SHAWINIGAN, Que. — The matchup will be 423 days in the making. That's the exact number of days that will have elapsed from the time the Shawinigan Cataractes were named host of this MasterCard Memorial Cup to Wednesday's puckdrop against the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Whether they like it, the enmity from that year-ago decision is going to be projected on to the players Wednesday when yes, the Cats and Dogs, will settle the round-robin. It won't influence the outcome but there's no way the coaches and players can be numb to it. For anyone who has forgotten, the Saint John organization also bid for the tournament. The QMJHL's selection committee in its infinite wisdom awarded the event to Shawinigan, even though the city had a smaller arena and a paucity of hotel rooms. That history won't score a goal or make a save, but it's spiced up the most anticipated all-QMJHL matchup in the tournament since 2006 when Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts and Ted Nolan's Moncton Wildcats were at each other's throats. A tourney-high crowd of nearly 5,000 is expected at Centre Bionest.
"Some stuff happened between us during the year," says Sea Dogs centre Stephan MacAulay, the checking-line centre. "There's a lot of bad blood. That's no secret. We respect their team a lot. They lost in the second round but Chicoutimi is a very good team."
It would be tough to duplicate that 2006 tournament. It was amped up by the personalities of Roy and Nolan — especially Roy. The Hall of Fame goalie turned junior hockey impresario became a self-styled lightning rod that week and kept the pressure off his players, who became the first team to win the Memorial Cup without hosting or coming in as a league champion. Moncton and Quebec also played a seven-game league championship series. Saint John and Shawinigan were on course for one until the Cataractes lost in Round 2 to Chicoutimi.
"If we would have met them in the playoffs, it would have been a great series," Montreal Canadiens prospect and Cats defenceman Morgan Ellis says of the Showdown That Never Was vs. Saint John. "It's going to be a good game with them. I'm really looking forward to it.
"The teams that were trying to host the Memorial Cup, of course they're going to be upset they didn't get it," Ellis adds, "We can't worry about that. The Memorial Cup's in Shawinigan, that's to our benefit, the fans are loud and we're going to use that.
"But all that's in the dust now."
'No big rivalry, us and Shawinigan'
MacAulay's frankness about the "bad blood" notwithstandings, each team is trying to keep the league politics out of the picture. Just a game, eh?
"Last year we were disappointed when we didn't get to host the Memorial Cup, there's no doubt," Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant says. "But that's long in the past. There's no big rivalry, us and Shawinigan. I think us and Shawinigan are the two best teams in our league supposedly, so that's the rivalry. We play other [Maritimes] teams, Moncton and Halifax [Mooseheads], our rivalry is as big with them as it is with Shawinigan. It's not like there's going to big six fights.
"There was obviously some bitterness," Gallant adds. "Everybody wanted to host the Cup last year. Once that was over and we won the [2011 Memorial] Cup in Mississauga, that was over with. We put that behind us."
The Cataractes' chief concern (groan) is supressing Saint John's top-six forwards, namely Charlie Coyle, Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips, who were in on four goals on Monday.
"Many players can make you look like you're not even there sometimes," Cataractes coach Éric Veilleux says of Saint John. "They're a talented team, They don't need that many scoring chances. Sometimes they get quite a few. Last night's game was a pretty good example of. They have six skilled players who can change a game."
Shawinigan's Brandon Gormley has ample experience vs. Saint John (Aaron Bell, OHL Images)Veilleux won't admit that a major reason Shawinigan anted up to add Ellis and defence partner Brandon Gormley at the trade deadline was because each knows the Sea Dogs like their back of his hands. He maintains they were the two best defenceman who could fit into Shawinigan's up-tempo scheme. But both Prince Edward Islanders were in the Maritimes Division for 3 1/2 seasons, Ellis with Cape Breton and Gormley with Moncton.
"You got to be physical against Saint John nd finish checks because they're a really good team," Ellis says. "We have to be smart through the neutral zone because they're like London, a team which thrives off turnovers.
The P.E.I. pair are a focal point for Saint John. The Sea Dogs struggled with a top pairing of London's Scott Harrington and Jarred Tinordi in their loss last Saturday. Ellis and Gormley, along with other Cats defenders such as Jonathan Racine and Jonathan Narbonne, are a unique challenge but no less formidable than London's big two.
Gormley and Ellis can often kick-start Shawinigan's attack. The Cats have a diverse attack with the likes of Michaël Bournival, Michael Chaput, Kirill Kabanov and Anton Zlobin.
"Gormley and Ellis are two top defencemen in our league and they play very well together," Gallant says. "They have a good defence corps and we have to wear them down. Last night we played our best hockey from below the goal line in the offensive zone. We cycled well, we moved the puck well. The [Zack] Phillips goal [late in the third period on a pass out by Tomas Jurco] was a perfect example of that. You can't be fancy. You can't be cute."
Shawinigan took 5-of-8 possible points from Saint John during the season. So that adds to the motivation for the Sea Dogs, whose incentive to win faded in and out at times way back in the season's first half.
"It's not as tough now," Gallant says about the motivation question. "They know they're finishing their junior careers and they want to finish in the right way. You shouldn't have to motivate players at this time of year."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.