May 27, 2011
Ice melt after loss to Majors
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - Nathan Lieuwen's eyes welled, but the Kootenay ice goaltender managed to keep his tears in check.
As members of the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors stood just a few feet away and answered questions from reporters in the mixed zone about their semifinal victory in the 2011 Memorial Cup, Lieuwen tried to digest the fact his season was over.
"I thought I can be better," the 6-foot-5 Lieuwen said. "I won't let it slip away again."
But Lieuwen isn't the reason the Ice, the Western Hockey League champion, lost 3-1. The Ice couldn't score against a machine-like St. Mike's team that rolls at the opponent in waves and has few players who are not as effective as the next.
Kootenay's effort was fine, but the fact they scored once on seven power plays helped finish their season. Majors goalie JP Anderson was sharp.
"Guys are upset, but we're a tight team," Ice forward Cody Eakin said. "We did some unbelievable things. I can proudly say we are a top-four team in Canada, and there are 56 other teams that would kill to be here."
The Majors will play the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Saint John Sea Dogs in the Cup final on Sunday night.
Some observers of this Memorial Cup have said that the Sea Dogs are the most complete team to emerge from the Quebec league in recent memory. It's a testament to coach Gerard Gallant, who has nine players eligible for the NHL entry draft in June, but has a team with no personnel problems.
In other words, the Sea Dogs, led by top prospects Jonathan Huberdeau and Nathan Beaulieu, aren't playing for themselves. That's not easy to accomplish in a year when NHL scouts dissect everything you do.
From the point of view of tournament organizers, this final probably is the one most wanted. The Sea Dogs were the No. 1-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League, and they will play the home team, which did not win the OHL title but did not back into the tournament either. Losing in overtime of Game 7 of the OHL final? That's close enough to the front door for us.
What makes the Majors successful? Ice coach Kris Knoblauch commented on Mississauga's depth. Said Majors coach Dave Cameron: "We roll four lines and six defencemen. We're not dynamic, but we're efficient." No argument here ... Devante Smith-Pelly, who signed with the Anaheim Ducks last December after the Ducks picked him in the second round in 2009, has been one of the Majors' effective performers. Smith-Pelly scored a couple of goals against the Ice that came from his natural ability. He walked out of the corner and waited long enough for Lieuwen to commit before beating the Ice goaltender with a wrist shot for his second goal. On his first, he positioned himself in the slot and one-timed a pass from Stuart Percy on a Majors power play. All this in front of Ducks assistant coach Mike Foligno, who watched from a seat at one end of the rink ... The Majors' full-clasp, smothering defence was in tune from the opening faceoff. The Ice didn't register its first shot on goal until more than 11 minutes had lapsed in the first period ... St. Mike's set the pace with several jolting body checks. Brett Flemming nailed Jesse Ismond and Marc Cantin rattled Steele Boomer as the Majors asserted themselves. But the Ice, a tough-as-nails club that likes physical hockey, was not cowed. Captain Brayden McNabb, the scourge of every Owen Sound Attack fan for his season-ending elbow on Joey Hishon, creamed Jordan Mayer ... Anderson was excellent as the Ice got more scoring chances in the latter half. Among his best saves was one on Max Reinhart, who chose to keep on a 2-on-1 in the third period, but could not get his shot past Anderson. A toe save on McNabb with less than four minutes remaining was another Anderson highlight.
From the hash marks
Majors forward Justin Shugg is on the cusp of nudging himself into the Cup record book, as only Robert Savard has won the Cup in three consecutive seasons. Shugg, owner of Cup rings from the past two years with the Windsor Spitfires, has a shot at his third in a row. "To win three would be mind-blowing," Shugg said. "I am happy and fortunate for what I have been able to do." As for the commitment that winning takes? "I don't know what the off-season feels like," Shugg said with a smile. "I don't remember." ... The Majors finally are getting the kind of noisy, boisterous support that any team with season-long success deserves. Fans at the Hershey Centre actually drowned out public address announcer Tony Ambrogio a couple of times. Majors owner Eugene Melnyk said during a news conference on Friday afternoon that the club won't have a future in Mississauga unless it continues to win. If nothing else, the hope is that new fans have caught on to something ... Majors forward Gregg Sutch left the game with a suspected arm injury and is, in coach Dave Cameron's words, "a long shot" to play in the final.