For the first time in it's long and illustrious history the Memorial Cup is headed to the Maritimes. The hardest trophy to win in North American sports was claimed by the Saint John Sea Dogs on Saturday night after a thrilling 3-1 win over Mississauga. 2011 eligible Jonathan Huberdeau used the big stage to full effect as he won the tournament MVP award for his play the past week.
Winning the national title was the perfect ending for the Sea Dogs who were ranked as the top major junior club in the CHL for the final 15 weeks of the season.
It's become known as the toughest championship to win because of the marathon the winner has had to successfully endure. Four round in your own league and then a grueling 10 days against two teams who managed the same feat in their own league. Throw in a host team that has been planning for the event for 12 months and you realize winning the Memorial Cup is a massive accomplishment.
Saint John was led off the ice by former NHL veteran Gerard Gallant who, with this win, will now be surrounded by speculation and questions about a possible return to the QMJHL next year. On the ice it was the skill and talent that pushed Saint John to the title.
Full marks to Huberdeau for his play. He was not dominant every minute of the way but even in a below average performance against Owen Sound he found a way to come through in the clutch, scoring the overtime winner. The consensus top-5 prospect for the draft ended the tournament with 3 goals and 6 points and left everyone wondering if his name might be called first in Minnesota.
Zack Phillips, playing with an injured shoulder left over from the QMJHL finals, got better as the event went on and scored the Cup winning goal and set up the insurance marker in Saturday's final. He finished one shy of Huberdeau with 5 points.
The imports were stellar at times for Saint John as both Tomas Jurco and Stanislav Galiev (WSH) showed unbelievable skill as they smashed the stereotype of Europeans who fade in the playoffs.
No question in my mind that the single biggest reason that Saint John won Saturday's game against Mississauga was the stellar play of netminder Jacob DeSerres. Sportsnet commentator Sam Cosentino was bang on with his comment during the game when he wondered aloud "I don't know if you can give out the MVP to a right leg but if you could it would have to go to DeSerres right pad."
Twice the Calgary native stoned Mississauga's Chris DeSousa in close on what nine times out of ten would have resulted in a goal. St. Mike's leading scorer in the tournament was Devante Smith-Pelley (ANH) and he too was stopped cold by the right pad of DeSerres in the dieing minutes of the third period.
It was quite the redemption for DeSerres who played for the Brandon Wheat Kings as they hosted the 2011 tournament. Brandon lost 9-1 in the final to Windsor, DeSerres in net for every goal. That loss has been motivation for him all season long, especially after being waived through the WHL and his eventual relocation to Saint John.
This was the first win for the QMJHL since Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts pulled off the feat in the all-QMJHL final of 2006 in Moncton. In fact, this was the first appearance by a QMJHL team in the championship game since that year so it's been a long time coming. Coincidentally, this was also the first year since 2006 that the WHL was not represented in the title game.
The Sea Dogs finished the season with a record of 58-7-1-2 in 68 games. Yes... that's just 10 losses all year and three of those came after regulation time. This is truly a deserving team and a lot of credit has to be given to the head coach as well as to Director of Hockey Operations, Mike Kelly.
By all accounts the organizing committee and the number of volunteers deserve recognition for a well run tournament as well. The 2012 Mastercard Memorial Cup will be hosted by the Shawinigan Cataractes.
(Photos: Aaron Bell / CHL Images)