Taking different roads to Mem Cup

Majors forward Chris DeSousa is a team player, but understands the business side of junior hockey...

Majors forward Chris DeSousa is a team player, but understands the business side of junior hockey too. (QMI Agency/Ernest Doroszuk)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:35 PM ET

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- A year-and-a-half ago, hockey buddies Chris DeSousa and Jay Gilbert quit the Ontario Hockey League's Niagara IceDogs.

They holed up at the Gilbert home in tiny Port Stanley, Ont., and waited nearly six weeks for a trade.

That same season, former first rounder Michael D'Orazio demanded to be moved from Owen Sound and Maple Leafs prospect Jesse Blacker wanted out of Windsor, where he had just won a Canadian Hockey League crown with the Spitfires.

They're all here in Mississauga this week -- proof the Memorial Cup is an intensely personal journey wrapped inside a team sport.

"You're always a team guy and you're not selfish," said D'Orazio, the overage defenceman of the host Mississauga St. Michael's Majors, "but when it comes down to it, you have to take care of yourself because no one else will."

That can be a scary proposition for a teenager. They hear advice from all directions -- parents, agents, management, coaches, friends and fans.

"You're trying to put yourself in the best possible position," said Gilbert, the veteran Owen Sound defenceman said. "You're looking for the right fit. It wasn't working out in St. Catharines, there were a lot of things going, so Chris and I made a decision.

"You don't know how it'll all play out but you're trying to do what's best and looking back, we both ended up in good places. Right now, all that other stuff seems like a long time ago."

There is an urgency and impatience in the junior ranks. Players have four, five years tops, to grasp at the big prize.

"I remember when I came here to the Mississauga IceDogs at 15 and the older guys were telling me to enjoy this because five years fly by," said DeSousa, the Majors forward, "and I said, 'Hey, I've got all kinds of time' but now, I've only got a few games left and then it's over, and you know what?

"It did fly by. I know everywhere I've been (Niagara, London, Misssissauga), I've been a team player but there's a business side to this game and you learn that, too."

Blacker, had he not forced Windsor's hand and ended up in Owen Sound, might be in the same position as his old Spitfires mate Justin Shugg, the Majors forward, right now -- with a rare shot at three straight Cups.

"But if I didn't get moved, I might never have ended up here this week for No. 2," he said. "I'm absolutely happy with the decision I made. I got the chance to be part of a team that brought an OHL title to a city starving for one. That was very rewarding."

Before the OHL final started, DeSousa and Gilbert spoke on the phone. They'll talk again after the Cup.

"I congratulated him and we just talked about how exciting this was," DeSousa said. "I grew up 10 minutes from this rink (in Port Credit) and I never dreamed there would be a Memorial Cup here, let along get to play in it.

"I told Jay if anyone has to beat us, I hope it's him. We'll always be friends."

The Memorial Cup is a personal journey, but you never forget the people you meet along the way.

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