Memorial Cup veteran MacAulay shares advice for tournament newbies

Sunaya Sapurji

For the first time in three years, Stephen MacAulay will be watching the Memorial Cup from the comfort of his home. As one of the most successful players in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League history, the month of May has always been busy for him in the past.

MacAulay, 22, is a student at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, where he’s studying business and playing hockey for the Huskies. But during his Canadian Hockey League career, MacAulay played in four QMJHL finals and won three league titles. He went to three Memorial Cup championships and won two – with two different teams – the Saint John Sea Dogs and Halifax Mooseheads.

Most players dream about getting one shot at the country’s major junior championship, let alone three.

“It was kind of becoming a tradition for me and my family,” says MacAulay, who was an overager for Halifax in the Mooseheads’ title run last year.

“I was lucky to be there three times. Most players don’t even get there once so you have to enjoy the moment.”

Despite having graduated, MacAulay is still hoping the QMJHL can run its string of Memorial Cup crowns to four, including his two championship rings. The Val-d’Or Foreurs are the Quebec league victors this season after beating out the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in a thrilling Game 7.

“I hope the Q wins,” says MacAulay of the 2014 Memorial Cup, which begins Friday in London, Ont. “I’m not going to lie. I’ll always cheer for the Q. It’s always good to see the underdogs from the Q winning. The Q always gets taken for granted, but I don’t think it’s like that anymore.”

Heading into this year’s tournament the players on the OHL champion Guelph Storm have zero experience with the 10-day tournament. With that in mind, Yahoo Sports tapped into MacAulay’s vast experience on how to deal with the Memorial Cup as a newbie. Here’s some advice from the three-time participant, two-time champion’s, in his own words:

Don’t let the pressure get to you

It’s easier said than done. Some people will react in different ways and some guys will have an easier time with that … you’ve got to play the same way that helped you get (to the Memorial Cup). If you try to change it and try to do too much, that’s when you get in trouble.

Last year I think I was the only one who had played in a Memorial Cup before, so a lot of guys were asking me about what to expect, but we also had guys who saw it all like (Zach) Fucale, (Jonathan) Drouin, (Nathan) MacKinnon - they've been on the big stage. So it wasn't a huge shock for them, but obviously for guys who don't see that (pressure and attention) alot, they were probably in shock at the start, but I think we did a good job with it.

Keep your swagger for the Cup

The teams I played on (in Saint John and Halifax) were really confident. Maybe it came off as over-confident? But that gave us a lot of success, we didn’t back down. You know the (WHL) is supposed to be the big, tough league and Ontario is supposed to be better than the (QMJHL) but every time I was there (at the Memorial Cup), we were just really confident. Maybe from the outside it looked like it was a little cocky, but it paid off for us. Be confident and have a little bit of swagger – those are the biggest things in my eyes.

The Memorial Cup banquet is boring

The food at the banquet is really good, but it’s kind of long … you kind of get bored with all the speeches and stuff that’s part of it. It’s cool to be there because the guest speakers they attract are big-time former players – it just maybe a little long.

Make good use of your downtime

Take advantage of your days off because the games are obviously tough and strenuous. Try to stay away from the rink if you have a day off and try to do other stuff. It’s really important. It’s really nice out this time of year. Sometimes you’re so stressed out and you want to win so bad that you forget to have fun with it.

Last year (in Saskatoon with Halifax) I remember it was really nice on our day off – it was between the semifinals and our last game, I think – a few of us were outside just throwing a baseball around and playing Frisbee and stuff. In Mississauga (at the 2011 Memorial Cup with Saint John) we all went to a Blue Jays game and the Hockey Hall of Fame, so our teams did a really good job of managing our time. So enjoy it, it’s an awesome time of year and I know it’s what every junior player wants to do, to be there. (But) you’ve got to soak it all in and not be too stressed out about the on-ice stuff.

No matter what you’ve heard, every team is a threat

It’s the best of the best. All the teams are there because they’re really good. I’ve never taken any team lightly there – obviously there will be an off-game here or there. In Shawinigan (at the 2012 tournament with Saint John) we had one bad game in the semis against (host) Shawinigan and we were done. So, taking teams lightly will kill you in that tournament. The better you do in the round-robin the better shape you’re in to go to the final and avoid the tie-breakers.

Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports.
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