SHAWINIGAN, Que. – Dressed smartly in a grey pinstripe suit, Shawinigan Cataractes head coach Eric Veilleux was doing the slow burn while seated at the podium for the coaches’ press conference.
His host Cataractes had just lost 4-1 to their hated Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rivals from Saint John in the final round-robin game of the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup. To make matters worse, the loss sent Shawinigan into a tie-breaker against the Edmonton Oil Kings with less than 24 hours of rest – a win would have earned them a berth in the Memorial Cup final.
It wasn’t much of a surprise when the game deteriorated into a series of scrums and punches that made the final 40 seconds of the game feel like 40 minutes.
It was, however, a surprise when Veilleux climbed the glass separating the two benches to exchange words with Sea Dogs general manager and assistant coach Mike Kelly, who sprinted over to defend the honour of Saint John while head coach Gerard Gallant stayed at the opposite end.
“I was just asking Gerard why he had to spend so much time talking to the Maritime referee,” said Veilleux. “That’s what I asked him.”
Referee Jonathan Langille – part of the four-man officiating crew from the QMJHL – hails from Upper Sackville, N.S. Veilleux’s verbal jab was in reference to Gallant’s critique of the QMJHL’s officiating after the opening game of the tournament in which the defending Memorial Cup champions were beaten 5-3 by the London Knights. After that game Gallant went on a rant that cost him $500 in fines to the Canadian Hockey League.
"I've been complaining all year,” said Gallant after last Friday’s loss. “I've been in the Quebec league for three years and I've been complaining for three years. We always get the short end of the stick and I'm tired of it, I really am. ... You show your frustration at the end of the game, I don't want to do that but it's been over and over again, so I'm tired of it."
When asked for his version of events on what happened between the benches, Gallant played coy.
“What coaches? I wasn’t involved in nothin’,” said Gallant. “There was a little bit of yelling, but I wasn’t there.”
Once again however, the game was rife with questionable calls on both teams. There was a video review in the second period in which the Sea Dogs thought star Jonathan Huberdeau – who finished with two goals on the night – had scored. In that instance the puck was shown to have crossed the line, but was called dead on the play by the officials. Gallant said neither referee came to talk to him, despite the fact he had gone down to the bench door to get a word.
“I didn’t get an explanation, he didn’t come over to be honest with you,” said Gallant. “He didn’t say anything.”
Later in the third period there was a violent elbow to the head of Sea Dogs’ Slovakian star Tomas Jurco which only received a two-minute penalty. Gallant was asked what explanation he was given by the referees for the call on that play.
“They didn’t want to talk to me too much,” said Gallant. “Like I said there were some issues there, but I’m trying to be a good boy, I had my say the first night. I’m trying to forget about it and play the game. I thought our kids played hard and it was good hockey and that’s what we’re trying to be focused on.”
Overall there were 29 infractions during the game including two fighting majors, two unsportsmanlike conduct calls and 12 roughing penalties. Shawinigan defenceman Dillion Donnelly – son of former NHLer Gord Donnelly – was sent out to line up for a faceoff on the wing with seconds remaining in the game. He was quickly thrown out of the game and given a10-minute misconduct. Veilleux said he put Donnelly out to protect his stars.
“I wasn’t planning ... it’s not that I didn’t trust (Saint John), but I had (stars) (Michael) Bournival, (Anton) Zlobin,(Kirill) Kabanov, (Michael) Chaput … and I didn’t want to take any chances putting those guys on the ice with what I saw,” said Veilleux. “That’s pretty much it.”
The game was highly anticipated in QMJHL circles ever since Shawinigan won the bid to host the 2012 Memorial Cup, as Saint John had also put in a bid. After the announcement, there was a war of words between the two teams with Saint John feeling slighted that they had lost out on what they believed was the better bid.
“We’ve been rivals all year because of the Memorial Cup (bid),” said Sea Dogs forward Ryan Tesink. “We’ve both been favourites all year and we knew it was going to be like that coming in.
“We have a very tough team and we’re not going to let them push us around regardless what time it is in the game.”
The Sea Dogs and Cataractes could possibly play once more since the winner of Thursday’s tie-breaker will face Saint John in Friday’s semifinal. In the meantime, the Cataractes said they’ll have to put the disappointment of losing to the Sea Dogs behind them so that they can win the opportunity for a rematch.
“That was just frustration coming out of the boys,” said Chaput. “We were frustrated obviously, losing, but we’re not going to focus on that because we need to think about tomorrow night.”