In the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors dressing room, Marc Cantin had heard enough of the talk from his teammates.
So a few months ago during a team meeting, the veteran defenceman set the record straight, plain and simple.
“I said I thought the words ‘Memorial Cup’ were being thrown around a bit too much in the room,” said Cantin of the tournament Mississauga will host in May. “So I told them, ‘Let’s just play like that’s not even happening. I know there’s going to be a lot of distractions, but let’s just pretend we’re not the host of the Memorial Cup.’”
There are no pictures or posters in the Majors dressing room and Cantin doesn’t even allow himself to utter it aloud outside of interviews.
“I don’t even want to say it,” he said. “No one uses that word and we don’t even think about it.”
A strong stance from a 21-year-old who has been battle-hardened in playoff action, having already won an Ontario Hockey League championship and a Memorial Cup. The shortest run of Cantin’s long OHL career to date was a second-round loss with the Belleville Bulls, the team that drafted him, back in the 2006-07 season. He managed to make his first trip to the junior hockey showcase the following year with Belleville as the OHL’s representative after losing the OHL title to the Kitchener Rangers, who were also hosting the tournament.
“I wish someone had told me this in my underage year, ‘Like, yeah, don’t worry, you’re going to go to three more Memorial Cups,” said Cantin with a smile. “I would haven’t have believed you, but I do feel lucky. I feel privileged … a lot of guys don’t get this opportunity and I won’t take it for granted.”
On Tuesday night, Cantin took another familiar step with another playoff victory, a 3-0 shutout of the Niagara IceDogs in the opening game of the OHL Eastern Conference final.
“We have the task at hand here and we’ve put ourselves in a position to win an OHL championship,” said Cantin, who will be playing in his third Memorial Cup with his third different team. “We’ve done well to get this far, but we still have a long road ahead.”
And while the road might be long, thus far, Cantin and the Majors have faced few bumps. Against Niagara, the Majors dominated from the outset, stifling their forwards and holding them to only 23 shots to help goalie JP Anderson record his fourth shutout of the playoffs.
“He’s been solid, but everyone on the team has been helping him out,” said the Omemee, Ont., native. “It’s not like he has to stand on his head every game, but if we need a save made, he’s there.”
Anderson’s three previous shutouts came against the eighth-seeded Belleville Bulls. Despite all the compliments the Majors have piled on their previous playoff opponents – the Bulls and Sudbury Wolves – the fact of the matter is the Majors have barely been tested. They’ve won 19 consecutive games -- nine straight in the playoffs -- and have only twice trailed by two or more goals in the post-season – both times coming from behind to beat the Wolves. In Game 4 of that series in Sudbury, the Majors were down 3-0 late in the third only to come back to score three goals in the last eight minutes to force overtime before claiming the series sweep.
“I don’t think you can prepare for adversity,” said Cantin, who signed a three-year entry level contract with the Boston Bruins last month.
“That’s the time you know you don’t have to press the panic button. You just stay calm and cool. When guys try to do too much, that’s when they get themselves in trouble. But it’s a trial and error thing – I’ve made those mistakes and put myself in those situations – and I’ve learned from it.”
His long and varied playoff experiences are helping his teammates learn, too.
“He leads by example and he’s very vocal,” said teammate Jordan Mayer. “He’s one of those guys who’s been in the league for a while, and that’s important to have on the team – he’s got a lot of experience.”
Talking to the 6-foot-1, 201-pound defenceman off the ice seems like a reflection of his play on the Majors’ blue line. He’s well-spoken and has an authoritative tone, commanding a conversation just as fluidly as he would be moving the puck on the Majors’ power play.
“He’s a guy that can play in key situations, as well as teach the younger guys what to do and give them some advice,” said Mayer. “He always keeps his composure when we get down. He’s got some good things to say and I think he’s a big part of our team.”
Cantin, who came to the Majors with forward Justin Shugg in the summer after a trade with the defending OHL and Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires, says last year’s Western Conference final with the Kitchener Rangers prepared them mentally to persevere through anything the OHL could throw at them. In that conference final the Spitfires rebounded from a 3-0 series deficit to win their next 12 games – including a sweep of the Barrie Colts for an OHL title and an undefeated run through the Memorial Cup in Brandon, Man.
“I don’t want to keep going back to (my time) in Windsor, but when you win four games straight in the first two rounds and then you’re down three games (in the Western final), that’s adversity and you can’t prepare for that,” said Cantin. “That’s something every player has to find within and I know that every guy (in the dressing room) doesn’t want to just be the host of the Memorial Cup. We want to win an OHL championship and earn our way into it.”
And while many say the Memorial Cup is the most difficult trophy in all of sports to win, considering a team needs to beat the best from its own league before beating the rest of the Canadian Hockey League’s best, Cantin disagrees. For his money, winning a league title in a series is by far the harder task to accomplish.
“Personally, I think winning an OHL championship is harder than winning a Memorial Cup,” he said.
“You have to win a best-of-seven four times, which isn’t easy, The Memorial Cup, that’s tough because it’s obviously the best teams in Canada, but if you have three or four good games, it’s possible to win. In a series you need four good games which means 16 of your best games to win an OHL championship. You can look at it either way, but that’s what I think in my mind.”
On Thursday night in Niagara, the five-year veteran will play in his 65th career OHL playoff game. When asked what he’s learned over the course of his career, he breaks out a smile.
“Rest is key, that’s pretty important,” said Cantin. “Perseverance and adversity, you don’t know when it’s going to come up, but you have to be ready to face it.”