Knights' Rupert likes underdog status
Saint John Sea Dogs start quest for back-to-back crowns Saturday night against London
Ryan Pyette, QMI Agency
|Ryan Rupert of the Knights takes a knee during practice at the John Labatt Centre. MIKE HENSEN/QMI AGENCY
SHAWINIGAN, QUE. - The Saint John Sea Dogs are defending Memorial Cup champions and favourites to repeat here this week.
London Knights forward Ryan Rupert couldn't care less.
“We feel like we can beat any team here,” said the gritty 17-year-old winger from Grand Bend, Ont., part of the OHL champions' top shutdown line with twin brother Matt and league playoff MVP Austin Watson. “They have some good defencemen, but they're not overly deep on D.
“We want to get a hard forecheck going and pound them.”
The Sea Dogs, who start the quest for back-to-back crowns Saturday night against London, are comfortable playing any style of game – finesse, physical or a combination of both.
They've seen how former Washington coach Dale Hunter's Capitals operate, and know the junior team he co-owns isn't much different.
“They block a lot of shots,” Saint John head coach Gerard Gallant. “We've seen teams trap against us this year, the 1-2-2 or whatever they want to throw at us, we've seen it. We'll play it anyway you want. We have defencemen (Montreal Canadiens first-rounder Nathan Beaulieu, Kevin Gagne and Pierre Durepos) who can beat the trap and dump the puck in and we'll go in after it.”
Their top forward line consists of burly Charlie Coyle and massive Danick Gauthier with Florida Panthers first pick Jonathan Huberdeau, who was Memorial Cup MVP last year in Mississauga.
It might be the best forward line in major junior hockey.
“I don't know, that other one (Saint John's Stanislav Galiev, Zack Phillips, Tomas Jurco) is pretty good, too,” London GM and head coach Mark Hunter quipped.
Gallant isn't fanatical about line matching. Hunter, who has the benefit of last line change, is more active about it.
To start, Watson and the Ruperts are likely to go against Saint John's big No. 1 unit. Tampa Bay first-rounder Vladislav Namestnikov, the Knights' best-skating forward, will likely go head-to-head with Galiev, who he knows well from representing Russia together at Under-17 and Under-18 international tournaments.
“We faced a lot of top lines in the playoffs,” Ryan Rupert said. “We played against the (Brandon) Saad line in Saginaw in the second round, we played a couple of real good Niagara lines (in the OHL final).
“It's not anything new.”
Rupert believes the heat inside Shawinigan's Centre Bionest and the choppy condition of the ice could be of assistance to the defensive-minded Knights.
“We're a chip-and-chase team and the ice might help us,” Rupert said. “We have some finesse, too, but we're mostly all about hard work. It's been a great time here so far and I can't wait to get it going.”
Mark Hunter isn't going to count on bad ice the rest of the tournament. Cup officials are working on improving the situation.
“We don't get rattled too much by that stuff,” Hunter said. “That's not going to affect the way we play.”
But it's time to find out if they can affect the way powerhouse Saint John does.