MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Late at night, Jacob DeSerres has often put himself to sleep with thoughts of hoisting the Memorial Cup in the midst of bedlam and wild celebration.
With one more win, that dream will become a reality.
DeSerres and the Saint John Sea Dogs can cap a dominant season in style Sunday night by downing the home-town Mississauga St. Michael's Majors in the Memorial Cup final. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions came into the tournament as the CHL's top-ranked squad and qualified for the title game by winning their first two games.
DeSerres came close to realizing that dream last year, helping the host Brandon Wheat Kings reach the Memorial Cup finale before losing to the Windsor Spitfires.
And while there's still one more contest to be played, the overage goaltender can't help but imagine what it would be like to cap his junior hockey career by capturing the CHL's biggest prize.
"I dream about it all the time," he said Saturday following Saint John's practice at the Hershey Centre. "There are so many things that trigger it and make you think about it and that's OK because it makes you think about what it would feel like.
"You kind of think about what it felt like to win the President's Cup (given annually to the QMJHL champion) and now times that by 10.''
However, also fresh in DeSerres' mind is the bitter disappointment and hurt he saw on the faces of the Kootenay Ice players after their 3-1 semifinal loss to Mississauga on Friday night.
"Seeing the looks on their faces was heart-breaking," he said. "You don't want that to be you.
"You want to be the one team that wins its last game."
After losing last year's QMJHL title to arch-rival Moncton, the Sea Dogs posted a league-record 58 regular-season wins before beating Gatineau in six games to capture the President's Trophy. And Saint John was a stellar 10-0 away on the road in the playoffs.
Saint John opened the Memorial Cup with a 4-3 win over the Majors, thanks in part to a missed offside call on the game's winning goal, before clinching a berth in the final with a 3-2 overtime victory over Owen Sound.
The Sea Dogs, who have nine players eligible for next month's NHL entry draft, finished the round robin with a 5-4 overtime loss to Kootenay.
Trouble is, Saint John heads into the final off a five-day layoff whereas the Majors are on a nice roll, having won their last four games.
"You definitely worry about it," Sea Dogs' coach Gerard Gallant said of the layoff. "But through the playoffs we've had five days off or eight or nine and every time we've come back we've won the first game so it's not an issue for us.
"We skated hard (Friday), we had a little skate (Saturday) and we're ready to go."
The Majors will not only have momentum Sunday but also home-ice advantage. There's little doubt Mississauga will begin the game energized and while being able to weather the storm will be important for Saint John, Gallant said sometimes the best way to fight fire is with fire.
"They come out like gangbusters the first 10 minutes of every game they've played and we've known that," Gallant said. "But that doesn't mean we're not going to come hard at them.
"I think the key is trying to get that first goal and make sure we're not watching them forecheck us, make sure we get the puck and we're good in our zone. We know what they're going to do, we know what they want to try and do but on the other hand we're a pretty good puck transition team and we want to get the puck in their zone.''
Saint John led the QMJHL in scoring this season, led by sophomore Jonathan Huberdeau, a top prospect for this year's NHL entry draft. Huberdeau was the league's playoff MVP with 16 goals while Russian forward Stanislav Galiev added 10 goals.
Huberdeau is the team's second-leading scorer in the Memorial Cup with four points (two goals, two assists). Slovakian Tomas Jurco is tops with five points (four goals, one assist).
DeSerres posted a 12-3 record, 2.00 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in the QMJHL playoffs. He started Saint John's first two tournament games, stopping 71-of-76 shots (.934 save percentage) with a 2.18 GAA.
But the Majors aren't exactly chopped liver.
Mississauga was the class of the OHL this season, leading the league in wins (53), goals (287) and fewest allowed (170). Its record (53-13-2) also was tops and the Majors ended the season third in the CHL's top-10 ranking.
However, after taking leads of 2-0 and 3-2 in the OHL final against Owen Sound, the Majors couldn't seal the deal, losing the seventh and deciding game in overtime to the Attack.
The final is also a shot at redemption for Majors coach Dave Cameron and captain Casey Cizikas. Cameron was the coach and Cizikas a player with the Canadian team that squandered a 3-0 lead en route to a hear-breaking 5-3 loss to Russia in the world junior hockey tournament final.
"This game has crossed my mind quite a bit (since world juniors)," Cizikas said. "We worked all year to get here, this is the game we wanted to play in and now we're here.
"We've been waiting for this moment for a long time and now that it's here we just have to take advantage of it."
And after being worried about his team's psyche early in the tournament, Cameron likes where the Majors are at currently.
"We're playing much better," he said. "You always think your team can be better and we expect to be better Sunday.
"I don't think playing the semifinal game will hurt us. With that extra game you have a tendency for injuries and stuff like that but I don't think it's going to make or break you by any means.''
Forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who scored twice against Kootenay and has a team-high seven points (four goals, three assists) in the tournament, feels home-ice advantage is a big key for the Majors.
"It's huge," he said. "It kind of takes away from the nerves, it's an environment we're all used to and having the crowd behind us is very big.
"We haven't had a sold-out rink in a while here and anytime you're playing before nearly 6,000 people and most of them are cheering for you it's great.''
Note to readers: This is a corrected version of an earlier story. The Saint John Sea Dogs coach is Gerard Gallant.