MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- As the final seconds ticked down in the MasterCard Memorial Cup final Sunday, Jacob DeSerres scooped up the puck, and instead of celebrating the Saint John Sea Dogs' 3-1 triumph against the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors, the goalie simply held it, almost in a state of shock.
Even as his teammates charged off the bench to him, the championship feeling, something the 21-year-old believed he would never experience, hadn't sunk in yet.
A year ago, DeSerres allowed every goal in the Brandon Wheat Kings' 9-1 loss to the Windsor Spitfires in the Memorial Cup final. In October, the Wheat Kings waived DeSerres, an overage player, and the Sea Dogs inked him.
On Sunday, DeSerres dazzled, stopping 34 shots as the Sea Dogs earned the first championship in their 6-year history. Now he calls the whirlwind year a "fairy tale." Forgive him if he wasn't quite ready to celebrate.
"I don't know what I was thinking," a smiling DeSerres said on the Hershey Centre ice afterward. "I still hadn't heard the buzzer. I was still playing it out. I was almost so excited and so happy you don't show it. It's just all inside."
The Sea Dogs, a team stacked with young talent, can often outgun teams at will. But on Sunday, they desperately needed DeSerres to preserve some tight leads.
"I'm just so happy for him," Sea Dogs center Mike Kirkpatrick said. "It's just so amazing. What a turnaround season for him. For him to come back, you could just tell how focused he was."
Much of the talk prior to the game centered around the Sea Dogs' long layoff. They clinched a final berth Monday in just their second game, a 3-2 overtime win against Owen Sound, and then rested several regulars Wednesday in a meaningless 5-4 overtime loss to Kootenay.
The Majors, meanwhile, won their last three games, including a 3-1 triumph Friday over Kootenay that secured their final appearance.
But the Sea Dogs' quickly dispelled any thought four days off could derail their momentum, opening up an early 2-0 lead.
Defenseman Simon Després, the 30th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2010 Entry Draft, tallied shorthanded just 2:24 into the game.
Then, just a few minutes later, DeSerres stoned left wing Chris DeSousa flat on his stomach with his right pad.
"I just kicked my pad out and tried to stop it," DeSerres said. "It just happens in the heat of the moment, and you just do it by feeling."
Sea Dogs defenseman Nathan Beaulieu added: "That was huge for us, a turning point, for sure. He's just been incredible."
Slick center Zack Phillips tallied at 13:17.
"That was the key," Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant said about the start. "That was the question mark asked all week, and I didn't know how it was going to be answered. But I thought we played outstanding the first 10 minutes of the first period."
Four early penalties hurt the Majors, and they spent much of the period fending off the Sea Dogs' ferocious offensive attack.
The Majors, however, snapped out of their funk in the second period, outshooting the Sea Dogs 15-6. At 14:14, Riley Brace made it 2-1.
DeSerres carried his play into the third, stopping 11 shots. As the Sea Dogs clung to the one-goal lead with about five minutes left, DeSerres stymied DeSousa from point-blank range again.
Then, with 3:43 left, Jonathan Huberdeau, Central Scouting's No. 3 prospect and the tournament MVP, cemented the game. The left wing took Phillips' pass inside the left circle, zoomed in and undressed Majors goalie J.P. Anderson with a nifty backhander.
Without DeSerres, the game could've been headed to overtime.
"Outstanding," Gallant said of DeSerres' play. "He paid a price last year when he faced that good Windsor team, but he learned a lot from that. I thought he was calm tonight, a little too calm at times."
Following that loss, DeSerres rededicated himself to the game. He left his Calgary home and spent the summer training in Vancouver.
While some have tattooed last year's Memorial Cup on DeSerres' forehead, he used the game as motivation.
"I'm totally different person than I was last year and the year," DeSerres said. "I grew so much mentally and technically I worked, and I think that the one thing. I believed in my ability more. I just kind of grew up a lot in the last year. I just approached everything like it was a hockey game. I tried to play every game fearlessly."
Now DeSerres, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers but not signed, hopes he gets a professional opportunity. Right now, he's thankful the Sea Dogs took a chance on him.
"Everyone only remembers that one game," DeSerres said. "They don't remember the rest of the season or the playoffs or other games. I knew I was a good goalie. I figured it would be stupid if no one would give me a shot after what I had done in my four years."