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Jurco hopes to finish on high note

by Rick Bowness / Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings' prospect Tomas Jurco collected four goals and an assist in last year's Memorial Cup. He and his Sea Dogs teammates are looking to become the first-ever team to win back-to-back Memorial titles. (Photo by Getty Images)
With Canadian Hockey League age restrictions necessitating constant roster turnover and with upwards of 60 teams competing to hoist it every year, the Memorial Cup is arguably the most difficult trophy to win in all of sports. As such, only a handful of clubs have ever won back-to-back titles in the 93-year history of junior hockey’s Holy Grail.

Bolstered by a formidable contingent of star players that includes Red Wings’ prospect Tomas Jurco, the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League are looking to beat the odds and do exactly that this month after capturing the first title in franchise history last spring.

The Sea Dogs' quest to repeat as CHL champs begins this weekend in central Quebec as the 2012 Memorial Cup Tournament is set to be staged along the banks of the Saint-Maurice River.

“Winning a second straight Memorial Cup would be a great accomplishment,” said Jurco, in an exclusive phone interview with “Our team has a lot of talent and a lot of character and it is amazing being a part of such a special group. Hopefully we can play well at the tournament again this year and win another title for the city of Saint John.” 

After winning 50 games and earning their third straight QMJHL regular season title, the Sea Dogs blew away the competition in this year’s President’s Cup playoffs. The Port City’s major junior squad went 16-1 in the postseason en route to repeating as league champs and earning a berth in the four-team Memorial Cup tourney where they’ll battle the OHL’s London Knights, WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, and the Shawinigan Cataractes –  tournament hosts – of the QMJHL for junior hockey’s ultimate prize. 

Despite missing time with an upper body injury, Jurco tallied 13 goals and 16 assists during Saint John’s recent playoff run, good for fourth place on the star-laden squad in scoring. In the QMJHL championship series against Rimouski, Jurco registered five goals and five assists during an impressive four-game sweep of the Oceanic.

Jurco’s coach, former Red Wings sniper Gerard Gallant, has been impressed with his skilled winger’s postseason performance.

“Tomas played really well in the playoffs and was outstanding for us in the Q finals,” Gallant said. “He put up good offensive numbers but he’s been a good all-around player as well. He was one of our best forwards at the (Memorial) Cup in Mississauga last year and we’ll be looking for him to step-up with another big performance this time around.”

Detroit’s first pick (second round, 35th overall) at last summer's NHL Entry Draft, Jurco has twice represented his native Slovakia at the IHF World Junior Championships and has earned accolades galore since Saint John selected him in the opening round (fourth overall) of the 2009 CHL Import Draft.

Renowned for his dazzling stick-handling ability and jaw-dropping breakaway moves, Jurco made an immediate impact upon arriving in North America three years ago, setting a Sea Dogs’ record for most goals by a rookie with 26 and leading the QMJHL in shootout markers (nine) in 2009-10.

He then took part in the CHL Top Prospects game and scored 31 times during a highly-productive sophomore campaign that culminated in his tying for the tournament lead in goals (four) during Saint John’s Memorial Cup run last spring.

This past season, Jurco recorded 30 goals and 38 assists in only 48 regular season appearances for an average of 1.42 points-per-game – by far the best numbers of his CHL career. 

Turning 20-years-old later this year, Jurco will be eligible to play in the American Hockey League next season. While a promising professional career awaits, the 6-foot-2, 193-pound puck magician is first intent upon ending an incredible three-year run with Saint John in historic fashion later this month.

“I’m definitely looking forward to playing at the next level in the future, but right now my focus is on playing well the next couple of weeks in Shawinigan,” the dynamic playmaker said. “I can’t think of a better way to wrap-up my junior career than helping the Sea Dogs win another title.”

Saint John’s first game of the tournament pits them against London on Saturday night at Shawinigan’s Bionest Centre. For more information on the 2012 Memorial Cup, click HERE.
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