SHAWINIGAN, Que. — The frustration that was building for the Saint John Sea Dogs throughout the game finally came to a head late in the third period of their opening game at the MasterCard Memorial Cup on Saturday night. Trailing the London Knights 4-3 with two minutes left in the game, Sea Dogs captain Jonathan Huberdeau took a four-minute penalty for roughing. Huberdeau's target was one of London's Rupert twins – Ryan – though it could have easily been brother Matt since both had done a great job getting under the star's skin.
"It was frustration and I shouldn't have done that," said Huberdeau, the third overall pick of the Florida Panthers in 2011. "I have to forget about it. We had a chance to come back, we were down by one goal and I took this penalty. It was undisciplined."
The double minor sent Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant over the edge as he berated the referees from the bench before moving down to the door leading to the ice. After giving the officials more than his allotted two cents, the former NHL player and coach was given a bench minor to bring on the curtain call. After the game, Gallant continued to stew – until he was asked by veteran RDS reporter Stephane Leroux about his team discipline.
[ SLIDESHOW: 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup: London Knights ]
Of the four-man officiating crew only one of the referees – the WHL's Pat Smith – was from outside the QMJHL. They were the ones that took the brunt of Gallant's ire.
"I watched the penalties," said Gallant. "I've been complaining all year. I've been in the Quebec league for three years and I've been complaining for three years. We always get the short end of the stick and I'm tired of it, I really am. How does Huberdeau get a penalty at the end of the game for four minutes for roughing? I watched that (Danick) Gauthier slash – I mean give me a break. I'm not taking (anything) away from London, they were the better team. But I'm so tired of that. You show your frustration at the end of the game, I don't want to do that but it's been over and over again, so I'm tired of it."
There was a short pause while the moderator asked for more questions, but Gallant wasn't finished.
"And that's not just from tonight's game; it's been all playoff long for us, too. And you know that Stephane, you can check the numbers."
After that the press conference was ended. There was no official word from the Canadian Hockey League on whether Gallant was to receive a fine for his comments, though the Sea Dogs adding to the league's coffers would not be a surprise.
"He was mad," said Sea Dogs forward Tomas Jurco of Gallant's mood in the dressing room after the game. "We were playing great all season and then it comes to a really important game and we don't play well. Obviously he was mad. Everyone would be mad. But we're going to forget about what happened tonight and we're going to think about the next game (against WHL champion Edmonton on Monday night)."
It was clear the Sea Dogs were rattled by the Knights – this is the first time the defending Memorial Cup and QMJHL champions had ever lost a game at the tournament. There's no question with the amount of talent – some 15 players returning from last season's squad and a boatload of NHL draft picks – Saint John were the favourites coming into the Cup.
"It might have been a bit of nerves or a bit of coming in on a high after winning so many games in the playoffs," said Sea Dogs forward Zack Phillips of the rare loss. "It's not right. We have to come ready to play better than that.
"I think we came out a little over confident and we can't do that."
The Sea Dogs went 16-1 through the post-season and won the President's Cup with a convincing four-game sweep over the Rimouski Oceanic. Some of their critics suggest they got an easy ride to the junior hockey championship.
"It's been a question we've had on the way in (to the Memorial Cup), too," said Sea Dogs forward Zack Phillips. "I don't think it's that. I mean we weren't just winning game, we were winning games 8-0 or 10-0. We are still playing well."
Jurco, a second-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, took umbrage with the idea that his team just ran roughshod over lesser opponents en route to defending their league title.
"It wasn't easy," said the Slovakian star. "We had three overtimes in the third round (against Chicoutimi) and one double-overtime in the finals – there were no easy games. Maybe it looks easy because we have more experience... but it wasn't easy."
The Sea Dogs will meet the Edmonton Oil Kings, who defeated the host Shawinigan Cataractes 4-3 in the opening game of the tournament on Friday night. Phillips said that losing their first game might give his team some extra motivation considering the Memorial Cup format makes every game almost like a must-win Game 7 situation.
"This game is over now and we can't afford to stress over it," said Phillips. "We have to look forward to Edmonton -- maybe this is a little bit of a wake-up call."
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