The OHL London Knights stunned the Memorial Cup defending champions Saint John Sea Dogs Saturday night in a 5-3 routing. The favorited Sea Dogs played into the hands of the Knights as they tried to match up physically instead of using their skill to be creative in the offensive zone, which is how they have been so successful.
After losing their early first period lead, frustration started to boil over for the Sea Dogs as Panthers prospect Jonthan Huberdeau and company took ill-advised penalties halting their comeback, resulting in their first franchise loss of a MasterCard Memorial Cup game.
Coming out of the gates as the intimidators rather than the intimidated, the Sea Dogs seemed reckless using their physicality to edge the Knights, causing the Sea Dogs to take the first four penalties of the game. The first of which was a two minute minor by Panthers own Huberdeau sixteen seconds in for elbowing.
Although shorthanded, the Sea Dogs managed to grab the lead as Charles-Oliver Roussel blasted a puck behind Knights’ netminder, Michael Houser, 1:37 into the period to open the scoring. The Sea Dogs would later see their lead disappear as Knights’ Max Domi, son of former Leaf’s agitator Tie Domi, scored the Knights’ first goal of the game. 84 seconds later, Tampa Bay draft pick Vladislav Namestnikov gave the Knights their first lead of the game, as they went up 2-1 to end the first period.
Entering the second period of play it was clear the Knights were in control and had managed to knock the Sea Dogs off their game. Seth Griffith managed to expand the lead for the Knights 12:41 into the period, putting the Sea Dogs in an unfamiliar situation – down by two. Just five minutes later, however, the Sea Dogs got the bounce they were looking for to allow them to creep back within one with plenty of time left to turn the game around. Short-handed once again, it was the Sea Dogs’ captain giving them hope. Huberdeau, carried a bouncing and rolling puck across the Knights blue line. With his options limited he decided to make the only play that was there, fire it onto the net. The puck took a fluke bounce in front of Houser and managed to find the back of the net, giving the reigning Memorial Cup MVP his first goal of the 2012 tournament and cut the deficit to just one.
Unfortunately for the Sea Dogs, their comeback didn’t last long. At the halfway mark of the third period Austin Watson regained the two-goal lead for the Knights off of a play from teammate Ryan Rupert, making a comeback even more unlikely. The Sea Dogs would get their chance, however, as a game characterized by penalties saw Namestnikov head to the sin bin for holding the stick at 11:32 into the third. A power play that had been so dangerous in the regular season, finally capitalized on their fifth and final attempt when Ryan Tesink redirected a shot from teammate Nathan Beaulieu, to bring the Sea Dogs back within one.
That’s as close as the reigning champions would come to completing their comeback, as they spent the final two minutes playing shorthanded. Both Huberdeau and Sea Dogs’ head coach, Gerard Gallant, let their emotions get the best of them by taking untimely penalties and diminishing any chances the Sea Dogs would have to comeback. Namestnikov managed to secure the win for the Knights by scoring his second goal of the game on the power play 19:07 into the third putting the Knights up by a final score of 5-3.
“You never want to lose a game, but it was the first one and I think we're just going to have to keep focused," Huberdeau told sportsnet.ca regarding his thoughts of the first game. “We can't panic on that and we just have to work through it."
Although Huberdeau spent the last two minutes watching the game from the penalty box, he played a good game in all three zones. In a 5-3 loss he managed to stay even in the plus-minus column, while putting five shots on goal, one hit, and the short-handed goal. If the Sea Dogs want to repeat last year’s Memorial Cup run, Huberdeau will need to lead his team through their first encounter of adversity in a very long time.