HALIFAX — Nick Suzuki and his Guelph Storm teammates spent part of Wednesday night huddled around a TV at a downtown bar watching the final round robin game of the 2019 Memorial Cup.
And while they witnessed a tight matchup between the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Halifax Mooseheads, they found themselves in an unfamiliar situation.
“We were cheering for every time there was a goal,” the Montreal Canadiens prospect said Thursday.
“It was pretty weird.”
The Storm were forced to settle for a semifinal matchup at the Canadian major junior championship after Rouyn-Noranda’s 4-3 victory over the hosts.
Guelph, Rouyn-Noranda and Halifax were all tied with 2-1 records after the round robin, but a tiebreaker formula moved the host team into Sunday’s championship game. The Storm and Huskies will face off Friday night in the tournament semifinal for a chance to meet them there.
Edmonton was the last team to win the semifinal and then go on to win in the championship game during the 2014 Memorial Cup against the Storm.
“The result didn’t go exactly how we wanted, but at the end of the day, there was a good chance we were going to play tomorrow,” said Suzuki, whose team watched the first two periods at Scotiabank Centre before going to the bar to watch with their families.
Guelph defeated the Huskies 5-2 in the Memorial Cup opener for both teams in large part due to a first period hat trick from Storm forward Alexey Toropchenko.
Huskies captain Raphael Harvey-Pinard said his team turned the puck over too many times in the first game against the Storm and it’s an area of improvement his team is focused on improving.
“They’re a good offensive team, good skills too and if we have less turnovers, we’ll have a better chance to win for sure,” he said.
“When you give big chances to that kind of player — Suzuki, (Isaac) Ratcliffe — I think they’re just going to make you pay. That’s what they did the first game.”
Harvey-Pinard said Rouyn-Noranda also needs to cut Guelph’s speed and support goaltender Samuel Harvey more. He adds the team was still happy to win Wednesday night, but it wasn’t as joyous as other victories.
Guelph, meanwhile, is no stranger to elimination games.
The Storm, who practised Thursday, won a record seven elimination games throughout the Ontario Hockey League playoffs before eventually being crowned champions.
Ratcliffe, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect and Guelph captain, has confidence his team can pull off an eighth-straight elimination win.
“The resiliency of this group is unbelievable,” he said. “We’ve had our struggles in this tournament, we’ve been on and off too. So hopefully we have a big game tomorrow.”
Rouyn-Noranda, which beat the Mooseheads to win the QMJHL’s President Cup, is taking a light approach ahead of the semifinal with coach Mario Pouliot opting for a morning team meeting with no practice.
Pouliot said some of his players will get treatment early in the day but will have time to spend with their families afterwards.
He sees similarities in team structure between the Storm and QMJHL rival, the Drummondville Voltigeurs. The Huskies beat Drummondville in five of the six regular season matchups between the two teams.
Pouliot will have to try and figure out how to stop a Guelph top line he calls “really dangerous.”
Suzuki has three goals and two assists in the tournament while Ratcliffe has a highlight-reel goal and three helpers.
As far as breaking the trend of Guelph’s victories in elimination games, Pouliot isn’t about to divulge too much strategy.
“I have my own idea on that, but I won’t tell you,” he said. “But one thing is sure, they are playing with a ton of confidence.”