RED DEER, Alberta -- Colorado Avalanche prospect AJ Greer's route to the Memorial Cup is unorthodox to say the least, but he hasn't regretted the path that's led him to within one win of a championship.
Greer assisted on the game-winner to help Rouyn-Noranda to a 3-1 victory against Red Deer in a Memorial Cup semifinal Friday.
"It's amazing how I've been lucky to be a part of such great teams in the last five years," Greer said. "Five years in a row I've played for championships … prep school and NCAA, Midget AAA, and now this.
Greer's road has been winding.
The Joliette, Quebec, native initially opted to take the NCAA route and committed to Penn State before landing at Boston University. Greer, 17 when he began his freshman season, was the youngest player in college hockey in 2014-15, when he had three goals and seven points to help BU advance to the 2015 Frozen Four championship game. He then was selected in the second round (No. 39) by the Avalanche in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Greer returned to Boston University as a sophomore this fall, but after he got off to a slow start (five points through 18 games), he opted to jump from the NCAA to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, joining Rouyn-Noranda in December.
"It's a tough decision. It's definitely tough," Greer said. "You're leaving behind all your friends, your teammates, your coaches. You have that sense of letting down your team. I had to make the decision for my career."
Making it more difficult was the fact Greer's decision was reported before he could notify BU coach David Quinn and his teammates.
"It came off on the wrong foot because the story got leaked even before I got to tell my teammates and coaches," Greer said. "I left behind an education from one of the best universities in the world. I have nothing bad to say about that program. Great program. Great team I had. Great guys. Great facilities. Great coaches. I just don't think it was the right fit for me and my family and for my career. I didn't see myself in their future plans."
Rouyn-Noranda did see Greer in its plans, and he has played a big role in its President Cup win and run to the Memorial Cup final. The 6-foot-3 forward had 12 goals and 22 points in 20 games in the QMJHL playoffs, and has two points in four games at the Memorial Cup, including an assist on linemate Martins Dzierkals' game-winner at 11:58 of the first period against Red Deer.
"He's a great player," Dzierkals said. "I really like to play with him. I've played half a season with him. He's a really good player to play with. He does all the dirty work. He stands in front of the goalie. He goes into the corner to get pucks. He's really good to play with."
The loss eliminated host Red Deer from the tournament.
"We could really bounce back this time," said defenseman Hayden Fleury, who assisted on Red Deer's lone goal and had a team-high five points in the tournament. "We had scoring chances and the shots on goal to do that. The bounces just weren't going our way tonight."
Greer had a sense that Rouyn-Noranda could put together a memorable run when he joined the team; it led the QMJHL standings at the time of his decision.
It wasn't his sole motive, though. Development was.
"It factored into my decision they were a good team, but ultimately it was just to develop myself," Greer said. "It's a lot of games, a lot of focus on personal development. I thought offensively, defensively, there's a lot of personal coaching, a lot of 1-on-1 individual teaching. I came here and I'm so happy about the result and how our guys have been playing and what we've accomplished."
Now, he's one victory from winning a Memorial Cup championship.
"It's an unbelievable feeling. My journey from BU to here," said Greer, who had 16 goals in 33 regular-season games with Rouyn-Noranda. "It's unimaginable for me … my path to the Memorial Cup and what's happening to me right now. I'm fortunate to be part of such great teams and great teammates. I've played in the Telus Cup in the finals. I've played in the national championship. Now I'm playing in the Memorial Cup final. It's something I'll never forget. It's really special to me. I'm lucky. Right place, right time, I guess."
Ontario Hockey League champion London stands in Rouyn-Noranda's way. London swept through round-robin action, winning games against Rouyn-Noranda, Red Deer and Brandon by a combined 20-5.
That doesn't phase Greer.
"They're a very skilled team, but I strongly think we can beat them 5-on-5," he said. "That's all across our locker room. We know what we can do. (At) 5-on-5, we can really beat them. They have a good power play and a good penalty kill. We have to stay disciplined and do the same thing we did today. Just play physical, play fast."
MEMORIAL CUP OF JOE
What we learned: If disciplined, Rouyn-Noranda will form a formidable opponent for London. After taking nine penalties in a 5-2 loss to London in the round robin, Rouyn-Noranda was shorthanded three times against Red Deer on Friday. London had seven power-play chances against Rouyn-Noranda in their game Wednesday.
Key moment: Scrambling in the corner, Greer knocked the puck to Dzierkals, who skated into the slot and slipped a backhand between the legs of Red Deer goaltender Rylan Toth 1:07 after forward Francis Perron put Rouyn-Noranda up 1-0. Red Deer couldn't catch up in the final 50 minutes of the game.
Player of the game: Rouyn-Noranda goaltender Chase Marchand made 36 saves, including 15 in the second period and 11 in the third period, to help Rouyn-Noranda into the final against London.
Quotable: "I don't say anything about London. We're going to go Sunday. We want a rematch. We're going to go hard. We're going to put our bodies on the line. We're going to win. For our fans, it'll be great if we can take the Memorial Cup home. We're going to do our best." -- Rouyn-Noranda forward Martins Dzierkals
What's next: Memorial Cup Final, Rouyn-Noranda vs. London, Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2)