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Plenty of intrigue at 2011 Memorial Cup Final

by Bill Hoppe /
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- At 11 pm Saturday, center Michael Kirkpatrick found Eminem on his iPod, laid his head down and figured he would get a good night's rest before his Saint John Sea Dogs battled the Mississauga Majors for the MasterCard Memorial Cup on Sunday.

"I was putting on my music … getting pumped up, but I couldn't fall asleep until 1:30," Kirkpatrick said Sunday morning inside the Hershey Centre.

Eventually, Kirkpatrick turned to his roommate, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu.

"I was like, 'Nathan, you awake, too?'" Kirkpatrick whispered. "He's like, 'Yeah.'"

The Majors' experience wasn't much different.

"It took me about two and a half hours to fall asleep," Majors captain Casey Cizikis said. "Just the emotions of this game, you're thinking about every possible scenario in your head."

Forgive the QMJHL Sea Dogs and the host Majors if they're a feeling a bit nervous about the Canadian Hockey League championship. This is the game of their lives.

"It's just this weird feeling in your stomach," said Kirkpatrick, who will return from an upper body injury. "You're so excited you want to get that game going, get the nerves going a little bit, but you got to let it go and drop the puck."

Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant just doesn't want his players too nervous.

"Just go play the game," Gallant said. "It's another game. We all know what the prize is before at the end, but it's another game. If you start thinking about a winning a championship before it starts, you have a tough time."

The favored Sea Dogs haven't won a Memorial Cup in their 6-year history. The Majors, the CHL's No. 1 ranked team early in the season, last triumphed in 1961.

The teams took different roads to what promises to be an entertaining final.

The Sea Dogs won their first two contests, including a 4-3 win against the OHL's Majors in the tournament opener last Friday, to secure a berth in the final on Monday. They haven't played a meaningful game in six days.

On Wednesday, they rested many regulars for their 5-4 overtime loss to the Kootenay Ice. Several players and coaches have been feeling under the weather. Gallant said they're feeling better.

The Sea Dogs took it easy on some of their days off, and then ramped up their workouts later.

"You hope you do the right things," Gallant said. "You always fight with that. We had a couple good, hard practices. We had a couple days where we had them relax and try to get a little healthier with their bug."

The Majors, meanwhile, won three straight to close after their loss to the Sea Dogs. The Majors faced elimination in their 3-1 win over the Kootenay Ice on Friday.

They could be hitting their stride at the right time.

"In short tournaments like this, it usually works out as you get better every game," Majors left wing Devante Smith-Pelly said. "I think this tournament's a perfect example of us just getting better every game. We still haven't even given our best game."

Here are some other interesting storylines around the Memorial Cup final:

Different styles going at it

The Sea Dogs, with a slew of stars such as Entry Draft prospects Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips, play a slick, wide open game. They scored 319 goals during the regular season. The Majors clamp down defensively, although they quietly possessed the OHL's No. 1 offense (283 goals) during the regular season to go along with their top defense.

"Quite a bit different," Gallant dubbed the teams' styles. "We're a run-and-gun team. I can't say we don't play defensive because we're the best defensively in the Quebec League. We're the best offensive team. I think we play an overall game that's pretty sound and pretty well, and when we play a physical game and a hard game, we're tough to beat."

Majors coach Dave Cameron knows the Sea Dogs' dynamic offense will break loose at some point Sunday.

"We're well aware how good they are," Cameron said. "We're well aware of the star power they have on their team. They show their tendencies, they show their strengths. The whole thing is to recognize it, and the whole thing then is composure -- recognize it, trust your teammates and make good decisions."

DeSerres going for championship again

Sea Dogs goalie Jacob DeSerres could get his incredible fairy-tale ending tonight.

As a member of the Brandon Wheat Kings a year ago, the Windsor Spitfires scorched the 21-year-old DeSerres for every goal in a 9-1 thumping in the Memorial Cup final.

When the Wheat Kings went with younger netminders this season, DeSerres cleared WHL waivers, leaving him free to sign with the Sea Dogs.

"These guys are city guys, high-end guys. We're just potato farmers. So, game on."
-- Mississauga coach Dave Cameron

"I thought about it almost every day since that day last year," DeSerres said about last year's loss. "After it I never would've imagined that I'd be here again and that I'd get the opportunity again to win a Memorial Cup. Hopefully, we can get it done."

Does DeSerres have any extra motivation for his last junior game ever?

"Maybe," DeSerres said. "I think I've been trying to prove it all year, not just to everyone else that's around, but to myself. I know how good I can be and how good I could've been by the end of my junior career. I think I've been good. I think I'm more prepared than I've ever been in my junior career.

"I've put in the work, and I've put in the time. I think I'm mentally more there than I ever would've imagined."

Kirkpatrick added: "I think he wants redemption on his mind. He's going out for this game. He wants the Memorial Cup more than anybody, I think."

Shugg gunning for third straight title

Majors right wing Justin Shugg, who won titles with the stacked Spitfires clubs, would become just the second player to earn three straight Memorial Cups. Robert Savard won three consecutive with the Kitchener Rangers and Cornwall Royals from 1980-82.

"It's fascinating, but I don't think it's hit me just yet because the tournament's not over," Shugg said.

Prince Edward Island bragging rights are on the line

Both coaches are from the tiny province. Gallant's from Summerside, while Cameron, whose parents were potato farmers, hails from rural Kinkora, about 20 minutes away.

Former NHL general manager and PEI resident Doug MacLean, now a Canadian broadcaster, joked the celebration would be held at a restaurant if Gallant won, and a gas station if Cameron won.

"That buys right into the city," Cameron said. "These guys are city guys, high-end guys. We're just potato farmers. So, game on."
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