SHAWINIGAN, Que. — It was a shocker in Shawinigan that no one saw coming – least of all the defending Memorial Cup-champion Saint John Sea Dogs.
The team that had rolled through the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, losing only once en route to a second straight league title, was eliminated from major junior’s title tournament in the semifinal by the host Cataractes 7-4.
Veteran defenceman Charles-Olivier Roussel, who had come to Saint John from the American Hockey League with the intention of winning a Memorial Cup trophy, wiped the sweat and tears from his face. He had a hard time trying to understand what went wrong for the club that was considered, by far, the class of the Canadian Hockey League.
“I’m sorry,” said the overager. “I don’t know what to say.”
No one took the loss harder than goaltender Mathieu Corbeil. The last time Corbeil had given up six or more goals was back on Nov. 28, 2010, when he was a member of the Halifax Mooseheads. The team to score all those goals on him? The Saint John Sea Dogs, who on this night couldn’t find the net early enough.
“It was an important game,” said the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect. “We had the team to win and we didn’t come out hard enough to win.
“It sucks. Just being so close and not being able to finish it off.”
As expected, the building was electric, packed with 4,763 fans, the bowl so full some with standing room tickets had taken to sitting on the stairs – fire code or not. It wasn’t until Sea Dogs captain Jonathan Huberdeau scored on a shorthanded fluke from the neutral zone to make the score 4-3 in favour of the Cats that the crowd finally quieted. It was muffled tones when Saint John star Tomas Jurco scored to tie the game. But the rink exploded with cheers when Yannick Veilleux potted the eventual game-winner.
“It was pretty crazy,” said Cataractes leading scorer Michael Chaput. “I think we could have probably heard it from outside.”
Regardless, the mood on the Saint John bench was still high because this was the Sea Dogs. This was the team with 16 players who already had a Memorial Cup rings and the team that started the season with 13 players missing from their lineup because they were attending NHL training camps. Words like “dynasty” were bandied about when talking about Saint John.
“When we went down 5-4, I always believed we were going to tie it,” said Jurco. “Things didn’t work tonight and now we’re going home.”
On the blue line Roussel was playing like his life depended on it, trying to generate offence from the back end by throwing almost every puck he corralled on net and coming close to scoring.
“We should have played like this the whole game,” said the Nashville Predators pick of the desperation.
So why didn’t they? Was it overconfidence?
“That’s a good question,” said Roussel. “But we can’t change anything now. It’s too bad.”
One of the biggest criticisms leveled at the Sea Dogs entering the tournament was the fact they were so dominant in the Quebec league that no one had really tested them enough. The Sea Dogs rolled through the regular season, finishing first overall with a 50-15-0-3 record, and the only time they lost a game in the playoffs was when they lost to Chicoutimi in overtime of their third-round series.
“In my mind we were the better team here,” said Huberdeau. “We should have won this game. We should have been ready.”
After the final handshakes had been delivered Huberdeau stood at the door of the Sea Dogs to greet his teammates as they left the ice, tapping each one on the pads, some for the last time.
“We lost, but we worked hard,” said the third overall draft pick of the Florida Panthers in 2011. “It’s sad too for the (overagers) and I think Corbeil had a really good season, I think he deserves it. For sure it’s hard for them, it’s hard for the whole team, so I wanted to congratulate them before they left the ice…it was hard.”
It was also bitter. Despite being the No. 2 seed in the QMJHL playoffs, the Cataractes were eliminated in the second round and had to wait a month before playing again at the Memorial Cup tournament. In the final game of the round-robin, the Dogs handily beat the Cats 4-1 in a game that featured a melee at the end which included the benches going at each other.
“We won our league, we were champions, we were the best team in our league,” said Roussel. “The best team tonight won, but I don’t think the best team this season is going to the final. But all the credit goes to them.”
The Cats will now face the Ontario Hockey League-champion London Knights in the final on Sunday.
The Dogs will head home to Saint John without a second ring.
“We really didn’t come out like we should have and that cost us the game,” said Roussel. “That cost us the year.