The Halifax Mooseheads have been led all season by their dynamic offensive 1-2 punch of Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, and the top 2013 NHL Draft prospects came up big one final time in the 2012-13 season.
MacKinnon had a hat trick and two assists and Drouin had five assists as the Mooseheads beat the Portland Winterhawks 6-4 Sunday to win the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise's first Memorial Cup championship in the title game at Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
"In the special games, we performed well," Drouin told Sportsnet, "and once again, it was a good game and we're proud of it."
MacKinnon finished with tournament-highs of seven goals and 13 points in four games, and was awarded the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as tournament MVP. According to the Canadian Hockey League, it was the most points in a Memorial Cup since Christian Dube of the Hull Olympiques had 13 in 1997.
"It's obviously nice," MacKinnon told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. "It's nice to be rewarded for the tournament, but at the same time, the memories are going to be with these guys winning the Memorial Cup, not so much the individual [award]."
MEMORIAL CUP RESULTS
May 17 - London 3, Saskatoon 2
May 18 - Halifax 7, Portland 4
May 19 - Saskatoon 5, Halifax 2
May 20 - Portland 6, London 3
May 21 - Halifax 9, London 2
May 22 - Portland 4, Saskatoon 2
May 23 - Tie-breaker: London 6, Saskatoon 1
May 24 - Semifinals: Portland 2, London 1
May 26 - Finals: Halifax 6, Portland 4
And in two games against Portland and Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, Seth Jones -- Halifax beat the Winterhawks 7-4 during round-robin play -- MacKinnon had six goals and nine points.
The CHL reported that Drouin's five assists matched a single-game Memorial Cup record, previously accomplished by Dan Hodgson of the Prince Albert Raiders in 1985.
MacKinnon was named to the tournament all-star team, along with teammates forward Martin Frk, defenseman Konrad Abeltshauser and goaltender Zachary Fucale, Central Scouting's top-ranked North American goaltender. Also making the all-star team were Portland forward Ty Rattie and defenseman Derrick Pouliot.
Halifax coach Dominik Ducharme had a front-row seat for some outstanding performances this season from MacKinnon and Drouin, but said their performance Sunday might have been the best of the best.
"They like playing in big games," Ducharme told reporters in Saskatoon. "Tonight, we'll rank it No. 1 because of the outcome, the meaning of the game. You can't have bigger moments than that."
Abeltshauser scored twice, Frk had a goal and Fucale made 40 saves for Halifax. Between the regular season, QMJHL playoffs and Memorial Cup, Halifax finished its remarkable season 77-8-4.
It's the third straight year a QMJHL team has won the Memorial Cup, following the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2011 and the Shawinigan Cataractes in 2012.
Nicolas Petan and Ty Rattie each had a goal and three assists for Portland, and Jones and Brendan Leipsic also scored. Goalie Mac Carruth stopped 36 of 41 shots.
"They are a very good team, and they have very skilled players," Pouliot, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect who had two goals and seven points in five games, said. "They played a great game [Sunday], and it's a really tough loss. … I'm extremely proud of our team. Our coaching staff has done a great job. We have a great group of guys in that room. … It's just tough."
Halifax led 3-0 after one period, but Portland rallied late in the second to get back within a goal at 3-2 after 40 minutes.
"We got a little bit away from our game in the second period," Abeltshauser told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. "But starting out the third we went right back at it. We just played behind them 40 minutes of the game and it was enough."
The final 20 minutes was another chance for MacKinnon and Drouin to showcase the breadth of the skill that earned them the Nos. 2 and 3 slots, respectively, in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for this year's draft.
MacKinnon made it 4-2 at 7:36 of the third when he missed a shot high over the net, but stayed in the play. Frk grabbed the loose puck and passed it out high to Drouin, who quickly sent it down low to MacKinnon. He showed his lower-body strength by holding off Portland captain Troy Rutkowski in front, kicked the puck to his forehand and scored.
Abeltshauser, a San Jose Sharks draft pick, added his second of the game at 11:11 on a play set up by a beautiful flip pass out of the defensive zone by Drouin to MacKinnon. Carruth stopped MacKinnon's backhand attempt off the rush, but Abeltshauser followed the play and banged it in to make it 5-2.
Portland responded when Leipsic, a Nashville Predators prospect, scored off the rebound of a Petan shot at 14:32, and then Rattie, a St. Louis Blues 2011 second-round pick, made it a one-goal with 1:16 remaining when he scored his sixth goal in five games, beating Fucale with a high shot from the short side. Rattie finished second to MacKinnon with six goals and 12 points in the tournament.
Portland continued to press as the seconds ticked off the clock, but MacKinnon sealed the game with an empty-net goal, bouncing off two checks to cap his hat trick with 22.4 seconds left.
"You know what, I've missed a lot of those," MacKinnon told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. "I knew it would be icing if I didn't make it in. It felt unreal. It was also awesome jumping in that bench with those guys. It's so great sharing this moment with them."
Drouin spent the first period showing why Saturday saw him win the CHL player of the year award while setting up all three Halifax goals.
The Mooseheads opened the scoring at 6:31 with Leipsic off for hooking. Halifax had possession in the Portland zone, with Drouin working the left point. He slid the puck to the middle of the zone to Abeltshauser, who fired a shot that went through a screen by Stefan Fournier and past Carruth.
MacKinnon's first goal was a great example of his phenomenal puckhandling skill. Drouin's pass sent MacKinnon into the Portland zone, where he immediately was surrounded by three Winterhawks. MacKinnon had the puck poked off his stick, but recovered to kick it back to his forehand, and as he angled to his right, sent a quick shot on net that went across Carruth's body and past him at 8:00.
Drouin made another outstanding pass on the third Halifax goal. He dumped the puck behind the Portland net, where MacKinnon got it and returned it to him along the wall deep in the right side of the offensive zone. Drouin then snapped a cross-ice pass to Frk in the left circle, and the Detroit Red Wings’ draft pick one-timed a shot past Carruth at 15:59.
Portland ratcheted up its play in the second, out-shooting the Mooseheads 18-6 and getting a pair of goals from a pair of top 2013 NHL Draft prospects.
"We came out a little show," Petan told the Portland Tribune. "But the boys said [before the second period], 'Compete harder and we'll be fine.'"
Rattie helped create the first goal starting with a shorthanded rush into the Halifax end. He got a shot on net that Fucale stopped, but Rattie recovered to take the puck away from Abeltshauser. He sent the puck in front to Petan, No. 33 on Central Scouting's list, who was trailing the play. He got in close, deked and scored with a backhand.
Portland nearly made it a one-goal game moments later, when Rattie appeared to score from just off the post to the right of Fucale. But replay review showed Rattie gloved a fluttering rebound of a Leipsic shot and dropped it into the crease, but before he could get his stick on it, the puck bounced off Fucale's skate and into the net and the goal was waived off.
Jones left no doubt with 1:19 left in the second. With the teams skating 4-on-4, Jones skated the puck around the left side of the Halifax zone and sent it behind the net to Rattie. Jones slipped back into a quiet area in the left slot, took a return pass from Rattie and scored to make it 3-2.
The Winterhawks made a big push in the latter stages of the third, but Halifax showed why it was the top-ranked team in the CHL this season.
"We're champions. We're the best team in junior hockey now," MacKinnon said. "We came to play every night, everybody chipped in and [Sunday] we got the job done."