May 26, 2012
SHAWINIGAN, Que. — Buoyed by a boisterous crowd, the Shawinigan Cataractes beat the Saint John Sea Dogs 7-4 Friday to guarantee a new MasterCard Memorial Cup champion.
With the win, the Cataractes became the first team since the 1999 Ottawa 67's to reach the final after failing to even reach the semifinal in their league playoffs. They were full value for it, though, never trailing after the first period and going ahead for good on BTN first star Yannick Veilleux's second of the night with 6:46 to play. They outlasted Saint John over the final minutes before getting two insurance goals in the last 60 seconds.
It's the end of an era in the QMJHL, with the Jonathan Huberdeau-led Sea Dogs set to bid adieu to their nucleus. On with the post-game questions.
Short answer, momentum is a myth when one team is coming out ahead in zone time, which begets an edge in scoring chances. Shawinigan came out ahead in each count. They also won nearly 60 per cent faceoffs, going 37-for-64.
Being down 4-3 with 10 minutes to go flattered Saint John, since Huberdeau had scored from 120 feet out (!) late in the second period. Then Jurco, off a faceoff win by Zack Phillips, wristed in the tying goal. At that moment, Éric Veilleux fell back on an old proverb that sometimes the coach's who's best who coaches least. He realized his guys had this.
"I thought about it for 10 seconds — I thought, 'do they need to be told something?' " Veilleux said. "After watching was happening on the bench, I figured that nothing needed to be done. Nothing needed to be addressed. They knew that the third goal was lucky and that fourth goal was just a goal. They knew we had momentum and it was just a matter to keeping flying the way they had all game."
Captain Michaël Bournival's line, which was out for Jurco's, got the game-winner 2 1/2 minutes later. But not until after Girard made some game-saving saves.
"When we tied it up, I thought we had a real good chance of winning, but Girard made a real good glove save [on Tomas Jurco]," Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant said. "We didn't play well all night. Shawinigan played very well, they competed harder than us and that's why they won the game. Give full credit to them."
What was the mood in Saint John's dressing room?
The loss ends a three-year run for Saint John that saw it reach three league finals, win a Memorial Cup and put three players on Team Canada. Now it's pretty much over.
"It's tough," Gallant said. "The kids, they all want to win. They're pretty sad obviously. Like I said to them, we had three unbelievable seasons and there are many other good teams out there who want to win just as much as we do. They're a classy bunch of kids and they'll have great careers."
How much did the crowd factor into the outcome, at least in Gallant's mind?
"None," he said. "We've had that for three years. We lost about three [playoff] games in three years in other teams' buildings, Chicoutimi, Rimouski, Gatineau, last year at the Memorial Cup. They got a great crowd and that's awesome. I'd like to use that as an excuse but no, it doesn't affect us. Our kids have had enough experience with that."
Is it possible the Sea Dogs looked past Shawinigan after beating them two nights prior?
"No," Gallant said unequivocally. "Nobody looked past Shawinigan. They built their strong team, they competed hard. We just didn't play our best game. We had a lot of mental mistakes, turnovers.
"The puck was bouncing a lot tonight, it was jumping around a lot tonight," he added. "We tried to make some special plays that didn't work. When you don't make those specials plays, when you turn back into your own zone and cough up pucks, they end up in your net. Shawinigan forechecked hard, they worked hard."
How has Shawinigan come by this quiet confidence?
Well, being off for a month did give that Cataractes more time for contemplation than Henry David Thoreau on a cabin threat.
"Like I've said, many things were addressed," Veilleux said. "When you go through adversity and you pretty much know what are the reasons why ... I don't want to call it accident, but when we lost Game 7 [to Chicoutimi in the QMJHL's second round], a lot of things are said. When the right things are said, you find solutions and the solutions were clearly understood before this tournament and that's what you're seeing right now."
How did Shawinigan contain the Danick Gauthier-Huberdeau-Charlie Coyle line?
Saint John's scoring line was shut out at 5-on-5 and on the power play, getting only a fluky short-hander from Huberdeau. The team's other three goals from from the Phillips-Jurco-Stanislav Galiev unit.
"The game plan was simple," Veilleux said. "The whole tournament you're playing championship teams who very often have two solid lines which can you make play. We didn't have the last change matchup [as home team] for two of three round-robin games, so our message was that that doesn't matter. You just have to play."
How confident is Veilleux that his team will have something left mentally for Sunday's final vs. Edmonton?
The Cataractes are the sixth non-league champion in nine seasons to advance to the final. The past two years saw the 2011 Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors and 2010 Brandon Wheat Kings, each host teams, win the Friday semi and lose two days later.
The difference is Shawinigan seems to have much more stamina. That doesn't make it a favourite to defeat the London Knights. Nor does their earlier 6-2 win, judging from how no one can beat anyone twice in this tournament. What does count is they've won two do-or-done games in a row rather than one. Well, that and a healthy 24-16 goal differential across their five games.
"Whatever happened in the past is in the past," Veilleux said. "We're focusing on our team. We have a game to play on Sunday. We didn't get there by luck. We totally deserve to be preparing for it. We know it's going to be the last one [if they lose]. That's pretty much the pattern we had the past two days. That was the message that was sent [Thursday before beating Edmonton 6-1]. That was the message that was sent today.
"It won't be hard to believe before the next one."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.