The Halifax Mooseheads are still searching for perfection.
If they find it before the end of the MasterCard Memorial Cup, it's hard to imagine them not lifting the trophy after Sunday's final.
Playing a nearly flawless game didn't look too bad either.
Martin Frk had a hat trick and an assist and Darcy Ashley also scored twice and assisted on another goal Tuesday as Halifax dismantled the London Knights 9-2 in the final round-robin game at the tournament for both teams.
MacKenzie Weegar added two assists for the Halifax Mooseheads. … The best that Portland can finish is to qualify for the semifinal with a win over Saskatoon on Wednesday. … Hockey legend and local product Gordie Howe received a standing ovation from the crowd of 9,237 at the Credit Union Centre before dropping the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. … Alexis Normand sang the national anthem. She needed the crowd to help her finish "The Star-Spangled Banner" on Saturday after she forgot the words. Normand got a nice round of applause after Tuesday's performance of "O Canada" went off without a hitch. … The game featured at least six potential first-round picks for next month's NHL draft — Nate MacKinnon (No. 2 ranked North American skater) and Jonathan Drouin (No. 3) from Halifax, and London's Bo Horvat (No. 15), Max Domi (No. 19) and Nikita Zadorov (No. 22). Zachary Fucale, meanwhile, is rated as the No. 1 draft-eligible goaltender by NHL Central Scouting.
— The Canadian Press
"We want to bring that to the next game and strive to be even better next time," Mooseheads coach Dominique Ducharme said. "We were not perfect, we were close, we were not perfect.
"Our goal is to be playing the perfect game. Our next game could be a good time to do it."
That could come in the form of either Friday's semifinal or Sunday's championship game, depending on what happens in Wednesday's final round-robin game between the Portland Winterhawks and the Saskatoon Blades.
Stefan Fournier added a goal and an assist, while Brent Andrews, Ryan Falkenham and Luca Ciampini also scored for Halifax (2-1), which is looking for its first Memorial Cup. Top prospects Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, who play on a line with Frk, each added three assists as the Mooseheads' top three forwards combined for 10 points.
"When you do the little things right, you get rewarded. Those guys skated hard and they were rewarded with opportunities," Ducharme said. "When you're sharp, when you're alive, when you're on your toes, you get those scoring chances and you put them in the net.
"When you do good things, good things happen to you."
Zachary Fucale made 26 saves for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions, who led 5-0 after the first period and 8-2 after the second before taking their foot off the gas in the third.
The focus of the tournament now turns to Wednesday's game between the Western Hockey League champion Winterhawks (1-1) and the host Blades (1-1). A victory for Portland puts the Mooseheads directly into Sunday's championship game, while a Saskatoon win means the Blades will go right to the final, with Halifax having to settle for a spot in the semifinal.
Ducharme had a message for his players after the Mooseheads dominated from start to finish after two so-so performances to begin the tournament that decides the Canadian Hockey League title.
"The next time we play I want to see the same kind of urgency, energy, battle level and composure at the same time that we had tonight," he said.
Seth Griffith and Matt Rupert had the goals for the overmatched Knights (1-2), who will take on the loser of Saskatoon-Portland in Thursday's tiebreaker. The winner of that one moves on to the semi.
"It's one of those games where they jumped on us early," said Knights coach Dale Hunter, whose team lost 6-3 to Portland a night earlier and were also involved in gruelling seven-game Ontario Hockey League final. "It happens. I've been on a bigger playing field than this and a few times this kind of game has happened."
Jake Patterson, who was making his first start of the tournament, stopped 6 of 11 shots for London in a disastrous first period before being replaced by Anthony Stolarz at the start of second. Stolarz was pulled after giving up five goals on 31 shots in the loss to Portland. He finished with 22 saves on Tuesday.
Coming off Sunday's 5-2 upset loss to Saskatoon, the determined and fresher Mooseheads scored early and often against the sluggish Knights.
"We wanted to bounce back. We don't like the taste of losing but it's not too bad to have it once in a while," MacKinnon said. "I think it gives you a bit of a wake-up call and makes you a little more hungry to win."
Frk stepped out of the corner and faked a shot before finding Fournier wide open on Patterson's doorstep for an easy tap-in to start the onslaught at 7:43 of the first period. Ashley made it 2-0 just 1:43 later, popping home a rebound from in close and added his second of the night at 12:02 on a nice deflection just as a Knights penalty expired.
The rout was on at 17:31 when Andrews stripped the puck from Knights defenceman Nikita Zadorov at the Halifax blue-line and moved in on a 2-on-1 before beating Patterson with a quick shot to the stickside to make it 4-0.
Frk, a second-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2012, then stretched the lead to five just 29 seconds later by burying a one-timer from the slot off a pass from Drouin.
The Mooseheads didn't let up against their wounded opponent in the second period. After London's Max Domi fired wide on a partial breakaway, Frk finished off a pretty passing play with MacKinnon and Drouin for his second of the night at 1:45 past Stolarz, who came on in place of Patterson.
Falkenham made it 7-0 at 9:51 with a shot that chimed in of the post on a 2-on-1 as Ducharme started to roll four lines.
London showed a bit of life and got one back on a nice move by Griffith on Fucale at 16:02 and Rupert cut the deficit to five 1:18 later.
But any threat of a miraculous comeback was put to rest when Frk finished off another passing play with MacKinnon and Drouin for his third of the night with 1:57 left in the period.
"Everyone was playing very well and the boys made nice passes for me to score goals," Frk said. "I had a pretty easy job — three open nets."
Ciampini added Halifax's ninth goal on a two-man advantage with less than a minute to play in the third period as both teams now look ahead to the knockout round.
Ducharme kept his stars on the bench for large chunks of the final period, but put MacKinnon, Drouin and Frk back out with Halifax skating 5-on-3 after he thought there was too much stickwork from the Knights in the dying minutes.
"There was many power players where we didn't put them [on the ice]," Ducharme said. "At one point we thought that [the Knights] were going pretty hard on the slash and everything else so we decided to go back with them."