Sat May 19 12:48pm EDT
SHAWINIGAN, Que. — It's a wonder that Saint John Sea Dogs don't graciously offer to set up the snow fence across the blue line for their opponents by this point. They are that used to facing stifling defensive systems.
Saint John should see something similar from the London Knights on Saturday at the MasterCard Memorial Cup (7 p.m., livechat, Sportsnet/TVA Sports/NHL Network USA). The underdogs from Ontario, at least in the way history will remember it, discombobulated a NHL prosect-laden Niagara IceDogs team in a five-game OHL final, surrendering just 10 goals in five games. Their top defence pair, 6-foot-7 Montreal Canadiens prospect Jarred Tinordi and heady Scott Harrington, might also have a read on Saint John's big line. Tinordi and the Knights defensive forward extraordinaire Austin Watson ("We know we're going to have to have a six-man effort in our end") spent a couple weeks with QMJHL playoff MVP Charlie Coyle on Team USA at the world junior. Harrington spent nearly a month with Jonathan Huberdeau.
Could that be one of the wedges for the Knights, along with Michael Houser in goal?
"It helps a little bit because we know what type of players they are and what they do on the ice," the 6-foot-7 Tinordi says. "But you can't think too much about that because there is whole other team to worry about. You can't really focus too much on one guy. You kind of have to focus on your own game."
It was a similar scenario in the OHL final. The Watson, Harrington and Tinordi trio helped shut down a Niagara team whose offence included three major cogs, centre Ryan Strome, wing Freddie Hamilton and offensive defenceman Dougie Hamilton, whom Harrington wore the Maple Leaf with on the national junior team. Strome was blanked in the series and Freddie Hamilton was held to a singleton.
Coyle and Huberdeau, who usually play on a line with Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Danick Gauthier, have combined for 165 points in 92 games in Sea Dogs colours. That's a beastly unit.
"I think I'm little more comfortable to play against him [Huberdeau] than I would be with players I haven't played against," Harrington says. "Definitely look forward to the challenge for Tinner and myself. You always want to prove yourself."
It's a given Watson's line with twin terrors Matt Rupert and Ryan Rupert ("We want to get a hard forecheck going and pound them") will skate against Coyle's line. Tampa Bay Lightning first-rounder Vladislav Namestnikov and wings Tyler Ferry and Seth Griffith will get the Zack Phillips-Stanislav Galiev-Tomas Jurco line, which only happens to include three of the Q's top four playoff scorers. When asked if Coyle's line is the best in major junior hockey, London coach-GM Mark Hunter wisecracked, "If it's not them it's the other line."
Sea Dogs know the drill
The rub for Saint John is they've seen every kind of defence imaginable. They have been contained but seldom shut down, although Shawinigan did deal them 4-1 and 6-2 losses in regular-season play. The two QMJHL teams play Wednesday.
"We know they play very good defence, We'll battle and we'll work hard. For me, when teams defend well, you shoot the puck harder and you go to the net and get the rebound and go for those loose pucks and win the battles. We've done that before. We've faced a lot of teams that play a 1-3-1 against us or different styles of traps to slow our speed down. That's the way the Quebec league is. People look at our roster and say, 'we've got to slow these guys down.' We've had that before and hopefully we'll adjust well to that."
London's Jared Knight, a Boston Bruins second-round pick who's been playing with a high-ankle sprain sustained during a fight in the first round of the playoffs, is expected to play.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.