Every dog has its day, and for the Saint John Sea Dogs it arrived on Sunday evening.
The Sea Dogs became the first Atlantic province team in the 93-year history of the MasterCard Memorial Cup to win the major junior championship. The Quebec league winners survived a 3-1 nail-biter victory against the hometown Mississauga St. Michael's Majors before a crowd of 5,429 at the Hershey Centre in the final.
Before Saint John prevailed in the final, the most easterly team to have won the junior crown was the Quebec Remparts in 2005-06 and 1970-71. Immediately after the final buzzer sounded, car horns honked and people began to congregate in downtown Saint John to celebrate.
"This mean so much to Atlantic Canada," said Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant, who hails from Summerside, P.E.I. "It just shows you how much talent we have out there. We had 10 or 11 kids from Atlantic Canada on our team. That’s outstanding and it’s only going to help develop more kids."
Gallant, 47, preceded all this talent. He was a tough-as-nails goal scorer for the NHL's Detroit Red Wings, and in junior made it to back-to-back Memorial Cup tournaments with Sherbrooke and Verdun in 1982 and 1983, respectively, but lost in the final with Sherbrooke and was ousted in the semifinal with Verdun.
"That was a long time ago," Gallant said. "I played with some outstanding players like Pat Lafontaine [in Verdun] and it was definitely disappointing to lose. But to come back here with this group and coach and win is an outstanding feeling."
Another member of the Sea Dogs who felt redemption was goalie Jacob DeSerres. The 21-year-old was in goal for Brandon when the Wheat Kings were drubbed 9-1 by the Windsor Spitfires in the Memorial Cup final a year ago. He didn’t have a place to continue this season until the Sea Dogs called.
All DeSerres did was reward that faith with a spectacular 34-save performance in the final. He was especially good in the third period with the Majors pressing.
"After last year I didn’t know if I would get another opportunity. I‘m glad I did," said DeSerres, who calmly scooped up the puck when the game ended before he was swarmed by his teammates.
"I don’t know, maybe it’s wrong to say, but I figured it would be stupid if no one gave me a shot."
The Sea Dogs, the youngest team in the tournament, jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the game was 14 minutes old. Simon Despres, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect who played for the Canadian junior team, scored a shorthanded goal when he beat Majors goalie J.P. Anderson high on the stick side.
Saint John forward Zack Phillips, a likely first-round pick in the NHL entry draft next month, put home a pass from 17-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau for the Sea Dogs' second goal.
The Majors pulled themselves close with a goal from Riley Brace late in the second period and were all around the Sea Dogs crease in the third period. But Huberdeau, another top NHL prospect, converted on a 2-on-1 break with less than four minutes left.
Huberdeau was named tournament MVP, while Owen Sound’s Jordan Binnington was bestowed top goaltending honours. The all-star team consisted of Binnington, Mississauga defenceman Stuart Percy, Saint John blue-liner Nathan Beaulieu as well as forwards Andrew Shaw (Owen Sound), Devante Smith-Pelly (Mississauga) and Huberdeau.
While he coached a truly elite-level junior team, St. Michael's coach Dave Cameron was the losing coach in three different finals in the past five months: the world junior gold-medal final, the OHL final and the Memorial Cup final.
"They say losses toughen you up and right now I feel like a 10-cent steak," said Cameron, also from P.E.I.