SHAWINIGAN, Que. - The Saint John Sea Dogs have earned the right to walk with a swagger entering this year's Memorial Cup.
Aside from being the defending champions, they're coming off a four-game sweep of the Rimouski Oceanic in the President's Cup final. The Sea Dogs put an exclamation mark on their second straight Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title, blanking the Oceanic 8-0 in Game 4 in Rimouski.
"That was the best I've seen us play this year," Saint John head coach Gerard Gallant said. "I'm really happy with the way we've played lately and that's a good sign going into the Memorial Cup, where you know you're going to face really good competition."
The Sea Dogs open the Memorial Cup on Saturday against the Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights.
They'll look to the line of Zack Phillips, Stanislav Galiev and Tomas Jurco for offence. The trio combined for 12 points in the President's Cup clincher. Galiev scored a hat trick and added two assists, dedicating his effort to friends who died in the September plane crash of the Russian team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
The Sea Dogs survived an early test in the President's Cup final, winning the first two without captain Jonathan Huberdeau. The Florida Panthers prospect and last year's third overall pick had to serve a two-game suspension for an illegal hit in the semifinals.
The Sea Dogs needed double-overtime to win Game 1, but overage netminder Mathieu Corbeil was clutch throughout the series and finished with a team-record 16 wins. Charlie Coyle, who joined the Sea Dogs in mid-season after leaving Boston University, won the Guy Lafleur Trophy as playoff MVP.
"There could have been plenty more MVPs on this team," said Coyle, who notched 34 points in the playoffs. "It could have gone another way."
No doubt. Coyle is just one weapon that fuels Saint John's high-octane offence.
Galiev also finished with 34 points, while Phillips had 32 and Jurco 29. Huberdeau and Danick Gauthier each added 21.
The defence corps includes returnees Nathan Beaulieu, Kevin Gagne, Pierre Durepos and Jason Seed. Charles-Olivier Roussel and Ian Saab were acquired to help offset the losses of Simon Despres and Eric Gelinas. Despres played for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season and Gelinas suited up for the Albany Devils of the American Hockey League.
"We lost two big guys, but I think with our experience and the other guys who've stepped in, we've done a good job," Gagne said. "We might not be as big as we were before, but all of us can skate and play the game."
The novelty of winning the President's Cup still hasn't worn off for Roussel, who spent the first three years of his career with Shawinigan.
"I've never been this excited," he said. "It's hard to fall asleep at night. It's going to be so much fun just to finish my (junior) career where it began. I don't think I could have asked for a better scenario. It's Hollywood, right there."