The Saint John Sea Dogs set the tone early and now they’re a step closer to their goal of repeating as Mastercard Memorial Cup champions.
Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Tesink scored in the first period as the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions succeeded in quieting a raucous, sellout crowd of 4,687 at the Bionest Centre and skate to a 4-1 victory over the host Shawinigan Cataractes on Wednesday night.
The victory put Saint John (2-1) into the semifinals on Friday night, while Shawinigan (1-2) must now beat the Western Hockey League champion Edmonton Oil Kings (1-2) in a tiebreaker game Thursday night to decide the second semifinalist.
The London Knights (2-1) were awarded first place and a bye into Sunday’s final by virtue of having beaten Saint John in their head-to-head meeting this week.
While Huberdeau was the scoring star with two goals and an assist, it was Tesink who wore the Dirty Dog Award, a gold coloured helmet, that the team gives to the player considered the hardest worker and key contributor of the game.
”We really wanted to set the tone and beat this team,” said Tesink, an energetic St. Louis Blues prospect who has three goals in three games, one fewer than tournament leader Huberdeau. ”Everyone played well.
”We struggled in the first game here and early in the second game, but ever since we’ve taken off and elevated our game.”
The Sea Dogs’s ability to use their skill to push up the pace was evident as they grabbed the lead and then nursed the lead against a Cataractes group that worked hard but wasted a handful of good scoring chances.
A victory would have given the Cataractes, whose only win was against London, first place in the four-team tournament.
But now Shawinigan and Edmonton both face the prospect of having to win a tiebreaker, a semifinal and the final over a four-day stretch in order to win the championship.
”We wanted to take the short road, but now we have to take the long road,” said Cataractes captain Michael Bournival.
Shawinigan was knocked out the QMJHL playoffs in the second round on April 17 and had a 31-day layoff before they opened the Memorial Cup with a 4-3 loss to Edmonton last Friday.
They rebounded with six goals against the tight-checking Knights, but then fell to Saint John.
Defenceman Morgan Ellis said the team is still trying to reach cruising speed after the break.
”Day by day, you try to be consistent,” he said. ”We have to find our A game and if we do, we’ll be successful.”
Huberdeau set up a goal from Stanislav Galiev and added an empty net score with 1:32 left to play.
Anton Zlobin scored for Shawinigan.
The Sea Dogs came out hitting and grabbed the lead as Charlie Coyle made a heads-up play to pick off a pass and feed Huberdeau in front to put a sweet deke on goaltender Gabriel Girard at 4:19.
Saint John was on a two-man advantage when Huberdeau fed Galiev in the slot to make it 2-0 at 19:29.
Tesink was at the net to score 16:05 into the second after Girard mishandled Nathan Beaulieu’s point shot, but the crowd erupted when Zlobin jammed the puck in from the side of the net on a power play with 1:05 left in the period.
Shawinigan coach Eric Veilleux said he has not decided whether to stick with Girard or go back to goaltender Alex Dubeau, the loser in the tournament opener to Edmonton.
No team has won on consecutive nights yet in the tournament, a situation some put down to the poor ice conditions, although it appears to be improving.
Veilleux said his team had a month off to work on conditioning. Between that the home crowd, his team should be revitalized to face Edmonton.
”I have no doubt in my mind that we will be back and our guys will be ready,” he said.
An incident late in the first period saw Shawinigan’s tough forward Vincent Arceneau blast a slapshot straight at Saint John centre Stephen MacAuley, which brought a hit from Maxime Villemaire and a retaliatory hit from the Cataractes’ Morgan Ellis. At the end, Arceneau, who had been hit in a foot earlier, limped off and needed help to get to the dressing room. He returned in the second period.
Notes: The Sea Dogs took Devon Oliver-Dares and Oliver Cooper out of the lineup and put in Jason Cameron and Grant West. . . The Cataractes and Sea Dogs split their QMJHL season series 2-2, each winning once away. . . Shawinigan’s favourite son, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, got a big hand when introduced in pre-game ceremonies, but an even bigger cheer went up for former Cataracte and current Paralympic athlete Dean Bergeron.