Being the overdog has its challenges, too. It's either that or observers had to imagine complacency could be the Saint John Sea Dogs' undoing during their attempt to retain the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
The Sea Dogs' plethora of prospects and a deeper Quebec Major Junior Hockey League meant their 58-win regular season was out of reach early. The way they ripped through the President's Cup playoffs, going 16-1 while boasting the top four scorers in the post-season, raises the question of whether they might be better than last season. The nerve centre of the team — Jonathan Huberdeau, Zack Phillips, Tomas Jurco, Nathan Beaulieu, Stephen MacAulay and so on — is a year older and wiser. Charlie Coyle would be the greatest individual talent in the tournament if not for his linemate Huberdeau.
This is a unique team that would probably already be immortalized on a statue if it played closer to the centre of the universe than Saint John on the oft-ignored East Coast. The Sea Dogs won't sneak up on anybody; they are the favourite for just a few reasons.
Saint John hit a peak in the President's Cup final after Gallant tweaked his top six, putting finisher par excellence Danick Gauthier in between Charlie Coyle and Huberdeau while creating a second-to-none Phillips-Stanislav Galiev-Jurco line. That's a potent mix, with four top-35 NHL picks who can make any line better. Gallant is a master line adjuster, so the Sea Dogs should be able to stay away from top defensive pairings.
There's a few of those in this tournament: London's Jarred Tinordi-Scott Harrington pairing, Edmonton's Mark Pysyk and Keegan Lowe and Shawinigan's Brandon Gormley and Morgan Ellis. Secondary scoring will be key.
2. The myth that motivation was a problem
Whenever Saint John lost a game this season, there was this automatic conclusion that their motivation was waning. But every team has a B-minus game every so often. MacAulay noted earlier
From Willy Palov:
There are 14 or 15 guys here who hoisted the Memorial Cup last year and I think at times this year when we maybe didn't play as well as we could have, people on the outside might have questioned whether we had enough motivation to do it again. But I don't think we ever had that issue. We wanted to do it, not only for ourselves, but also for the new guys on the team who didn't get to win it last year. We also wanted to do it for the organization because they treat us so well. We're so happy we were able to do it again. We're happy with our accomplishments so far but our primary goal is still the Memorial Cup and we're just halfway there right now." (Halifax Chronicle-Herald)
3. Even if you vow to never refer to a game as a "war," view their opener against London that way
Windsor Spitfires coach Bob Boughner, whose team lost to London in the OHL's first round, also presided over the last back-to-back champion when the Spits won in 2009 and '10. By his reckoning, the biggest hurdle to clear the second time at the tournament was finding that optimal state for the first game. Windsor had no problem that spring, wiping out Brandon 9-3 and going on to complete its repeat.
The London Knights, who are up first for Saint John on Saturday, showed a certain siege mentality when they upended the stacked Niagara IceDogs. The way the Knights collapsed toward the goal devaulued the IceDogs' offensive potency the way Greece has devalued the Euro. Saint John will have a forcefield of frustration to break through.
4. It's true, their defence has a different look than in 2011
What does Saint John's defence corps have in common with a child's pencil case? Both contain about four No. 2s. One stark difference between now and then was the 2011 Sea Dogs had Simon Després as Le Grand Cheval on the blueline. Després, who made his NHL debut this season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, showed why Canada picked him for the world junior tournament. Like London's Harrington, Edmonton's Pysyk and Shawinigan's Gormley, being part of a championship effort smoothed over the sting of falling short in an international tournament that draws more eyeballs.
That dynamic is there with Beaulieu, but bear in mind he was on the national junior team for his facility running the power play. Saint John is more about balanced strength on the back end than having one dominant blueliner. Beaulieu, Nashville Predators signed draft pick Charles-Olivier Roussel and the stable Pierre Durepos and Kevin Gagné make for a very good top four.
5. Mathieu Corbeil never gets much credit
Is it a case of tall poppy syndrome with the 6-foot-6 Sea Dogs goalie or an instance where it's hard to be the second guy? Corbeil's predecessor, Jacob DeSerres, will forever enjoy a halo effect because he was in goal for a Memorial Cup win. On a small scale, Corbeil's lot is akin to Steve Young taking over for Joe Montana; the other guy is always going to look better in memory. The unsigned Columbus Blue Jackets draft choice has had a superb post-season, though, with a 2.18 average and .917 save percentage. Saint John easily could have been extended in either of its last two series if not for the long-limbed goaltender making big saves in overtime.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.