Sun May 29 11:54am EDT
MISSISSAUGA — The MasterCard Memorial Cup final might as well be called vise vs. virtue.
Put it this way: after the first period of Friday's semifinal, where the Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors smothered the tired Kootenay Ice and held them to zero scoring chances, someone suggested on BTN's liveblog that was the best period of Majors hockey you're likely to see. The obvious snarky comeback was that a random period of Sea Dogs hockey is probably more compelling watching.
You know Mississauga's M.O. — led by gritty forwards such as New York Islanders prospect Casey Cizikas (pictured), they try to put opponents in a vise grip. That style is as steady as rent, even if it's occasionally mind-numbing. The Saint John Sea Dogs, with six draft prospects among NHL Central Scouting's top 50 domestic skaters including left wing Jonathan Huberdeau and crafty centre Zack Phillips (pictured), can deke and dangle all night long but back it up with a deep defence. Both teams led their leagues in goals scored and fewest goals against.
Throw in the animosity that seemed evident in the 4-3 Sea Dogs win on May 20 and it's evident this is the final that was meant to be. Beyond that, it's a matchup of a Majors team that tries to put opponents into lockdown and the Sea Dogs, who carry on like hockey was meant to be played or something. Should be a good one.
1. Will the third time be the charm for Majors coach-GM Dave Cameron?
The Majors bench boss, along with captain Cizikas, have already had their best-laid plans dashed at the finish line twice this season. First there was Team Canada's come-from-ahead 5-3 loss to Russia in the world junior gold-medal game on Jan. 5. Then came the Game 7 overtime loss to the Owen Sound Attack in an the Ontario Hockey League final the Majors had led 2-0 and 3-2.
Those losses enabled critics to say whatever they wished about Cameron's patient, play-the-odds game only working up until a point. There won't be much of a rejoinder if the Majors stymie a more rested Sea Dogs team to become the fourth OHL tournament host to win the Memorial Cup since the current format was adopted in 1983. They won't change a thing.
"[Saint John has] been a top team all year and with the way they've gone through the tournament, you know they can put the puck in the net," Cizikas said. "Our number one goal is to try to limit their chances and try to be as physical as possible." (NHL.com)
2. The Sea Dogs stars can rule the day
Throughout their playoff run, the Sea Dogs have shown experience just means someone is older. Huberdeau, just the fourth 17-year-old to win the QMJHL playoff MVP, has scored critical goals throughout the spring, including an overtime winner last Monday when Saint John beat Owen Sound to qualify for the final. Other NHL draft prospects such as Phillips and undersized Ryan Tesink have tallied late third period tying goals or OT winners.
That's a tribute to Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant and associate coach/director of player personnel Mike Kelly. Saint John has been built on giving younger players just enough rope, much like Windsor's two-time champions. That seems like an ideal in major junior hockey.
"[Gallant] doesn’t like to take creativity away from us," said Phillips. "He likes the plays that we do and he likes us to use the skills that we have.
"He also realizes that it’s not always going to work, so when you turn the puck over sometimes he’s ... on your throat, which is good.”
"Huberdeau, who could go first overall in the draft, said Gallant has done a good job of “trusting his young players” by giving them ice time to develop. (Toronto Star)
Saint John will finally have a full lineup back, with No. 2 centre Steven Anthony returning from the knee injury that had kept him out since early in the QMJHL final.
3. Saint John tries to become the first Maritime team to capture the Cup
A Sea Dogs win would be epochal in their league's growth into a true Eastern Canada league. Their star, Huberdeau, is a Quebecer, they have dynamic imports with Tomas Jurco and Stanislav Galiev, but their success shows how the Maritimes has narrowed the gap on the rest of the country in hockey development. Stars such as Phillips and team leaders such as Stephen MacAulay, captain Mike Thomas and two-way centre Mike Kirkpatrick each embody why QMJHL might as well stand for Quebec Maritime Junior Hockey League, as James Mirtle wrote this weekend:
The Sea Dogs’ roster has six players born in New Brunswick, three in Nova Scotia and one in Prince Edward Island.
By comparison, at the 1994 Memorial Cup in Laval, Que., the year before the Halifax Mooseheads joined the QMJHL, the two Quebec league teams in the tournament had a combined three players born in Atlantic Canada. (Globe & Mail)
The Sea Dogs could become the first team from the QMJHL to win a Memorial Cup not hosted by one of the league's teams since 1996.
4. Triple crown for Justin Shugg
The Majors forward was part of the Windsor Spitfires juggernaut winning repeat titles in 2009 and '10. He missed the first tournament with a broken collarbone, but more than made up for it in 2010 when he was superstar Taylor Hall's running mate at the tournament in Brandon, Man. Now Shugg, whom some believe is playing hurt, can become only the second player to win three in a row.
Terry Koshan got ahold of the only other three-peater, Robert Savard, a defenceman who played for the 1980 and '81 Cornwall Royals and 1982 Kitchener Rangers. Now an electrician with Hydro One, based in Timmins, Ont., Savard is pulling for Shug:
Savard has no problem if gets some company. In fact, he has wondered for years if he ever would.
“I’m surprised it has gone on this long,” Savard said. “I would love to have someone there with me, and I hope that Justin gets that opportunity. It would be an honour to share it.
... The 50-year-old Savard will be in Sudbury for work on Sunday. But he will find a television so he can watch Shugg chase his triple dream. (Toronto Sun)
5. Redemption for Jacob DeSerres
DeSerres spent Victoria Day weekend 2010 getting lit up like one of those sparklers we played with as kids, getting boom-roasted as his Brandon Wheat Kings lost the Cup final 9-1 to Shugg, Hall, Ryan Ellis, Cam Fowler and the Spitfires. Soon after, the Philadelphia Flyers did not even bother to tell him they were letting him go in the free-agent pool.
After being waived out of the Western Hockey League, DeSerres hooked on with Saint John and has given it reliable goaltending. Talk about a turnabout.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photos: CHL Images).