It is, for Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors and for star forward Devante Smith-Pelley, the year of the mulligan.
The Majors open the MasterCard Memorial Cup Friday with a date against the top-ranked team in the country, the St. John Sea Dogs. Game time is 7 p.m.
The host team is not the OHL champions. That title belongs to the Owen Sound Attack who beat the Majors in overtime to cap a wild seven-game series.
And so the Majors are still in the running for the Canadian Hockey title despite falling short in their own league playoff. It’s nothing something they like to dwell on.
“Our focus right now is Memorial Cup and getting off to a good start,” said Majors captain Casey Cizikas.
For Smith-Pelly, a 2010 second-round choice of the Anaheim Ducks, there is no back door into the tournament or into a pro career. Instead, there is just a slightly longer than optimum lead-up.
Smith-Pelly has scored 15 goals in 20 playoff games. Clearly, he is doing his bit.
“It’s a pretty unique situation, the fact we ended up not winning our league, but can still win the national title,” he said. “We are going to go in and seize the opportunity redeem ourselves and grab the moment.”
Smith-Pelly has dramatically boosted his stock in the Ducks organization but like his team, he has a mulligan to fall back on. Should he fail to stick with the Ducks next season, he is welcome back in Mississauga.
“I am going to battle for a spot but if it doesn’t work out, I still have a year of junior eligibility,” Smith-Pelly said. “Ninety-five per cent of the players end up coming back so I have that to fall back on. Even if it doesn’t work out at camp, it’s a disappointment but not the end of the world.”
The Majors will have plenty on their plate with the Sea Dogs. The club is led by Jonathan Huberdeau, a dynamic centreman who is rated third overall by Central Scouting. Huberdeau scored 16 goals in 19 playoff games as the Sea Dogs advanced. Talented Russian Stanislav Galiev trailed only Huberdeau with 27 points in 19 games. Galiev is the property of the Washington Capitals. Forward Zack Phillips, rated 15th in the final Central Scouting Rankings banked 27 points in 19 games.
Lying in the weeds at the tournament is the Kootenay Ice, a team little known outside of the environs of the Western League and a team that finished with the fourth best record in the West.
The Ice, based in Cranbrook, British Columbia had the fourth best record in the West and didn’t even make the CHL top 10.
But the Ice have been a quiet powerhouse in the west. The club has posted a dozen straight winning seasons and they ousted Portland, Medicine Hat, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw to earn their ticket. Along the way, they lost only three times.
No surprise then that the smart money stays away from handicapping a tournament in which only Mississauga and Owen Sound have played each other.
“You can’t compare teams who haven’t played each other,” said Ice coach Kris Knoblauch. “Even in our series against Portland, we really couldn’t compare ourselves because we had played them once back in December. We were completely different from the teams we were.”
Still, there is confidence here
“This is one of the best hockey teams I will play on,” said Ice goalie Nathan Lieuwen, another draft eligible player. There are so many guys stepping up and playing really good hockey right now. “