KITCHENER -- Oh how the Hull (Gatineau to you) Olympiques wanted this one.
And nowhere was that more evident than in the person of one Maxime Mallette.
Hull's best defenceman, the 19-year-old Mallette had surgery to repair torn shoulder ligaments in February. He's not supposed to be playing hockey for another month and a half, at the earliest. But this is the Memorial Cup. This is a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity for the very fortunate hockey players, nothing more than a week-long series of TV shows for most.
Miraculously, Mallette returned from the injury to play in the tournament opener Friday.
"I tried my best, but ...," he said.
But Mallette didn't see much more that a minute of ice time in the overtime loss to Kitchener. Just long enough to prove he wasn't ready to return, as evident in his inability to compete well enough on the first goal given up by the team.
He was a no-go in Game 2.
But last night, with the Olympiques in a do-or-die situation, Mallette was very present. Popping some pre-game pain killers, the native of Ste-Martine, Que., took a regular shift against the Spokane Chiefs. And he contributed.
Unable to deliver any slapshots, it was a Mallette wrister from the point that Alexandre Quesnel deflected to give Hull its one and only lead of the Memorial Cup. Soon, the Olympiques' deficiencies caught up to them. Again.
"I wanted to play," said Mallette. "I know it would have been dangerous to get hurt again. It would have meant another surgery, and (out) longer this time. But it's the Memorial Cup. The first and probably the last time I'll be here in my career. I just wanted to go there and play for the team."
The Olympiques were bumped from the national junior tournament after just three games because they weren't good enough on defence, with or without Mallette. They also didn't have enough up front.
After breezing through the regular season and QMJHL playoffs, Claude Giroux and Paul Byron could not score with the same ease here. Both had just one goal -- the same number as rookie defenceman Hugo Laporte, who had never before scored in any game at this level.
The Olympiques were hurt, too, by the fact goalie Ryan Mior proved to be merely mortal. He faced more than 40 shots in every game, and gave up three bad goals in the first two. Mior needed to be perfect.
In the end, the Olympiques seemed to run out of gas, perhaps a compliment to the teams they had to battle to get here, or maybe simply a statement that this year, the QMJHL was not in the same class as the other two leagues.
But they did bow out with grace, as wingers Darryl Smith and Michael Stinziani carried a flag, thanking Kitchener for its hospitality -- with every one of their teammates in tow -- as they skated one lap of the ice surface after shaking hands with the Chiefs.
'REALLY GOT TO ME'
"To be honest, I can't remember the last time I shed a tear," said Smith. "But it's my last year. Skating around with that flag, it really got to me."
It was also the last appearance in an Olympiques jersey for Giroux, who should be in the Philadelphia Flyers' lineup as soon as next season, plus quite possibly the last time Benoit Groulx will stand behind their bench. It's expected he, too, is destined for a career in the pros.
"I wish we weren't going home (today)," Groulx said after speaking of how well the tournament is run and how great his team was treated.
Oh how they and the rest of Olympiques wanted this one, if only to take their chances in a tie-breaker tomorrow.
They just didn't have enough to get it done.
NHLERS LOOK ON
A few NHL types -- including Senators assistant GM Tim Murray and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli -- found their way to Kitchener yesterday.