight Memorial Cup. Halifax’s Antoine Morand and Samuel Asselin along with Huskies defenceman Noah Dobson all won last year with the Titan.
Only 12 players in CHL history have won back-to-back titles with different teams and the last time it happened was in 1982.
“I know the feeling. I know how awesome it is,” Morand said.
“I want to win it so bad.”