MONTREAL - It wasn't enough for the Shawinigan Cataractes that they will gain automatic entry into the Memorial Cup tournament as the host team.
The Cataractes made some trades and built a top-level team in a bid to win major junior hockey's top prize.
But first they hope to make some noise in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, which begin Thursday when the 14th-seeded Gatineau Olympiques, league finalists in 2011, visit the No. 3 Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and the No. 12 Drummondville Voltigeurs play at the No. 5 Quebec Remparts.
There are seven games Friday, including the No. 2 Cataractes playing host to the No. 15 Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the defending Memorial Cup champion and top-seeded Sea Dogs receiving the No. 16 Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
The Cataractes added some major pieces this season, including defenceman Brandon Gormley and forward Michael Bournival, but it was not enough as they finished second overall in the 17-team league as the Sea Dogs took top spot for a third straight year.
Other series have the No. 4 Victoriaville Tigres against No. 13 Baie-Comeau Drakkar, No. 6 Halifax Mooseheads against No. 11 Moncton Wildcats, No. 7 Rimouski Oceanic facing No. 10 Val d'Or Foreurs, and No. 8 Chicoutimi Sagueneens against No. 9 Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
It will be a first taste of playoff action for the Remparts' Mikhail Grigorenko, who was nominated for five league awards including top rookie and most valuable player, as well Mooseheads phenom Nathan MacKinnon, who is expected to go high in the 2013 NHL draft.
The Sea Dogs started the season slowly with several players at NHL camps but recovered to take first place overall with a record of 50-15-3 to finish six points ahead of second-place Shawinigan at 45-16-7.