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Saint John Sea Dogs Eric Gelinas (L) and Michael Kirkpatrick (R) celebrate a goal by Nathan Beaulieu (C) during the third period of their round-robin Memorial Cup ice hockey game against the Mississauga St.Michael's Majors in Mississauga May 20, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (Mike Cassese/Reuters)
Saint John Sea Dogs Eric Gelinas (L) and Michael Kirkpatrick (R) celebrate a goal by Nathan Beaulieu (C) during the third period of their round-robin Memorial Cup ice hockey game against the Mississauga St.Michael's Majors in Mississauga May 20, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (Mike Cassese/Reuters)

Sea Dogs edge Majors in Memorial Cup opener Add to ...

Even without a dog in the fight, there's a whole lot of Prince Edward Island at this year's MasterCard Memorial Cup.







And chances are likely slightly better than 50-50 that the Island will have a victory parade of its own in a little more than a week's time.







Two of the hopefuls in Gerard Gallant and Mike Kelly, head coach and associate coach of the Saint John Sea Dogs, took an early lead in the Battle of PEI on Friday, guiding the favourites to a 4-3 opening night win over the host Mississauga St. Michael's Majors.

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On the losing end, meanwhile, was fellow Islander and long-time friend in Majors coach Dave Cameron, who is hoping for better luck in this tournament after losing both world junior gold and the OHL championship already this year.







"I gotta get a win," he said. "I'm going broke paying for these counselling sessions."







All three Islanders are quite a story on their own, steadily rising from a tiny province that has produced just 11 players with 100-plus NHL games played -- including both Gallant and Cameron -- through the coaching ranks to the top of the junior circuit.







Cameron and Kelly -- who grew up together in the potato farming town of Kinkora (population 300) -- have both done multiple turns with the world junior team.







Gallant, after a long NHL career, had a short stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets and considers himself the more worldly one of the group.







"Summerside's the big city," Gallant said of his hometown of 15,000, chuckling. "There's about 135,000 [on the Island]they say. But there's a lot involved in hockey. It's something they're very proud of down there."







So while teams generally enter this particular tournament with little knowledge of their opponents, Gallant, Kelly and Cameron are intimately familiar -- on the ice and off.







"I know their coach better than I know their team," Kelly said. "When you know a coach, especially when you go through world juniors together, their teams are probably going to all play the same way.







"It'll be a hard-working, very responsible, structured team. Dave's always coached that way."







For whatever reason, that seemed to help the Sea Dogs more than the Majors on Friday.







After all, it was partly Saint John's speed and panache that won out in the battle between old friends and different styles, with slick Slovak forward Tomas Jurco opening the scoring two minutes in on a dazzling breakaway to set the tone early.







Mississauga then stormed back with two quick goals -- both of the blue-collar, Cameron variety -- but had the lead for all of three minutes before the Sea Dogs tied things up on a tip by star forward Jonathan Huberdeau.







Centre Michael Kirkpatrick and defenceman Nathan Beaulieu then potted go-ahead goals in the second and third for a lead they wouldn't give up as a valiant Majors rally was lost amid a rash of trips to the penalty box.







Even with the hosts losing out, it was a great start to the tournament, one that could be a preview of what's to come.







In defeat, Mississauga remains very much alive, as the format means one narrow loss will hardly determine the outcome. The Sea Dogs and Majors remain two of the favourites, and there's a decent chance the three Islanders will meet again next week -- only with a lot more on the line.







Next time, they could be playing for that parade, one that stretches all over the Island.







So far, it's a battle they -- and everyone back home -- are loving every minute of.







"Three guys from PEI," Gallant said. "We enjoy it. It's a lot of fun. We're all very good friends. Hopefully we'll have the chance to do it but Dave wants the same thing."



 

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