MONTREAL - The Canadiens will see three of their prospects take part in the Memorial Cup tournament, which begins on Friday. Mikhail Sergachev and Jeremiah Addison are members of the host club, the Windsor Spitfires, while Simon Bourque and the Saint John Sea Dogs will be representing the QMJHL.
After being eliminated from the Ontario Hockey League playoffs in the first round and 44 long days of rest that followed, Sergachev and Addison can't really use the excuse that they're not ready for the big dance.
While the Erie Otters (Ontario champions), Seattle Thunderbirds (Western champions), and the Sea Dogs were battling for their ticket to the Memorial Cup, the Spitfires were spending their time either practicing or taking some time off.
The coaches split their preparation time into stages, scheduling a very physically challenging first two weeks of training.
"The coaches wanted to make sure we'd have a good program. We did some tough exercises during the first two weeks, like running up the mountain," recounted Sergachev, the Canadiens' first-round choice in 2016. "But the guys were on board and we liked it."
In addition to their more tactical preparations, the Spitfires played a few games against their own prospects and against players from the University of Windsor.
The Spitfires didn't find it discouraging to go so long without playing any "real" hockey. Quite the opposite; Addison and Sergachev are certain their team will be hungrier - and more rested - than ever.
"We had a lot of days off and our physical conditioning is at a very high level right now. We rested while the other teams finished playing. They're tired," explained Sergachev. "That's our advantage, and we want to be faster than them, among other things."
"All that time we spent together also helped solidify our team chemistry," added Addison, a seventh-round choice in 2015.
As well, the Spitfires will be able to count on their fans, who have already seen their team win two straight Canadian championships, in 2009 and 2010.
"Our city is made up of winners. Everyone wants to win. We have amazing fans. The pressure is on us and all we can do is play our best. The buzz around the city is huge," glowed the young Russian. "I really can't wait for the puck to drop."
According to Addison, even the little things are helping raise the level of excitement.
"We feel the fever in the city, with all the work being done around the arena; we feel a buzz," said Addison, who signed a three-year contract with the Canadiens in March. "We're even excited to get our parking passes!"
Addison and Sergachev will have to be leaders if they want to help their team do as the 2012 Shawinigan Cataractes, who won the big prize after also being out of action for forty days, did.
"My role will be to be a leader, to work hard and to not take any of my shifts lightly," attested Addison. "I have to give it my all every time, create scoring chances, block shots, play both sides of the ice."
"I'm going to play big minutes. I obviously have to produce offensively and I have to just play my role, whether it's by bringing some offense or playing well defensively," outlined Sergachev. "I have to be good in all situations and I have to leave it all on the ice."
The Russian defenseman's presence on the ice will be very important, according to Addison, who had no shortage of praise for his teammate.
"You can see very easily what he brings on the ice. He has offensive skills, but he also plays very intelligently and has a superb work ethic. He's a professional," said the 20-year-old veteran. "When he comes in, he's ready to play and it's good to see that kind of attitude on the team, especially for a young guy."
After having waited a month and a half, the Spitfires will finally see action right at the start of the tournament, when they host the Sea Dogs in the first game on Friday at 7:00 p.m.
"The confidence level on our team is high, but it'll be a battle," Addison admitted. "There will be lots of highs and lows during this tournament. We have to focus on one shift at a time."
Although Sergachev hasn't spent much time with Bourque since the two joined the Canadiens organization, Addison certainly has, and considers the Quebec-born defenseman a good friend.
"We played together in St. John's and we're close," Addison described. "We've spent a lot of time together in Montreal. We talked a bit after he got here, and it's always exciting to play against a friend."
Does that mean there will be some sort of bet between the two Habs prospects?
"Not yet, but we'll make one, that's for sure!" Addison exclaimed, just a few short days before the festivities get underway.