Everyone has a plan until they get hit, which segues into why the Shawinigan Cataractes are the wild card at this MasterCard Memorial Cup.
All the talk about how Shawinigan regrouped after exiting during the second round of the QMJHL playoffs will go poof as soon the time the final notes of O Canada fade out on Friday. The Cataractes are a blanker slate than most teams coming into the tourney, since they are the first host in nine seasons which had four weeks off after failing to reach their league's semifinals. The last team which went out so early, the 2003 Quebec Remparts, was the first team ousted from the Memorial Cup. The same went for the Guelph Storm a year earlier. Three years prior to that, the Ottawa 67's provided a lasting beacon when they won the tournament after the long layoff, although they caught some breaks in the tournament.
The history isn't on Shawinigan's side. But this was a very good team in the regular-season, regularly vying with the Saint John Sea Dogs for top spot in BTN's Dynamic Dozen. Coach Éric Veilleux's team allowed the fewest goals in the league despite the lack of a star goalie and despite playing in the Q's high-rent district, the Telus East Division. Their full potential was inhibited by an injury that limited perhaps the best 19-year-old defenceman in junior hockey, Brandon Gormley, to just 16 games since he came west in a trade. It adds up to a team which will enter with far less hype than the three league champs, but could be a tough out. Here's a few items for consideration.
1. The real Brandon Gormley hasn't turned up yet
The Phoenix Coyotes first-round pick has established big-game bona fides. Gormley, as you know, was the top defenceman at the world junior championship and shone in the Memorial Cup two seasons ago with the Moncton Wildcats, when he had to try to dim luminaries such as Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Brayden Schenn and Brandon Kozun, who were all members of Team Canada. Only injuries, namely the broken kneecap that caused him to miss the 2011 world junior and the bruised foot which cost him two months this season, have kept him from enjoying a greater reputation.
Veilleux, on Edmonton's Team 1260 earlier this week, believes Gormley is back to 100 per cent. The 30-day break the Cataractes earned meant the P.E.I. native could get back into condition instead of playing at 75-80 per cent.
He had skated three times only before playing Game 1 against Chicoutimi. In his case, I strongly believe that [long layoff] will benefit him being healthy, especially with the type of practices we had ... We sort of went into planning, not that it was expected, you're always looking for the solutions, right the next day we were back to work. It requires working extremely hard and battling and grinding in the corners. (The Pipeline Show, audio)
The long TV timeouts also mean the Cataractes can give extra minutes to Gormley and fellow Prince Edward Islander Morgan Ellis, a signed Montreal Canadiens draft pick.
2. They're not as tired as everyone else; will that help their cause?
It's not a question of whether fatigue plays a role at the Memorial Cup, but how much. The CHL asks a lot of its players by getting them to recharge for a 10-day tournament after after playing four rounds of best-of-7 series. It's not for nothing, for instance, that two of Saint John's stronger performers as the playoffs went along were Washington Capitals third-rounder Stanislav Galiev and St. Louis Blues choice Ryan Tesink, who were each out much of the years with injuries. Whether that's enough to give Shawinigan an edge, especially with the system Veilleux's had a month to install, if not test against real live opponents, remains to be seen.
3. They might not have the Cup-calibre firepower
Yeah, yeah, defence wins championships but the team who scores the most goals still wins. I looked it up in my gut. Shawinigan's forward corps — world junior forward and Montreal Canadiens prospect Michaël Bournival, skilled Russians Kirill Kabanov and Anton Zlobin, Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Michael Chaput, et al. — is not exactly fried bologna. Still, Zlobin (76 points in 66 games, 18th in the league) and Bournival (56 in 41) were the only truly potent scorers. Most contenders in this event need four or five. Still, Zlobin, who is bound to elicit NHL interest after improving his conditioning and becoming a 40-goal scorer during his age-18 season, is a streak scorer who could come on at the right time. Presumably Shawinigan spent some of its hiatus addressing its power play, which was 12th in the 17-team QMJHL in the regular season.
Offence by committee only goes so far. Just ask the 2011 Mississauga Majors.
4. Who will be in goal?
Each Memorial Cup tournament must include one goalie drama, eh. Last spring, then-Owen Sound Attack coach Mark Reeds and his rotating goalers, Jordan Binnington and Scott Stacjer, mined comedy gold from keeping people in the dark over who would play. It was largely a wash whether it worked. Now Veilleux has to keep his cards close to his chest on whether he goes with overage Gabriel Girard or 17-year-old Alex Dubeau, an endearing 5-foot-9 sophomore whom the Montreal Canadiens are interested in even though he doesn't have prototypical NHL size. Dubeau was in goal April 17 when the Chicoutimi Saguenéens sent Shawinigan home two rounds too early; he allowed three goals on 17 shots that night. But he also played the majority of the minutes across the run of the season.
5. That first game against Edmonton is a tone-setter, like it or not
The past three Cup hosts all came in the side door as the host only. All three lost the opener and did not go on to win the tournament. That's a total coincidence, of course. At the risk of indulging a stereotype, there could be a spring of discontent if the Cataractes come up short against the Edmonton Oil Kings in the opener. How they would endure that would determine their fate.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.