MISSISSAUGA, ON — The Canadian Hockey League’s regular season No. 1 and No. 3 ranked squads will clash tonight on the biggest stage in major junior hockey. The Saint John Sea Dogs (3-1-0-0) and Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (2-0-0-1) will cap off a thrilling nine-game event that has been hosted by the CHL in Mississauga since May 20.
The Majors back peddled their way into the tournament following a heartbreaking Game 7 defeat to the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League Championship. As hosts, their spot in the tournament was secure all season long. As a typical Dave Cameron-led club, Mississauga first and foremost focuses on their own end. They’re deep up front, boasting a crew that has shown throughout the 2010-11 campaign that they can both shut down top offensive juggernauts and find ways to pot a few of their own.
The Sea Dogs, a team that lost a mere 10 regular season games, comes into the final well-rested and focused. Their high-powered offence, which consists of probable top-five pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Jonathan Huberdeau, took down Cameron and the Majors by a score of 4-3 in the tournament’s opener. In said contest, three of the Quebec league champ’s markers were on the power-play. Mississauga took eight penalties versus Saint John – something Dave Cameron and company are prepared to minimize in the final.
“Recognize it, deal with it, trust your teammates, and make good decisions,” said Cameron, the Majors’ bench boss, on the discipline-based philosophy he has been preaching in the dressing room since the tournament’s first game.
Although they were the consensus pick to win the tournament before it began, the Sea Dogs’ Game 1 win over Mississauga really solidified their opponents as the final’s underdog. With that being said, the GTA-based franchise is fortunate to be playing in the friendly confines of the Hershey Centre. It has slightly eased the strenuous pressure.
Some Majors players, including captain Casey Cizikas, had trouble falling asleep last night. He told the media this morning that it took a good two-and-a-half hours before he was able to finally doze off. While he’ll need a solid pre-game nap to replenish, Cizikas has a bit of an upper hand over his opponents anyway, as he’s been in a few high magnitude contests at the major junior level – namely the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal game.
“It does in some parts,” said Cizikas, when asked if tonight’s final is bringing back memories of January’s 5-3 loss to the Russians. “You’re getting ready for the game, you’re standing in that hallway before and you’ve got tingles going through your whole body.”
After a historic collapse in said game, Cizikas has learned an invaluable lesson.“No lead is safe against any good team,” he said.
The Sea Dogs’ top gun Huberdeau is in the spotlight, too, as the final serves as a last-minute showcase before NHL scouts. “I think that’s important that you can show your game at the Memorial Cup. If we win, it’s going to be better – it shows you’re a winner,” Huberdeau said.
With four days off since their last round robin game, the Sea Dogs are expected to come out a bit sluggish. The hometown crowd and a thirst for reclamation after dropping the OHL Championship just 14 days ago should prove to be supplementary motivation to an eager Majors franchise.
“I’m not sure how they’re going to come out,” said Mississauga forward Devante Smith-Pelly. “They may come out a little bit rusty. We already have our game legs so if that’s how they’re going to start we’re going to have to take advantage of it.”
Cameron, the head coach of not only the Majors but Canada and Cizikas at the 2011 WJHC, is hoping that his big game record starts swaying in the other direction. “You don’t live in the past; you live in the present,” Cameron said. “But the past is helpful if you have learned from it.”
Puck drop for the 93rd edition of the Memorial Cup is at 7:00 p.m. EST.
Saint John Sea Dogs (est. 2005)
Regular season record – 58-7-1-2 (ranked No. 1 in CHL)
Playoff record – 16-3 (QMJHL Champions)
Memorial Cup banners – 0
Top players in tournament – RW Tomas Jurco (4A, 1A), D Nathan Beaulieu (1G, 2A), G Jacob DeSerres (2W, 2.18 GAA, .934 SV%)
Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (est. 1906–Toronto, 2007–Mississauga)
Regular season record – 53-13-0-2 (ranked No. 3 in CHL)
Playoff record – 15-5 (OHL Finalists)
Memorial Cup banners – 4 (1934, ‘45, ‘47, ’61)
Top players in tournament – LW Devante Smith-Pelly (3G, 3A), D Stuart Percy (4A, plus-1), JP Anderson (3W, 1.76 GAA, .939 SV%)
- Majors forward Justin Shugg could win three Memorial Cups in a row with a Mississauga victory
- The final features a battle of Prince Edward Island head coaches (Dave Cameron is from Kinkora and Gerard Gallant is from Summerside)
- Five possible first-round draft picks are suiting up tonight: Jonathan Huberdeau (No. 3 among N.A. skaters in final Central Scouting Services rankings), Nathan Beaulieu (No. 5), Zack Phillips (No. 15), Tomas Jurco (No. 20), and Stuart Percy (No. 53)
- Should Saint John win tonight, Nathan Beaulieu and his father Jacques would have matching Memorial Cup rings. Jacques, now Sarnia Sting’s head coach, won the title back in 2005 as an assistant for the London Knights.
John Matisz is a sports and news journalist in Canada’s Niagara Region who specializes in professional and amateur hockey. Matisz is currently the hockey editor of The Good Point and a news intern at the St. Catharines Standard. In addition, he has freelance written for a number of publications, including Surgite magazine and was previously the managing editor at Brock University’s student newspaper, the Brock Press. Not limited exclusively to print, Matisz hosted BrockTV’s “Playing the Field” during the 2010-11 academic year and is active online in the social media scene, providing daily sports-based tweets while in the press box and at home.