Sea Dogs ready for Memorial Cup celebration
Ryan Pyette, QMI Agency
|The Saint John Sea Dogs practiced for the Memorial Cup final on Friday, May 27, 2011 at Iceland arena in Mississauga. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)
MISSISSAUGA — The response, if the Saint John Sea Dogs bring the Memorial Cup home, is predictable.
The place will go nuts. There’s already a parade planned — win or lose — for Tuesday.
“That’s Saint John,” said hometown kid Aidan Kelly, an 18-year-old Sea Dogs forward. “I remember I was eight or nine (in 2001) when the Saint John Flames won the (American Hockey League’s) Calder Cup, we all went to celebrate because it was a huge deal for us.
“It isn’t a big city like Toronto or Mississauga. (Teammate) Ryan Tesink and I, we grew up there and now, little kids will run up to us while we’re walking down the street and ask, ‘Are you Aidan Kelly of the Sea Dogs? Are you Ryan Tesink?’ And they’ll want autographs.”
Nobody’s real sure what the response will be outside the Hershey Centre if the Majors beat the Sea Dogs in the Cup final Sunday night. That’s the $3 million question Mississauga owner Eugene Melnyk wanted answered when he coaxed the tournament to the massive GTA market.
And so this game won’t just be a tug-of-war between altering styles — Saint John’s youthful offensive tint against the Majors’ veteran-laden and stifling defensive system.
It’s also a clash of popular culture and what passes for cool entertainment in a community.
The Sea Dogs have only been in existence six years and are already entrenched in Saint John. The Majors have aimed to create a buzz to prove junior hockey isn’t a lost cause in these parts.
Mississauga forward Chris DeSousa grew up in Port Credit, 10 minutes from the Hershey Centre. No one rushes up to him and his teammates when they’re walking around the Square One shopping centre.
“I don’t think that’ll change,” the 20-year-old said, “but having the Cup here is starting to filter in. We went for a team breakfast the other day and people asked us for autographs. That never happened before. And there were cars out on the street honking their horns at our bus.
“It’s a boost for the guys and it would be big for all of us and the organization to win this final game. Losing the OHL final in Game 7 hurt and we want to fix it.”
The host squad is up against a Quebec league champion that has the makings of a dynasty. If everything falls into place with stars returning next year, the Sea Dogs will have a shot at back-to-back Cups like the Windsor Spitfires did the previous two years.
“We had the good fortune to draft a lot of highly-skilled players and if we didn’t have that, we’d probably play a different style,” Saint John head coach Gerard Gallant, the former Detroit Red Wing, said. “We’re confident in the way we play and we know how they play. Mississauga will try to come out like gangbusters in the first 10 minutes because that’s what they’ve done every game they’ve played all year.”
The Majors haven’t scored more than three goals in any of their four Cup games. But they’ve also only allowed a stingy seven all tournament.
“We’re saving our offence for when it counts the most,” Mississauga defenceman Stuart Percy said with a smile. “Our defence always takes pride in limiting the number of chances we allow and we play a strong team game.
“That’s our biggest strength.”
The Sea Dogs regard the Majors as the most physical team of the four they played here. Being able to stand up to the pounding in the opening victory provided a surge of confidence.
“If they want to hit us, it’s nothing new,” Saint John’s top NHL prospect Jonathan Huberdeau said. “We handled it all year. It’s different styles but that doesn’t mean anything now. It’s one game now — win or lose — and we don’t like to lose.”
A cute juxtaposition is the two coaches — Saint John’s Gerard Gallant and Mississauga’s Dave Cameron — grew up 20 minutes apart on Prince Edward Island.
“He’s the big-city boy (Summerside),” Cameron said, “and we’re the country hicks (from Kinkora). I said at the start of the tournament that if we didn’t win it, I’d like to see their team do it.
“But to hell with them — I want to win.”
Mississauga (3-1) vs. Saint John (2-1)
When: Sunday, 7 p.m. at Mississauga’s Hershey Centre.
The matchup: The Sea Dogs beat the Majors 4-3 in the opening game of the tournament last Friday on a controversial Nathan Beaulieu goal that came after a missed offside.