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2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup: Shawinigan Cataractes — why they can win Sunday

Shawinigan Cataractes have won 2 elimination games in a row to reach the Memorial Cup final (Terry Wilson, OHL …

SHAWINIGAN, Que. — The Shawinigan Cataractes would likely be figuring out whether they could bear to watch on Sunday if the moment was too much for them.

The host team which has won successive sudden-death games to reach the MasterCard Memorial Cup final has evinced no fear of being overtaken on trying to overdeliver for long-time loyalists, some of whom wept in joy after their beloveds beat out Saint John on Friday. The final (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, BTN livechat) seems like an even match, but Shawinigan's not swept up in the anticipation. It's either that or they're good at spin control.

"We had a meeting after we played Saint John and we knew after that we have won nothing yet," goalie Gabriel Girard said Saturday. "Even if we're in the final, in five years no one will remember who lost in the final but they will remember the champions. We'll be ready for a big game."

"It's just more fun," Girard added after being asked if the din at Centre Bionest, which calls to mind a U.S. college basketball crowd in March, can even distract the home team. "It's hard to describe the feeling but the crowd brings so much energy, It just makes you focus and not think too much, just be ready for the next shot."

The Cataractes know what this means to their city but can't let that consume them.

"Tomorrow's game, it's important to think about ourselves number one and our fans who supported us and encouraged us," Cataractes coach Éric Veilleux said. "We can't change the approach we had at the start of the tournament. Before there was an end, there was a beginning. It's important for us to have a good start tomorrow."

"We don't think about it as it the biggest game," added wing Yannick Veilleux (no relation), who scored the winning goal against Saint John. "We just want to play a simple game and play as hard as played in the past couple games."

Éric Veilleux said his team is so locked in the players decided as one to unplug from all social media after the Saint John win.

"They seem to be pretty focused on what they want to do," he said.

Speed confuses — The training camp Veilleux held after the second-round playoff loss, which included exhibition games against Cataractes alumni and two nationally ranked CIS teams, the McGill Redmen and Trois-Rivières Patriotes, has made Shawinigan the speediest team in the tournament. That's the surprise they've sprung on the junior hockey-following world this week. It allows them to ask questions of teams that didn't come up in earlier games. Just ask Saint John, which went 16-1 in the QMJHL playoffs and beat Shawinigan once in the tournament but could not do it twice.

"They've got great speed and their energy and work ethic is second to none," Knights coach-GM Mark Hunter said on Saturday.

Getting shots through traffic — Point men par excellence Morgan Ellis and Brandon Gormley seem to have more eyes than an entire sack of Prince Edward Island-grown potatoes when they're shooting from the blueline. Gormley is the tourney's second-leading scorer.

The entire game could turn on those two defenders' shooting savvy vs. Austin Watson and other Knights who can block a shot and without taking themselves out of play.

"You got to find a lane, it's so hard to score in today's game," said Gormley. "Teams collapse low and block a lot of shots. As defencemen, you have to try and help your forwards as much as you can."

The Cataractes forwards have also been willing to pay the price in the slot.

"We just have to bear down in front of the net and fight for our space," Yannick Veilleux said.

Resiliency on home ice — Quick show of hands, whose knee started jerking spasmodically in anticipation of a Saint John victory when the Sea Dogs tied it Friday midway through the third? Not that many? You're all liars.

Losing a two-goal lead in a big game is supposed to be proof a hockey team has a collective lily-liveredness. Especially when one of those goals came on a shot from 120 feet away. That wasn't the case for the Cataractes on Friday; bear in mind Sunday is another day.

"We're a team with a lot of character," Girard said. "Even after that bad goal, the guys jumped back very well. We got tired toward the end of the second period, but start of the third period with the energy that the crowd brought us, we found that energy we needed."

London was a little static in the teams' first meeting. Don't forget, though, that the Knights were playing for the second day in a row.

"I think we have to have more intensity and we didn't match [Shawinigan's] energy or intensity from the last game," London coach-GM Mark Hunter said.

Stamina — Stuff your snark about how the Memorial Cup cannot be the hardest hockey trophy to win if a team which didn't reach its league semifinal can take it in a sack. Being away from games from so long is tough.

"We're in great shape right now," Yannick Veilleux said. "We knew we'd maybe have to play three games in three nights during the tournament and we've cashed in right now."

Scrimmaging former juniors who are now playing Canadian Interuniversity Sport during the long layoff helped. Going against 22- and 23-year-olds who now play for McGill or Trois-Rivières made going against teenagers from the top teams in Canada seem less dauting.

"It was good to get experience against them," Chaput said. "A lot of people underestimate those schools. They don't get much exposure, but they're very good."

Is it possible omen some of those McGill guys won the Cavendish University Cup two months ago over the Western Mustangs, who are also from London, Ont.? That tournament was also held in New Brunswick, the Sea Dogs' home province.

Special teams — There is no guarantee success on the penalty kill and power play will repeat itself in the Memorial Cup. The Knights coaching staff also has had enough time to break down video of the Cataractes, build a dossier and plan accordingly. Based on past performance alone, though, the Cataractes have had the more dangerous PP during the tournament.

"That's something that we worked on a lot for that month we were off," Chaput said. "It's been good. It keeps getting better. Just getting bodies in front of the net and getting it to the net by tipping it or having the D put it on net and getting the rebound. That's what we've been doing a lot, giving each other outlets and finding open space."

Penalty killing is a strong suit of each team. London's twice killed off extended 5-on-3s during the tourney. They were actually scored at even strength soon after, but that's kind of random. The Cataractes' PK was near peak form against Saint John last Friday. The Sea Dogs converted their first extra-skater advantage but were skunked. And the Knights power play is not in the same league with Saint John's.

"Special teams are a big part of any hockey game in which you're going to have success," Gormley said. "Our PK was great against Saint John. We had numerous big kills and you're going to need that if you're going to win."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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