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Simon Despres #47 of the Saint John Sea Dogs tries to elude the stick check of Chris DeSousa #28 of the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors in the opening game of the 2011 Mastercard Memorial Cup at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Canada. The Sea Dogs defeated the Majors 4-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Simon Despres #47 of the Saint John Sea Dogs tries to elude the stick check of Chris DeSousa #28 of the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors in the opening game of the 2011 Mastercard Memorial Cup at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Canada. The Sea Dogs defeated the Majors 4-3. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Sean Gordon

Young pups lead Sea Dogs' Memorial Cup charge Add to ...

It's the kind of grey-hair moment that makes hockey coaches reach for the blood pressure pills.

In the first overtime of Game 4 in their Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship series with the Gatineau Olympiques, the Saint John Sea Dogs' Stephen MacAulay took a boarding penalty.

A few seconds later, the visitors were staring edgily down the barrel at 1:23 worth of five-on-three as teammate Pierre Durepos went off for a high stick.

Then, something interesting unfolded: the powerhouse Sea Dogs, led by a contingent of draft-eligible stars, took charge.

As the Olympiques swarmed, 18-year-old Saint John defenceman Nathan Beaulieu started beaver-tapping his stick on the ice to get the attention of defensive partner Simon Després, gesturing madly to where he should be on the ice.

Després, a Pittsburgh Penguins first-rounder, national junior team member and associate captain, hurriedly lumbered to his left, and a turnover shortly ensued.

The lone Saint John forward buzzing around on the sequence was 17-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau, and a couple of clearing passes and a shift change or two later, the trio was again on the ice as the penalties expired - Gatineau managed only two shots.

"I really only got scared once," Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant would later say of the sequence that turned the game. "It's a character thing, the guys just didn't want to lose."

Though Saint John later dispatched the surprisingly resilient Olympiques in six games to win the President's Cup and advance to the MasterCard Memorial Cup, where the Sea Dogs are 1-0 after play began on Friday night, its pivotal double-overtime triumph in Game 4 provided an illustration of how the Sea Dogs juggernaut was built.

That Gallant would send a pair of kids over the boards to kill a five-on-three with his stud defenceman, Després, spoke volumes.

Indeed, all the goals in Saint John's 4-3 triumph were scored by draft-eligible players (Huberdeau, Zack Phillips, Beaulieu and Ryan Tesink).

And 19-year-old Russian winger Stanislav Galiev, a Washington Capitals draft in 2010, assisted on all four.

Huberdeau, Phillips, Durepos and forwards Scott Oke and Aidan Kelly each arrived via the QMJHL draft table in 2009 (Phillips in a trade with Lewiston, who had picked him the previous year); Galiev and silky Slovak winger Tomas Jurco were picked up in that year's import draft.

Beaulieu was snapped up in the fourth round of 2008 QMJHL draft, Tesink was picked in the first round of the 2010 junior draft.

Almost exactly two years after that 2009 draft, the Sea Dogs lost posted a 74-10-3 record (they went 16-3 in the playoffs), placed six players in the top 50 draft prospects according to the NHL Central Scouting service - and nine draft-ranked prospects overall.

Huberdeau, a lanky sniper who became just the fourth 17-year-old to win the Guy Lafleur trophy for playoff MVP (the others: Dale Hawerchuk, Pat Lafontaine and Sidney Crosby), will assuredly be a lottery pick in the coming draft.

The Florida Panthers own the third selection, and general-manager Dale Tallon was at the Robert Guertin Arena for Game 4 - along with a plethora of scouts from the Montreal Canadiens' Trevor Timmins to Pittsburgh's André Savard.

"There's a ton of talent here, there's nine players on the list and everyone deserves to be there for sure. It's a nice situation because we all get along, we have a lot of fun together, it's a good mix," said Huberdeau, who grew up in St. Jérôme, Que., a Montreal bedroom community in the lower Laurentians.

Unlike many other top prospects, Huberdeau hasn't been spending his summers in specialized hockey schools or following pro-style fitness and dietary plans, and explains his explosion this past season - he is now considered a better prospect than Drummondville's Sean Couturier, who was mooted as a possible first-overall pick last fall - by a focus on training.

It also hints at a sky-high ceiling once he packs more muscle on to his admittedly lean 6-foot-1 frame.

"I think I've just worked at getting better every day, I wanted to be in better shape for camp last year, and things have worked out," he said.

Beaulieu, the son of former Sea Dogs coach and general manager Jacques Beaulieu, who was deposed in 2009, is ranked fifth and is precisely the sort of blueline general that NHL scouts drool over.

And the 15th-rated Phillips, who was injured in the double-overtime game four victory over Gatineau, is a crafty playmaker with superb puck-handling abilities and a surprising shot.

The Sea Dogs' success also owes a great deal to the unusual arrangement in the front office, where Mike Kelly, the director of hockey operations, also works as one of Gallant's assistants (his official title is associate coach).

They are junior hockey's answer to Hollywood's Coen brothers - each is involved in directing the picture and they resort to titles of convenience.

"I'm not sure it would work for everybody, but it works real well for us," smiled Kelly, a former assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks who has previously piloted benches at the University of New Brunswick and in the WHL and OHL.

Kelly and Gallant both hail from PEI and became acquainted in the summer of 2008, when both were at loose ends after leaving their respective NHL jobs (Gallant was an assistant with the New York Islanders).

"We used to have breakfast to talk hockey and just compare notes, what else are you going to do," Kelly laughed.

When the Sea Dogs vacancy came up in the spring of 2009 after a surprising early playoff exit - the team, which is controlled by the McCain food dynasty, had joined the league as an expansion franchise in 2005 and by then was on the upswing - both were interested.

"It was a case of 'you applying?', 'yeah, I'm thinking about it'. 'You?', 'yeah, I'm thinking about it too'," Kelly recalled. "I'm glad it worked out, and we inherited a very good situation."

That's one way of putting it: Gallant is the first coach in Q history to win 50 games in each of his first two seasons.

Just as influential as Gallant and Kelly was the input of head scout Normand Gosselin, the architect of the 2009 draft and now in the employ of the Phoenix Coyotes.

"This team is a product of three outstanding drafts ... his work really gave us a year to learn the league," Kelly said.

There would later be grumbling from other QMJHL cities that the Sea Dogs engaged in nefarious dealings at the draft - their top four picks, including Durepos and Huberdeau, had told other teams they were going to U.S. prep school or the NCAA - allegations the team has always vigorously denied.

And if there was a suggestion that a player like Huberdeau, for instance, ultimately came to the Sea Dogs because he foresaw a stacked lineup, it's best to put it to rest.

"I really had no idea, I didn't know the team," Huberdeau laughed. "I wasn't supposed to play much my first year ... I was thinking of going to prep school, but they drafted me and offered a good education program."

As it turned out, Huberdeau scored 15 goals as a 16-year-old and took a serious run at the QMJHL scoring championship this past season, finishing third behind a pair of 20-year-olds with 43 goals and 105 points.

"I've been lucky, I got here last year and we were winning, and we've won a lot this year as well, it's a great atmosphere to learn and develop under - I've never played on a team that's lost in this league," he said.

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