The Shawinigan Cataractes are on a roll that has taken them to the final of the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Not missing a step despite playing their third game in as many nights, the Cataractes broke a tie in the third period and went on to a 7-4 victory on Friday night that ousted the defending champion Saint John Sea Dogs from the tournament.
Shawinigan (3-2) will face the London Knights (2-1), a team they beat 6-2 in round robin play, in the final on Sunday night before their boisterous home fans at the Bionest Centre. The Knights had a bye to the final for finishing first in the round robin and haven’t played since Tuesday.
“They’re a great team,” Shawinigan defenceman Brandon Gormley said of the Ontario Hockey League champions. “We had a great game against them but we know they’ll give us their best game.”
On consecutive nights, the Cataractes lost 4-1 to Saint John in their last round robin game, then blitzed the Western Hockey League champion Edmonton Oil Kings 6-1 in the tiebreaker game on Thursday night before toppling the talented Sea Dogs.
Shawinigan entered the tournament off a 31-day break after being ousted in the second round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs.
“It’s not easy playing three games in three nights at this level, but the guys kept their feet moving,” said Gormley, who had a goal and two assists. “We worked unbelievably hard in that month off.
“It almost wasn’t fun coming to the rink. It was tough, but we knew we were investing our time and energy into having legs for the third period of a game like this.”
Now they are gunning to be only the third team to reach the final after playing in a tiebreaker game, after the 2002 Victoriaville Tigres and the 2009 Windsor Spitfires. The only tiebreaker team to end up winning it all was the Spitfires led at the time by Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique.
They’ve also ensured there will be a new Memorial Cup champion. The Sea Dogs, a powerhouse team that has won more than 200 games over the last three seasons, were looking to repeat after winning the Cup last year in Mississauga, Ont.
“Most of us have been here for three years, and it’s not a good feeling knowing most of us will be leaving,” said forward Zach Phillips.
“They’re pretty sad,” coach Gerard Gallant said of his team. “But we’ve had three unbelievable seasons. We didn’t have a good game, but I’m proud of them.”
The Cataractes simply outhustled the Sea Dogs, almost completely shut down their top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Charlie Coyle and Danick Gauthier, and outshot them 37-28.
Michael Bournival, Loik Poudrier, Pierre-Olivier Morin, Yannick Veilleux and Michael Chaput, with two, also scored for Shawinigan, which has 13 goals in its last two games.
Tomas Jurco, with two, Phillips and Huberdeau scored for Saint John.
Shawinigan took a 4-3 lead into the third period, but the Sea Dogs tied it at 9:16 when Phillips won a faceoff back to Jurco for a snap shot under the bar.
It didn’t faze the home side.
“I thought for about 10 seconds whether I should say something,” said coach Eric Veilleux (no relation to Yannick), before deciding his team still had the legs and the desire to compete.
The deafening chants of “Go Cats Go” from the standing room only crowd of 4,763 erupted when Yannick Veilleux tipped a Morgan Ellis point shot just over the goal-line from the side of the crease at 13:13 to give the home side back the lead.
“I don’t remember ever seeing this ambience in the arena,” the coach said. “Our team fed off that.”
The Sea Dogs pressed hard in the final minutes, but Chaput jumped on a loose puck and skated in alone to score into an empty net with 30 seconds left to play. Morin added another with goalie Mathieu Corbeil back in the net with 10 seconds left.
By that time, there was mist rising from the ice from the sweltering heat in the building.
“We’re disappointed but we can’t do anything now,” said Huberdeau. “We should have been more ready.”
The Sea Dogs started the game as expected when Phillips cruised into the zone and made it to the left circle untouched before he beat Gabriel Girard with a quick wrist shot 4:29 into the game.
But the Cataractes cranked up the pressure and Bournival jammed in a goal that stood up to video review at 6:51. Gormley scored a disputed goal from the point at 9:24 after officials failed to spot a high-stick that sent Stanislav Galiev to the Saint John bench with a cut on his face.
Jurco tied it at 2-2 when he tipped in a Kevin Gagne point shot on a power play at 12:38.
The Cataractes played with manic desperation in the second, outshooting Saint John 20-8. They took a two-goal lead as Max LeSieur’s pass went in off Poudrier’s skate at 9:14 and Chaput scored on a slick feed from Anton Zlobin on a power play at 10:39.
Then captain Huberdeau found a novel way to get the Sea Dogs back in the game. He fired a shot from just past his own blue-line that took a high, sideways hop in front of a sliding Girard and went in the net at 16:39.
Notes: London coach Mark Hunter watched the game from a box at the top of the stands. The Knights were to watch it on TV at their hotel. . . . Former Cataractes introduced before the game were tough guys Enrico Ciccone and Dave Morrisette and scorer Martin Gelinas.