Veilleux sends Shawinigan to Memorial Cup title game
SHAWINIGAN, Que. -- When asked how he planned to have his team focused for the championship game of the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet) after an emotional, hard-fought win in the semifinal Friday in front of a delirious home crowd, Shawinigan Cataractes coach Eric Veilleux had a quick answer.
"It's already done," he said after his team's 7-4 win against Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rival Saint John Sea Dogs. "They celebrated on the ice for a bit, and it was deserved. We played to win [Friday]. We took about three minutes to thank the crowd, because I don't really remember the crowd in this building being like that. Our players fed off that, which is why they continued to believe no matter what happened."
What happened was Yannick Veilleux's deflection of a Morgan Ellis point shot with 6:46 to play to snap a 4-4 tie and propel the host team to a berth in the championship game against the London Knights.
Shawinigan is just the third team in tournament history to advance to the championship game after playing in the tiebreaker game, joining the 2002 Victoriaville Tigres and 2009 Windsor Spitfires. Only Windsor ever has won the tournament after playing in the tiebreaker game.
Ellis said the month off the Cataractes reluctantly received after being knocked out in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs paid off Friday. During their layoff, the players went through a virtual training camp to be physically prepared for the rigors of this tournament -- which in their case meant three games in three nights after losing Wednesday to Saint John in the preliminary-round finale. They beat the Edmonton Oil Kings in the tiebreaker game Thursday.
"It's all mental. Three games in three nights is all in your head," Ellis said. "In your junior career this happens all the time. I thought we had great energy. The month off helped a lot and got us in great shape and I thought we looked good out there."
Shawinigan also is aiming to become the first host team to win the Memorial Cup since the Vancouver Giants in 2007.
But don't tell that to coach Veilleux.
"Whatever happened in the past is in the past," he said. "We've been focusing our team the whole tournament, and that's what we'll keep doing. We have a game to play on Sunday, and we did not get there by luck. We deserve to be playing in that game."
Saint John, which won last year's Memorial Cup in Mississauga, Ont., was looking to become just the eighth team in the 94-year history of the Memorial Cup to win back-to-back titles.
The yellow-clad crowd of 4,763 that packed the Bionest Centre headed home in a festive mood, knowing their team already has beaten the Knights in the tournament -- a 6-2 victory last Sunday in preliminary-round play.
"The Knights are a great team," said Shawinigan's Michael Chaput, who had a pair of goals and an assist, and leads the tournament with five goals and 11 points in five games. "But if we play the same way we did [Friday], we'll get the same result."
Michael Bournival, Brandon Gormley, Loik Poudrier and Pierre-Olivier Morin also had goals for Shawinigan, while goaltender Gabriel Girard made 24 saves.
Gormley, a 2010 first-round pick by the Phoenix Coyotes, also added two assists and is second in tournament scoring with nine points.
The high-powered Sea Dogs, meanwhile, did not get enough from their big stars in this game.
Tomas Jurco had a pair of goals for Saint John. Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips also had goals, while goalie Mathieu Corbeil made 29 saves.
"They had good defensemen out there and they did their job," Huberdeau, taken by the Florida Panthers with the third pick of the 2011 Entry Draft, said. "It was hard to get to the net. But you can't do that, I think we could have scored more goals and we just didn't."
This ends a marvelous three-year run for this Sea Dogs group, which featured 11 NHL-drafted players and only five who are eligible to return next season.
"I said to them that we had three unbelievable seasons, but there's another team out there and they want to win, too," Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant said. "We got beaten by a good team [Friday]. It's tough to lose, but I'm proud of our hockey team. They've been great for three years and they're a classy bunch of kids."
The teams had met Friday in a nasty, physical affair that earned both teams fines from the Canadian Hockey League, so this game began with the intensity one would expect.
Phillips got the Sea Dogs on the board at 4:29 of the first, taking a long pass from Canadiens prospect Nathan Beaulieu to go in one-on-one on Ellis, another Canadiens prospect. Phillips backed Ellis off with speed and took a wrist shot against the grain, barely eluding Ellis' block attempt and tucking it inside the far post behind Girard for his third of the tournament.
Bournival -- the third Habs prospect playing in this game -- tied it at 6:51 when he poked a puck free from behind the net that Corbeil knocked across the goal line. Gormley gave Shawinigan the lead by getting a wrist shot from the point through a crowd and past Corbeil at 9:24 of the first. It was an unofficial power-play goal as Sea Dogs forward Stanislav Galiev had gone to bench due to a cut.
The Sea Dogs tied the game when Jurco tipped a point shot past Girard for a power-play goal 12:35 of the first to make it 2-2.
The four total goals came on the first 13 shots of the game.
While the play in the first period largely was even, the Cataractes completely dominated the second. Shawinigan outshot Saint John 20-8 and appeared to have the puck constantly, but they went into the final 20 minutes up just a goal thanks to a lucky bounce for the Sea Dogs.
"I don't know what happened in that period," Jurco, a Detroit Red Wings prospect, said. "We didn't come strong enough and we weren't really prepared for them. That second period killed us."
Poudrier gave Shawinigan the lead when a Maximillien Le Sieur centering pass went in off his skate at 9:14 of the second, and Chaput scored 1:25 later on the power play off a nice feed from 2012 NHL Draft prospect Anton Zlobin -- his third assist of the game -- to put Shawinigan ahead 4-2 at the 10:39 mark of the second.
After a Sea Dogs power play where they were outshot 2-0, Phillips was sent off for high-sticking and the Cataractes had an opportunity to all but book a trip to the final right then and there.
But an innocuous clearing attempt by Huberdeau from his own blue line bounced about 10 feet in front of Girard and took a funny hop, beating him clean to the glove side and giving the Sea Dogs life.
"You just take a shot, the ice is bad and it took a bad bounce," Huberdeau said. "It was a lucky goal."
That goal loomed large in the third when Jurco scored his second of the game at 9:16, beating Girard with a wrist shot from the top of the circle after a Phillips face-off win.
That set the stage for Veilleux's winning goal with just 6:46 to play, enlivening the partial crowd.
But the noise generated Friday likely will pale in comparison to the atmosphere in the building Sunday, when the Cataractes look to make some history on home ice.