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Sea Dogs loaded with potential draft picks

by Mike G. Morreale
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Saint John Sea Dogs center Zack Phillips could hardly control his emotions when he realized just 20 seconds remained after peering up at the center-ice scoreboard.
It was a feeling of indescribable elation, really.
"Excitement … that's all I could think," Phillips told reporters after his team had just earned a 3-1 victory against the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors in the Memorial Cup final at Hershey Centre on Sunday.
"I was on the bench with 20 seconds left and my feet were hanging over the side, just waiting to get on the ice with my helmet unbuckled," he admitted. "I didn't even really know what I was doing out there for about a minute … there was just a lot of yelling and screaming. It was the best feeling I've ever had."
And to think, in less than a month, he might have a similar range of emotions when he hears his name called in the early rounds of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Phillips is just one of nine North American players ranked by NHL Central Scouting for the upcoming Draft. That's pretty remarkable when you consider just eight total players were drafted from the organization in its first five years of existence in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
In fact, there are four players from the Sea Dogs with a legitimate shot at hearing their names called in the opening round of the Draft on June 24, including forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Phillips and Tomas Jurco and defenseman Nathan Beaulieu.

"I was on the bench with 20 seconds left and my feet were hanging over the side, just waiting to get on the ice with my helmet unbuckled. I didn't even really know what I was doing out there for about a minute … there was just a lot of yelling and screaming. It was the best feeling I've ever had." -- Zack Phillips

"All tournament, we were thinking about (the Draft) a little bit and there's pressure on you because you have to play well and show the scouts that you are good in this type of situation," said Jurco, Central Scouting's No. 20-rated North American skater. "I hope that the tournament helped me and showed what I can do on the ice. I hope I get drafted high."
Saint John coach Gerard Gallant, who topped his second straight QMJHL Coach of the Year award with his first Memorial Cup, never wavered in his desire to keep reminding his charges that they were the best team in Canadian junior hockey this season.
"This team had an outstanding year from first day of training camp right till (Sunday), so I'm pretty proud of my kids," Gallant said. "I always told the boys that I thought they were the best team in Canada. We were ranked No. 1 in Canada ever since Christmas. We found a way to win tonight and (goalie) Jacob (DeSerres) was outstanding."
Saint John scored the most goals (324) and allowed the fewest (165) en route to recording a QMJHL record for wins in season with 58. To fully appreciate how dominating an effort the Sea Dogs had en route to their first Memorial Cup title in six seasons of existence, consider that the franchise accrued 110 total victories during their first four seasons combined. The club would then win 16 of 19 games en route to its first QMJHL title, before going 3-1 in the Memorial Cup tournament.
Phillips and Huberdeau, who earned the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as Memorial Cup MVP, each had a goal and one assist in the Memorial Cup championship while the Sea Dogs defense denied Mississauga on five power-play chances. Beaulieu was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star Team and Jurco had a team-leading 4 goals in four Memorial Cup tournament contests.
"There was pressure on every team to win this thing," Beaulieu said. "You are here for a reason and I think we ultimately showed why we came out on top. I can't say enough how much we deserved to win this. I know the NHL Combine starts (Monday), but we'll take a few days here before we go. Having an interview (with an NHL team) will be a lot better as a Memorial Cup champion. I want to let everyone know, that's for sure.
"We'll probably take that trophy and eat some cereal or drink some Gatorade out of it," he continued. "Maybe we'll have some Fruit Loops … we're a Fruit Loops-type-of- team."
The championship was especially sweet for Beaulieu, whose father Jacques celebrated a Memorial Cup victory with the London Knights in 2005. "It's incredible … now there are two Beaulieu's on the trophy," he said.
Phillips and Huberdeau have been linemates the past two seasons in Saint John. To be able to put the game away and seal Canadian hockey's most treasured trophy with 3:43 on the clock on a picturesque 2-on-1 deep in the Mississauga end, was a fitting way to end the season.
"They were pinching down the boards and they needed to keep the puck in to get a goal," Phillips said. "I got a good chip off the boards and skated into it. Huberdeau can read the play really well and, luckily, I slipped it under (Mississauga defenseman Michael D'Orazio) and Huberdeau made a great move to go on his backhand."
Despite being the youngest team competing in the Memorial Cup, Saint John proved to be savvy and poised when it mattered most. Perhaps last year's loss in the league championship series to the Moncton Wildcats in six games was a major stepping stone.
"They didn't seem young to me because a lot of kids went through a long experience last year so they didn't seem it," Gallant said. "I know we're really young and we'll be a good team next year but Jonathan Huberdeau doesn't seem to be 17-years-old. … Beaulieu, all those kids, they don't seem to play their age."
Said Jurco: "There was pressure, for sure. We came here as best team in Canada and we had to show that we can not only win the QMJHL, but we can win in all the Canadian Hockey League. It's just great that we did and let people know how good a team we really are."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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