Sat May 28 12:43am EDT
MISSISSAUGA — The Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors believe they have one opponent left they can run out of the rink.
Reading between the lines after the Majors' 3-1 MasterCard Memorial Cup semifinal win that put them into Sunday's final against the Saint John Sea Dogs, there's a sense Mississauga believes it can drive the Dogs to distraction. Saint John has had four days' rest to cope with illness and injuries and it might have more future frontline NHL talent. However, Mississauga has closed out its past three games, two against the Kootenay Ice sandwiched around a payback win over Owen Sound, in near-identical fashion. Bang and crash early, make the idea of flow a cruel joke, never give an opponent an opening. Saint John has tested talent; the Majors figure they can grind them down.
"They're a great team, obviously they deserve the straight bye to the finals and it's going to be a tough game," Majors right wing Devante Smith-Pelly, Friday's No. 1 star with two goals, said of the Sea Dogs. "We've got to be physical and hard on their skilled players and make it hard on their goalie [Jacob DeSerres] to have a chance. We're going to work hard on that stuff on [Saturday].
"Teams that are really skilled like them, if things aren't going their way they might start getting frustrated," the Anaheim Ducks prospect added. "That's what we're going to try to do."
Mississauga boasts 13 players in their age-19 and overage seasons to Saint John's nine. So they'll be playing the age card, in the absence of matching the Sea Dogs' more fun to watch offence.
"They're talented — young and talented — and they can quickly turn around and get a couple goals," said Majors defenceman Brett Flemming, who's likely turning pro in the Wasington Capitals organization next season "We got to stay with our game plan and not give up any odd-man rushes."
The story of the game, in quotes:
Why did the Majors labour through the early part of the tournament before posting three consecutive wins? Coach-GM Dave Cameron admitted that losing the OHL championship on home ice two weeks ago did set Mississauga back. That appears to have cleared, although there might have been some displeasure with only having a one-goal lead through 40 minutes.
"Our hockey club coming into the tournament had some difficulty getting over the loss to Owen Sound from the big [Ontario Hockey League] championship," said Cameron, who coming into that series said given a choice of one or the other, he'd take a league title in a best-of-7 series over winning the Memorial Cup tournament. "Then we played a real good Saint John team [in the Memorial Cup opener on May 20] and played well enough that you could have sat back and said, we probably could have won the game.
"That got into our psyche a little bit and where it really drained us was our energy level. Then we played Kootenay in the round-robin and we weren't great but we found a way to win. From the time we scored that second goal against Kootenay, I thought we started coming then. I thought we were better against Owen Sound. I thought we were real good night. A lot of it had to do with getting over that psyche of losing games where you weren't terrible but you weren't getting any bounces and were playing just well enough to lose."
What created the perception Kootenay barely tested J.P. Anderson? The Majors goalie was his usual redoubtable self with 28 saves, but if an exit poll had been done, most people in the building would have had trouble believing Mississauga was outshot. A tired Kootenay team couldn't get much in the dirty areas.
"They did a pretty good job of keeping us to the outside for the most part," Ice centre Max Reinhart said. "That's also on us, though. We have to get there. The effort was there. They did a good job and they beat us tonight."
What is the status of Majors grinder Gregg Sutch for Sunday? The Buffalo Sabres draft choice left favouring his left shoulder after a heavy collision along the boards. Sutch is listed on the fourth line, but the Majors have been relying on him and left wing Jamie Wise to tenderize opponents.
Why was Mississauga able to put the game into lockdown with just a one-goal lead in the third period? Focus (the Majors') and fatigue (Kootenay's). For the second night in a row, a sound defensive team closed out an opponent playing back-to-back games. If not for Joe Antilla's last-second goal in the second period, the headline might have read, Majors win 2-0 blowout.
"I thought the Majors were just a little bit better than us after having the night off previously," Ice coach Kris Knoblauch said. "It's a tough one to shallow after your season being finished.
"A lot of it is their depth," added Knoblauch, who took the Ice to the WHL's Ed Chynoweth Cup as a 32-year-old rookie head coach after Mark Hollick left for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch. "They have a little more depth, they rolled four lines more than we did. In the third period we did have some good opportunities to score with a couple of deflections and [overage forward] Matt Fraser did have a couple of shots. They're a good hockey team. In our two games against them [both 3-1 losses with empty-netters] we weren't able to score."
The Majors power play clicked in the game's second minute, is it it in good enough form for the final? Possibly.
"I think when our power play's going well, it's quick puck movement like tonight, creating space for each other, spreading the penalty killers out," said Smith-Pelly, BTN's first star with two goals. "Tonight was a perfect example. Throughout this tournament, we've been getting a lot of chances. It just hasn't been going our way. It was good to get one tonight."
How vital was 19-year-old goalie Nathan Lieuwen, never drafted by the NHL and never a full-time starter until this season, to the Ice post-season run? The 6-foot-5 Abbotsford, B.C., native was as valuable in the tournament as he was while winning post-season playoff MVP honours in the Dub.
"Nathan Lieuwen's season has been quite remarkable," Knoblauch said. "He went into the season battling for a No. 1 spot. We released a 20-year-old goalie [Todd Mathews] who the previous season was two wins shy of setting a franchise record. We had confidence in Nathan to take over without any starting experience. We knew he was going to be a good goalie for us, but what he did throughout the playoffs, we didn't expect."
How did the Majors rebound from the dreaded goal in the last minute of a period? By all accounts, Mississauga was unruffled after Kootenay's Joe Antilla scored at 19:59 of the second period.
"I think we were fine after," said Mississauga defenceman Stuart Percy, who had one assist. "It just reminded us every second counts."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: CHL Images).