MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Justin Shugg has scored his share of hat tricks in the past. On Sunday, the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors forward will be trying for one of a different sort – and undoubtedly of the special variety - as he aims to be only the second player in Canadian major junior hockey history to win three consecutive MasterCard Memorial Cup titles.
“I hope I can get the hat trick,” said Shugg. “It’s an unexplainable feeling to compete for another trophy on a national stage.”
The Majors put themselves in the Memorial Cup final with an efficient, workmanlike 3-1 win over the Kootenay Ice on Friday night in the tournament semifinal. As far as Shugg’s teammates are concerned, they’d like to help him earn his place in history and take home a ring themselves.
“This is an opportunity – a rare one for him – but also a unique opportunity for a lot of us,” said goaltender JP Anderson. “Coming in here, you don’t have a lot of chances in your junior career to win a Memorial Cup.”
The Majors will face the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League-champion Saint John Sea Dogs in the final on Sunday evening. A win for the Majors would help temper the disappointment of losing the Ontario Hockey League title to the Owen Sound Attack in a Game 7 overtime. Mississauga head coach and general manager Dave Cameron said that loss robbed his team of confidence and that it’s only now that they’ve won three straight games at this tournament that they’ve started getting their swagger back.
“Our hockey club coming into the tournament had some difficulty getting over the loss to Owen Sound for the league championship,” said Cameron.
"A lot of it had to do with getting over the psyche of losing games where you weren't terrible but you weren't getting any bounces and just played well enough to lose. We've spent the last little while just talking about energy and if we have energy we can play our way. … Once we dealt with the disappointment, we've been getting better, and I still think we're going to be a little bit better Sunday.”
Majors captain Casey Cizikas said that despite taking a while to get over it, his team has put the heartbreak from losing the OHL final in the rearview mirror.
“We’ve had to put that behind us,” said Cizikas. “That was definitely a tough moment for us, but if we dwell on that it’s just going to affect our game. “Our focus right now is on Sunday.”
Cizikas and Cameron have shared disappointments this season, since both were also part of Canada’s world junior squad that coughed up a three-goal lead in the third period en route to a crushing 5-3 loss to Russia in the gold medal game. After also losing out on the OHL championship, another defeat on Sunday would make Cameron and Cizikas three times unlucky.
Going into the Memorial Cup final, Shugg says his team is the “underdog” in the final against Saint John, the top-ranked team in the country and a team that is well rested having not played since Tuesday. The Carolina Hurricanes prospect believes their play of late is good enough for an upset.
“We’re going in with momentum and on a winning streak,” said Shugg, who won back-to-back national crowns with the Windsor Spitfires before being dealt with veteran defenceman Marc Cantin to Mississauga last summer. “The day off (Saturday) is going to be nice for rest to get the energy levels back up.
“We’re going to be prepared.”
The Majors’ only loss of the tournament came in a 4-3 defeat to the Sea Dogs in the opener. There was controversy during that tightly-played contest, however, as the game-winning goal scored by the Sea Dogs was shown to be offside. Still, the Majors say they’ve put that botched call behind them.
"I thought the game against Saint John we deserved a better fate,” said Devante Smith-Pelly, who scored twice against Kootenay including the game-winner on a fine individual effort late in the second period. “We’ve let it go. Once the game was over, it was over.”
The Majors showed their share of resiliency after Ice forward Joe Antilla scored with a fraction of a second on the clock at the end of the second perod to cut Mississauga’s lead to 2-1. With his squad looking tense during long stretches of the tournament – particularly on the power play – Cameron told his players to calm down during the second-period intermission.
"(He said) just to relax, we were still up by one and playing great," said Smith-Pelly.. "All that was said was relax, take it easy and keep playing our game and we'd come out on top.
"We did a good job of that.”
One thing the Majors will have to do a better job of against the Sea Dogs is keeping their penalties in check. Against Kootenay on Friday night, the Majors gave the Ice seven power-play opportunities on which they converted one. In their four games at the tournament, the Majors have given their opposition 22 power plays, giving up five goals in the process.
“Every team’s goal is to minimize to four or five a game,” said Shugg of the penalties. “That’s definitely going to be one of our goals. The penalty kill was great tonight, but we definitely don’t want to take that many in the final.”
Along with staying out of the box, keeping the lanes clear in front of Anderson also will be key since the Sea Dogs have a number of speedy and skilled forwards.
“They’ve got a lot of high-end guys,” said Anderson. “A lot of dynamic forwards up front and even guys in the back that can jump into the play, and they’re real active back there. We really need to make sure we get all our guys back to the house in front of the net and make sure we’re not giving them a lot of odd-man rushes and a lot of time and space because that’s what they’ll capitalize on.”