Vladislav Namestnikov had a pair of goals to lead the London Knights to a 5-3 win against the defending champion Saint John Sea Dogs on Saturday at Bionest Centre in Shawinigan, Que.
Austin Watson and Seth Griffith had a goal and two assists each and Max Domi also had goals for the Ontario Hockey League champions, and goalie Michael Houser made 22 saves on 25 shots.
"I thought we didn't turn many pucks over in the neutral zone and got pucks deep, which kept their speed down," London coach Mark Hunter said. "I thought we cycled well and took advantage of our chances."
Saint John got shorthanded goals from Charles-Olivier Roussel and Jonathan Huberdeau, and a power-play goal from Ryan Tesink. Goalie Mathieu Corbeil stopped 19 of 24 shots.
It was the first loss in the event for the defending champion Sea Dogs, who went undefeated in winning the Memorial Cup last year in Mississauga, Ont. They're looking to become just the eighth repeat champion in the 94-year history of the tournament.
However, their repeat attempt got off to a rough start, as London won most of the puck battles and frustrated the Sea Dogs into taking 11 minor penalties, including three by Huberdeau, the team captain and last year's Memorial Cup MVP.
"We weren't good tonight," Saint John coach Gerard Gallant said. "The only time we worked hard was on the penalty kill. … We were frustrated a lot. We were pretty frustrated by calls we didn't like, we were frustrated by London playing a hard game. We did a great job on the [penalty kill], but we didn't deserve to win tonight. They were the better team."
Huberdeau took an elbowing penalty just 16 seconds into the game, but Roussel, a Nashville Predators prospect, took advantage of sloppy play by London in its end to score shorthanded just 1:37 into the game to pick him up.
London went ahead with a pair of goals 1:24 apart late in the period, taking a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Domi, the son of former NHL player Tie Domi and a top prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft, tied the game at 14:11 when he fought through the Saint John defense to bang in the rebound of a Scott Harrington shot. Namestnikov, the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2011 first-round pick, put London ahead when he made a pretty tip of a Tyler Ferry shot at 15:35, re-directing it high over Corbeil's glove from a sharp angle.
The Knights extended their lead to 3-1 when Watson and Griffith out-worked Saint John in the Sea Dogs' end. Watson took a shot that Corbeil stopped, but Watson got his own rebound, circled behind the Saint John net, came out the other side and found Griffith, who scored at 12:41 of the second.
But Saint John was able to get back within a goal when Huberdeau, the third pick of the 2011 Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers, scored a shorthanded goal with 2:03 left in the second. His long shot went off Namestnikov and past Houser to make it 3-2.
Ryan Rupert helped London take a 4-2 lead at 10:49 of the third as he singlehandedly detonated a Saint John breakout attempt. He forced a pair of turnovers, including tipping the puck away from Pierre Durepos behind the Saint John net. He found Watson alone in the high slot, and the Nashville Predators 2010 first-round pick one-timed it past Corbeil.
"We've been battling all year to outwork teams and beat teams," Watson said. "Play a tight defense and capitalize on our chances."
Saint John again got back within a goal, however, when Tesink got to the London net and re-directed a Roussel point shot past Houser at 12:01.
Namestnikov closed the scoring with a power-play goal with 53 seconds left. Huberdeau was called for an extra roughing minor during an exchange with Rupert. Gallant also was called for a bench minor for arguing with the referees, giving London a two-man advantage. London capitalized when Griffith took the puck into the Saint John end, deked around Tomas Jurco to create space and featured a pass across to Namestnikov, who fired a one-timer past Corbeil.
"It was frustration. I shouldn't do that," Huberdeau said of his late penalty. "We had a chance to come back and I took the penalty. It was undisciplined. Now we have to forget about it. We can't panic now. We have to think about the next game and work on what we didn't do well."
Hunter said he could sense his team's style of play frustrating the Sea Dogs.
"It's the game that the Ruperts and our hockey team plays," he said. "We're backchecking. The one penalty [Huberdeau] took, he [Rupert] stripped him. He was frustrated he got stripped and he took a penalty."
Ryan Rupert, who along with his twin brother Matt and Watson had the job of checking the Sea Dogs' best players, said the goal was to out-work the Sea Dogs' top line of Huberdeau, Charlie Coyle and Danick Gauthier.
"We just played hard and out-competed them and came out on top," Rupert said. "We wanted to come in here and make a splash right away. With them being Memorial Cup champions, we wanted to prove ourselves in the first game, and we did."
London returns to the ice Sunday to face the host Shawinigan Cataractes. Saint John next plays Monday against the Western Hockey League champion Edmonton Oil Kings, who opened the tournament with a 4-3 win against Shawinigan on Friday.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK