Sat May 19 11:46pm EDT
SHAWINIGAN, Que. — Jonathan Huberdeau's frustration penalty heard 'round the junior hockey world was the perfect capper for an evening where the London Knights had the Saint John Sea Dogs out of sorts. Vladislav Namestnikov scored two goals, rookie Max Domi also counted and the Knights turned the the MasterCard Memorial Cup with a 5-3 win marred by, wait for it, more officiating controversy.
The Knights (1-0) are in a prime position headed into Sunday's second leg of their back-to-back games, where they face the host Shawinigan Cataractes on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, BTN livechat, Sportsnet, TVA Sports, NHL Network USA). The Sea Dogs (0-1), who suffered only their sixth post-season loss of the past two seasons, have to find a better headspace before taking on Edmonton (1-0) on Monday night. On with the post-game questions.
The final unravelling for Saint John came with 2:04 left and London up 4-3. Captain Jonathan Huberdeau, who had been stymied aside from his bad-bounce short-handed goal late in the second, blew his stack after stripped of the puck inside the Knights blueline by Ryan Rupert, part of the Knights' Sandpaper Squared act. Huberdeau tore after the Knights' agitator and a skirmish ensued. Huberdeau ended up with a double minor, which was compounded by Gallant taking a bench minor.
The Knights, who were far superior at 5-on-5, had a 9-5 edge in power plays in a game refereed by the WHL's Pat Smith and QMJHL's Jonathan Langille, who made a number of marginal calls. The only reason this was close was Saint John scored twice short-handed.
"I watched the penalties. Our discipline — I've been complaining all year. I've been in the Quebec league for three years and I've been complaining for three years about us getting the short end of the stick and I'm tired of it. I really am. Tonight it was again, how does Huberdeau get a penalty at the end of the game for four minutes for roughing? I watched that [Danick] Gauthier slash [in the second period for giving London goalie Michael Houser a soft tap]. Just give me a break. I'm not taking nothing away from London. They were the better team. But I'm so tired of that. That frustration at the end of the game, I don't want to do that. But I'm tired of it.
"And that's not just tonight's game. That's all playoffs too ... you can check the numbers."
Paraphrasing Ric Flair, does beating The Man mean London's The Man?
The textbook the Knights' super-structured defensive system belongs in might be one that's perfect to bury your face for a power nap. Be that as it may, they seem to have a ridiculous will. Case in point: the scoring chances were 18-13 for London. Thirteen scoring chances for the Sea Dogs? It's probably rare to see them held to fewer than 20.
So does London become the favourite?
"I wouldn't say that," Knights coach-GM Mark Hunter said. "It's only one game. I'd say they're still the favourites, with their talent and their older guys and experience with being here. I think the other three teams still got to knock them out."
It's within the realm this is a loss Saint John was better off to have on Day 2 of the tournament because it otherwise could have happened in the championship round. They have been known to shake off a bad showing with a certain vehemence.
""The only time we worked hard was on the penalty kill," Gallant said. "Pretty disappointing from our group but we still got a couple games to battle back. But tonight wasn't a good game for us at all."
Does the result validate the theory life was too easy for Saint John when it went 16-1 in the President's Cup playoffs?
Perhaps so, perhaps not, but those espousing that belief have an open forum to say it for the next 48 hours. The Sea Dogs have been prone to slow starts. They had one against a team which made them pay for it.
Saint John scored first on a Charles-Olivier Roussel shorty. London took control as the first wore on, particularly after a long cycle by their Chris Tierney-led fourth line. Then Max Domi and Vladislav Namestnikov scored 84 seconds apart to put London ahead for good. Namestnikov's line with Seth Griffith and Tyler Ferry outscored the Zack Phillips-Stanislav Galiev-Tomas Jurco trio 3-0.
Sea Dogs star Charlie Coyle (no points) admitted the slow starts might have caught up to Saint John.
"We expected that too, it's the cream of the crop here," he said. "You can't afford to have a bad period."
Saint John is by no means out of the tournament. The 2009 Windsor Spitfires started 0-2 and came back to win the Memorial Cup. Last season, they also lost home-ice advantage in the QMJHL final vs. Gatineau but ultimately pulled out the series in six games.
"It was the first one, but we got to keep focused," said captain Jonathan Huberdeau. "We can't panic. We got to work through it."
What was the deal with Gallant not using any of his top-six forwards on a power play when trailing by two late?
The Sea Dogs pulled within 4-3 when St. Louis Blues draft pick Ryan Tesink tipped in a point shot with 7:59 to play. On that extra-skater advantage, Gallant had his de facto third line out, with Tesink, fellow Blues pick Stephen MacAulay and grinder Maxime Villemaire. All the stars were watching.
"I was disappointed obviously and I put the third line out," Gallant said. "They're not a third line on most teams. Get the puck to the net, get people to the net and see what happens. They deserved to be out there. They keep it simple. We talked about the ice being awful. It's bad ice. Our skill guys didn't want to battle through it. You've seen all the turnovers we had."
Phillips said he understood. The Sea Dogs spent more time on the perimeter than Reggie Miller in his prime. Of course, this game doesn't have a three-point shot.
"I think he was trying to send a message that we were being too cute with the puck," Phillips said. "MacAulay and Tesink and Villemaire are hard-working guys. They got the puck to the net and it worked and we have to do that. We definitely have to get a lot more traffic."
How will the Knights handle playing consecutive games, as they face Shawinigan on Sunday? London has avoided the dizzying highs and terrifying lows all season. It didn't blink when it lost in double overtime to the Niagara IceDogs at home in Game 1 of the Ontario Hockey League final. They ran the table instead.
"It's going to be interesting," Hunter said. "Our team's been even keel the whole season. During the playoffs, if we won a big game, we were fine. We lost the first one [in the OHL final] to Niagara and we won the next four. They're a good team, they don't get into the highs and lows and hopefully that continues tomorrow."
Will the Knights' shot-blocking ways succeed against Shawinigan and Brandon Gormley on Sunday? The host Cataractes got some run from world junior defenceman Gormley getting pucks past the first level of defenders, generating some rebound chances.
"They got some good D there and they're very mobile," Hunter said. "It's going to be a task for us to block shots and keep pucks out. They've got some experienced guys."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.