Sea Dogs almost unbeatable

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:52 PM ET

SHAWINIGAN, QUE. - Charlie Coyle's transition from the NCAA to the Canadian Hockey League was nearly seamless.

But the big forward didn't look as comfortable answering a hypothetical question about who would win a head-to-head matchup -- his old NCAA school, Boston University, or his new team, the defending Memorial Cup-champion Saint John Sea Dogs.

"I don't think I want to answer that one," the 20-year-old Minnesota Wild prospect said with a grin.

He finally, after further prodding, agreed they would probably play to a tie.

There won't be any ties this week in Shawinigan. But if someone beats Saint John, the pre-Memorial Cup favourite, it will throw everything for a loop.

The Sea Dogs have a top forward line of Coyle, the Q-league's playoff MVP, Florida Panthers first-rounder Jonathan Huberdeau and overager Danick Gauthier, who has 60 combined regular season/playoff goals.

And if you stop them, get ready for Stanislav Galiev, Zack Phillips and Tomas Jurco.

Want to beat Saint John? Better have a couple of Grade A shutdown lines.

"When you have the players like we have in front of you, you have a lot of good games," said Sea Dogs goalie Mathieu Corbeil, the starter after serving as Jacob DeSerres' backup down the stretch last year. "I don't think much has changed from last season. We're excited to be back here again. A lot of guys have gone through it and won before, but there are three good teams here and it won't be easy.

"There were times maybe we can be a little passive because we can rely on our talent, but (head coach Gerard Gallant) keeps us going, keeps us grounded.

"We know we need that full work ethic if we're going to win."

The Sea Dogs didn't match their outstanding 58-win regular season from a year ago. They started slow with a dozen players at NHL training camps, lost more at world junior time and through injuries, and finished with 50 victories.

If they had everyone all year, would they have challenged for 60?

"You can say yes, or you can say no, but we didn't end up doing it," said Huberdeau, the Saint John captain. "We didn't have all our players in the beginning and we had injuries, but you can't say that's the reason. I don't think you can compare this year to last year.

"These are two different teams. We won (in Mississauga), but we lost some guys from that team and added others. New team, new year."

They do have the same sweaters and the same goal -- to win the Cup back-to-back, just like the Windsor Spitfires before them.

The Sea Dogs were a buzzsaw in the Quebec league playoffs. They only lost one game -- in overtime -- and never trailed in a four-game championship series sweep over Rimouski.

"There's no pressure on anyone," Huberdeau said. "We just go out and play and have fun. We added (Coyle) there, and he's a big guy who frees up space for his linemates. Things have been clicking for us and we're looking to continue that here."

Their first test is against the OHL champion London Knights.

Coyle, Huberdeau and Gauthier will likely meet up with London's top shutdown trio -- OHL playoff MVP Austin Watson and the Rupert twins, Matt and Ryan -- in their Memorial Cup opener Saturday night.

Matt Rupert wasn't hearing any underdog talk.

"We think we're right at the top," he said. "We have a team that's capable of winning the whole thing."

They'll find out right away if that's true.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RyanatLFPress

SAINT JOHN THEN AND NOW

A look at the defending Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs

Regular season record

This year: 50-15-03, 103 points.

Last year: 58-7-0-3, 119 points.

Playoff record

This year: 16-1.

Last year: 16-3.

Leading scorer

This year: Danick Gauthier (47-39-86)

Last year: Jonathan Huberdeau (43-62-105)

Top goalie

This year: Mathieu Corbeil, 37-11, 2.38 GAA, .911 save %, 6 shutouts.

Last year: Jacob DeSerres, 27-3, 2.22 GAA, .916 save %, 4 shutouts.

Goals score

This year: 298

Last year: 324

Goals against

This year: 180

Last year: 165

Penalty minutes

This year: 1,128 PIMs

Last year: 893

Power play

This year: 23.8 %

Last year: 25.1 %

Penalty kill

This year: 81.1 %

Last year: 83.7 %


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