Sea Dogs reach Memorial Cup final
RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
|Tomas Jurco celebrates his tying goal late in the third period against the Owen Sound Attack at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ont., May 23, 2011. Saint John went on to win 3-2 in overtime and qualified for the Memorial Cup final. (DAVE THOMAS/QMI Agency)
MISSISSAUGA - One thing is clear: The Owen Sound Attack and Saint John Sea Dogs deserve an encore performance.
After their gut-wrenching marathon first act into late Monday night, there is only one way a rematch will happen -- under the biggest spotlight in Sunday's Memorial Cup final.
Top NHL prospect Jonathan Huberdeau ended the best game of the tournament to date and booked his Quebec league-champion Sea Dogs a ticket to the title game with a seeing-eye, top-shelf shot with 2:25 left in the first overtime period to beat the Joey Hishon-less Attack 3-2 before 5,429 at the Hershey Centre.
"Michael Kirkpatrick got the puck out of the corner to me," the 17-year-old scoring hero from St. Jerome, Que., said, "and I thought I didn't get it at first, but it hit the post and went in.
"Their goalie (Jordan Binnington) played pretty good. It wasn't an easy game, for sure. It's just one of those goals. We had chances to win and so did they."
The forlorn Attack, which jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on goals by Matt Petgrave and Andrew Shaw, couldn't make it hold up forever. Silky Sea Dog Tomas Jurco set up Stanislav Galiev in the second to break Binnington's 95-minute Cup shutout streak, then tied it on a nifty shot in tight with a little more than three minutes left.
"We'd love to see them again," said Shaw, the gritty forward, who matched Jurco with a goal and an assist. "It would give us a chance for redemption." But the Attack has work to do. Its game Wednesday against the host Mississauga St. Michael's Majors -- or, Game 8 of the OHL final, if you will -- now looms large.
"We've overcome adversity all season," hard-working Attack centre Liam Heelis said, "and it's not any different now. Nothing's changed." Nothing ever comes easy for these OHL champs.
"That's correct," Heelis said. "We had some guys step up (with Hishon out and still questionable for Wednesday)." But not enough, according to frustrated Maple Leafs pick and Owen Sound defenceman Jesse Blacker.
"We blew a really big opportunity here," he said. "Our first period was good, but there were too many passengers in this game. Some of our older guys have to do better. We made our goalie stand on his head and you can't do that to an 18-year-old kid.
"You win with your older guys and you lose with your older guys. That's the way it is." This is the most bitter defeat of a magical Attack season. It had been 5-0 in playoff overtimes before meeting the talented Sea Dogs.
Saint John, meanwhile, extended its playoff road winning streak to a perfect 12-0.
They built that mark on the backs of guys such as Kirkpatrick, who dislocated his shoulder in the league semifinal series but still played more than 30 minutes in a title-clinching double-overtime win at Gatineau last week.
"We're going to the final," said Saint John defenceman Simon Despres, the Pittsburgh prospect who has been sapped by a bout of bronchitis this week, "but we still have work to do." Jurco stole the show with his dazzling puck skills after saying he was hesitant to use them in a game of such stakes.
"Those are just my normal moves," the Slovakian said. "It wasn't like that guy in Finland with the lacrosse goal (at the worlds)."
But to the Dogs, it was still apple-of-the-eye, incredible stuff. And enough to earn a berth in the biggest game of their lives.
It has a good chance to be a Cup classic -- but a lot of that depends on them seeing Owen Sound one more time.