MONTREAL - Mikhail Sergachev was still on cloud nine a few days after his Windsor Spitfires beat the Erie Otters to capture the Memorial Cup on Sunday.
"It's unreal. I still can't believe we did it. We've gone through so many challenges, so many little things. We became a really close group and I think that helped us win the Cup," divulged Sergachev. "It's a nice ending, because the team had a lot of highs and lows this season, and I did, too."
Winning the big prize seemed almost impossible after the Spitfires were eliminated in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs more than 50 days before the tournament began. For Sergachev, his hockey career timeline will forever be split between a "before" and "after" the Memorial Cup.
"It will change something [in my life]. I feel that I'm a champion - a real champion - for the first time. It's the toughest trophy to win and we won it, so everyone will see me as a champion because that's what we are," said the 18-year-old Russian blue-liner. "These are the best moments of my life."
Those "best moments of his life" top a long list of major accomplishments Sergachev has achieved since celebrating his 18th birthday on June 25, 2016.
In fact, it all started the day before he turned the big 1-8, when the Canadiens selected him in the first round of the NHL Draft, ninth overall. Then, he started his season with the big club, playing three games with the Habs. In January, he won bronze at the World Junior Hockey Championship with Russia at the Bell Centre and them he capped his dream season by hoisting the Memorial Cup.
"If you told me that a year ago, I would've said, 'I don't think so... but I hope so,'" admitted Sergachev with a chuckle. "This year, between Team Russia, the Canadiens, and the Spitfires, I played for three different teams and four different coaches [including two in Montreal]. It's been a great experience and I learned a lot from it. Now, I'm going to prepare for the next chapter in my life."
The Russian rearguard shared those memorable moments with another Canadiens prospect, Jeremiah Addison, who was a dominant force in the tournament, scoring five goals and adding one assist. Addison was quick to credit his linemates for his offensive prowess.
"The way they played was amazing. [My stats] didn't surprise me. I just took it one shift at a time, one day at a time, and I knew that good things would happen," he explained. "I just had to give it my all on every shift."
And the feeling of lifting the famed trophy?
"It's incredible. I tell myself the same thing every time I re-watch it," Sergachev recounted. "Everyone got to raise it. And to see our general manager [Warren Rychel] so happy, it was nuts, it was awesome."
"It was great, it was a dream," added Addison. "You want to succeed and win the top title in Junior, to win the ultimate battle, win the Memorial Cup, so to do it and to raise that trophy, it's huge."
As a 20-year-old veteran, Addison also confirmed he didn't need to battle many pre-game butterflies heading into the final game of his Junior career.
"I wouldn't say it was stressful, because the way we saw it, we were playing our last game and we had nothing to lose," he shared. "We had to show up and give it our all for our teammates."
As for Sergachev, he found a way to channel his nervous energy and use it to his advantage.
"Obviously I was nervous, but you have to do your job and you can't be too anxious. I was, but it helped me. It became my confidence," he described. "We did our job, we neutralized them, we scored some big goals on the power play and for a lot of us, it was the best game we played."
The fact that their team may have been widely dismissed heading into the big game served as extra motivation, too.
"It was our arena in front of our fans and because we had been overlooked, we were seen as the weakest team," concluded Addison, the Habs' seventh-round pick in 2015. "We hoped to get off to a roaring start.
"We didn't want to just participate in the tournament," he added. "We wanted it to win it all."