For building confidence, there could be little better for the Shawinigan Cataractes than a one-sided win over the Western Hockey League champion Edmonton Oil Kings.
The host Cataractes got goals from six different players and then coasted to a 6-1 victory over the Oil Kings in the tiebreaker game Thursday night at the Mastercard Memorial Cup.
That set up an even bigger challenge — playing a third game in three nights against the defending champion Saint John Sea Dogs in the semifinal on Friday night.
”It’s not a big deal,” said defenceman Morgan Ellis, who had a goal and an assist. ”It’s hockey and we have one goal and that’s to win the Cup.“
The winner advances to the final Sunday night against the Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights (2-1).
Yannick Veilleux, Anton Zlobin, Kirill Kabanov, Michael Bournival and Pierre-Olivier Morin also scored, while Brandon Gormley and Michael Chaput each had two assists as the Cataractes (2-2) took the lead and didn’t let up.
It was 6-0 before Henrik Samuelsson finally replied for the Oil Kings (1-3), a gifted young team that never found its stride after beating Shawinigan 4-3 in the tournament’s opening game.
”Our guys have been outstanding all year,” said Edmonton coach Derek Laxdal. ”If you’d have seen us in the WHL playoffs you would have been surprised.
”But to win, your best players have to be your best players. They have been all year, but unfortunately we didn’t have that here.”
He said that with 20 of his 25 players eligible to return next season, the goal will be to get to the 2013 Memorial Cup in Saskatoon and win it.
The Cataractes, who finished second to Saint John in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League regular season, were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs by Chicoutimi and went without a real game for 31 days before the tournament.
Coach Eric Veilleux turned a negative into a positive by using that time to work his players hard on and off the ice, so they would be healthy and in top shape.
That conditioning will be tested against the Sea Dogs, a supremely confident team that is deep in offensive talent.
”This is one of the reasons we had a mini training camp: to be able to overcome adversity and fatigue,” Veilleux said. ”It was really demanding. This is the best shape they’ve ever been in, so they should have confidence in themselves.”
”We worked very hard because we knew this sort of thing can happen,” added Chaput. ”Everyone has lots of energy.”
Shawinigan was coming off a 4-1 loss on Wednesday night to Saint John.
Nerves were evident for both teams in the opening minutes until Veilleux opened the scoring at 7:30, tipping in a Gormley point shot after some good work from Kabanov.
It was the first time in four games Shawinigan scored first and it noticeably raised the noise level from the crowd of 4,242 at the Bionest Centre.
The Cataractes went up 2-0 at 17:01 as Ellis was in the left circle to one-time a Gormley pass in during a power play.
”To get the first goal makes a huge difference,” Ellis said. ”You have momentum right away.”
The Cataractes scored on their first shot of the middle period as Zlobin one-timed a back pass from Chaput past a decidedly shaky Laurent Brossoit at 1:54.
Proof that everything was going Shawinigan’s way came when Kabanov’s shot went off Brossoit, rebounded off the end glass, hit the goaltender again and rolled into the net at 2:59.
Bournival added a power play goal at 8:11 and it went from bad to worse for Edmonton when Morin picked off a pass and scored on a short-handed breakaway for a 6-0 lead at 13:59.
Edmonton got one with Shawinigan on a line change as Stephane Legault sent Samuelsson in on a breakaway to beat Gabriel Girard.
The Samuelsson line, which also has Curtis Lazar, was the only one that was consistently threatening for Edmonton all week.
It may have been fatigue. The Oil Kings arrived in Shawinigan straight from beating Portland in seven games in the WHL final. They never seemed to find their legs in Energy City, Shawinigan’s nickname because of its hydro power plant.
”It’s exciting when we play Oil Kings hockey, the type of hockey we played in Game 7 of the WHL finals and for most of the season,” said defenceman Keegan Lowe. ”I’m disappointed we couldn’t show people what we’re really made of. But no excuses now.”
The last WHL club to be the tournament’s first casualty was Kelowna in 2005.
The shots were 31-30 in Shawinigan’s favour.
Notes: Shawinigan took Peter Sakaris and Felix-Antoine Bergeron out and put Mitchell Maynard and Frederik Gaudreau into the lineup. Bergeron got a cross-check in the neck Wednesday against Saint John. . . QMJHL teams are now 3-3 all time in tiebreakers, while the WHL is 4-3.