Saint John emerges as Memorial Cup victor

By John Canario
Photo: Jonathan Huberdeau opened a lot of eyes with his performance at the Memorial Cup. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

The 2011 Memorial Cup in Mississauga, Ontario came to a close this past Sunday night with the Saint John Sea Dogs emerging as the convincing victors over the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors by a score of 3-1. What follows is a breakdown of how each team’s drafted and draft-eligible prospects performed during the 10-day event.

Saint John Sea Dogs

The victorious Sea Dogs went 3-1 during the tournament and looked fairly strong throughout despite always playing in tight games. When asked about the performance of his young team, head coach Gerrard Gallant responded, "The great thing about our draft-eligible prospects is that they’ve been showing up to the rink ignoring the fact that there are scouts in the stands. They are playing team hockey."

The Sea Dogs boast numerous draft-eligible players, four of whom are likely to hear their name called in the first round at the NHL Entry draft on June 24th. Highly-regarded prospects Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Jurco were the stories of the tournament, exemplifying exceptional skill and scoring timely goals for Saint John. Huberdeau was named a Memorial Cup All-Star and also the tournament MVP after recording three goals and three assists, including the clinching goal in the final game. Jurco continuously dazzled the Hershey Centre crowd with a dozen different dekes that often led to Sea Dogs’ goals. Left winger Zack Phillips displayed great poise and patience handling the puck with the man-advantage, setting the pace of the game from the sideboards. Center/left winger Ryan Tesink who is ranked 47th by NHL Central Scouting, notched a goal in the tournament, playing mostly in a third-line role. Overager Michael Kirkpatrick furthered his case for a late draft selection or signing by scoring a goal and adding four assists. Rearguard Nathan Beaulieu, who plays a style reminiscent of Alex Pietrangelo (STL), was reliable in his own end whilst chipping in offensively with a goal and two assists. He was named to the tournament’s All-Star team. Gabriel Bourret was a solid presence on defense as well, recording one assist and a plus-three rating. Sea Dogs’ netminder Jacob De Serres, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008 but is again draft eligible for never having signed a contract, appeared to struggle with rebound control for much of the tournament. He elevated his play during the championship game, making 34 saves, several of which came on the doorstep as the Majors tried to even the score in the third period.

The Sea Dogs have five players who are presently the property of an NHL team. Stanislav Galiev (WAS) was easily the most explosive skater at the tournament, exhibiting chemistry with linemates Tomas Jurco and Stephen MacAulay (STL). Galiev notched a goal and two assists, while MacAulay – who is often regarded as a role player – displayed soft hands and signs of offensive ability despite recording a single assist. Steven Anthony (VAN) was mostly a non-factor on the ice, playing in just one game as he dealt with an ailing left-knee injury. Simon Despres (PIT) battled a bout of bronchitis throughout the week, and coach Gallant limited his top defender’s ice time leading up to the final as a result. Despres recorded a single goal in three games played. Fellow defenseman Eric Gelinas (NJD) logged heavy minutes for Saint John, showing off his strong skating ability and slick hands. Gelinas, who had an assist in the tournament, still appears capable of putting another 10 to 20 pounds on to his 6-foot-4 frame. Goaltender Mathieu Corbeil (CMB) looked strong between the pipes in the one game he played, despite losing 5-4 in overtime to the Owen Sound Attack. Corbeil turned aside 40 of the 45 shots he faced.

Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors

The hometown Majors were the Memorial Cup’s runner’s up, putting together a 3-2 record in the process. Despite maintaining possession for most of the championship game, the Majors’ struggled to finish on a number of prime scoring opportunities. Mississauga has just three players likely to be drafted this year. Up front, center Joseph Cramarossa turned in an inconsistent tournament, showing speed and skill on one rush while turning the puck over on the next. The gritty 18-year-old missed a crucial and easy empty-netter against Owen Sound and finished the tournament with zero points in five games. On defense, Stuart Percy turned in a series of admirable performances that saw him selected to the Memorial Cup All-Star team. Percy, who led all defensemen in the tournament with four points and showed great decision-making abilities, is expected to be drafted in the second or third round of the upcoming NHL draft. Dylan DeMelo, ranked 121st by NHL Central Scouting, did not find the scoresheet but was a reliable plus-three.

The Majors have nine players affiliated with NHL clubs, including Devante Smith-Pelly (ANA) who was consistently one of the best players at the tournament. Smith-Pelly makes up for his lack of speed with brute strength, outmuscling his opponents for pucks or laying them out with thunderous bodychecks. The left-winger accumulated three goals and three assists en route to being named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team. Heavy-hitting Rob Flick (CHI) had a respectable tournament, scoring twice and adding an assist, while captain Casey Cizikas (NYI) did the same. Two-time Memorial Cup-winner and the Majors’ leading scorer during the regular season, Justin Shugg (CAR), looked just elementary during the tournament as he tallied a goal and two assists. Maxim Kitsyn (LAK) struggled mightily taking costly penalties and failed to show the scoring punch he demonstrated during the season, tabulating just two points. Bruising left winger Gregg Sutch (BUF), who left Mississauga’s fourth game with an upper-body injury and never returned in the tournament, was held pointless but was noted for his strong defensive play by head coach and general manager of the Majors, Dave Cameron, "When you build a hockey team, these are the guys you look for for your so-called energy line. It’s sometimes those so-called lesser lights that get you over the hump."

On defense, Marc Cantin (BOS) had a respectable week assisting on a pair of goals. He was named the Most Sportsmanlike Player of the tournament. Fellow blueliner Brett Flemming (WAS) was solid but not spectacular, recording one assist. Backstopper J.P. Anderson (SAN) was stifling in goal with a .929 save percentage, though he allowed a savable, shorthanded wrister from 25-feet in the final game that promptly quieted the hometown crowd.

Kootenay Ice

Kootenay finished third in the tournament, compiling a 2-3 record along the way. The Ice have no draft prospects certain to be selected this year, but the closest player fitting the description would be their 6-foot-5 overaged goaltender Nathan Lieuwen. The lanky netminder was named MVP of the WHL playoffs but could not repeat his stifling heroics in the Memorial Cup tournament. While the Abbotsford, British Columbia-native occasionally made some spectacular saves, he allowed some weak goals on his blocker side and between his legs.

The Ice have six players affiliated with NHL organizations. Their top three players throughout the tournament were Cody Eakin (WAS), Matt Fraser (DAL) and Max Reinhart (CGY) who each notched six points. A combination of speed, slick stickhandling and a quick release, Eakin was one of the few players in the Memorial Cup to display game-changing abilities, while Fraser showed off his skill as a dependable finisher, tying for the tournament lead with four goals. Drew Czerwonka (EDM) exhibited good puck control despite pressure from opposing defenders and tallied a goal and two assists. Defenseman Brayden McNabb (BUF) had three assists and was most effective while utilizing his slapshot on the powerplay, though he will mostly be remembered for the elbow he delivered to Joey Hishon (COL) of Owen Sound that caused the sniper to miss the remainder of the tournament. McNabb was suspended for one game. The hulking defender needs to work on his skating and on his defensive zone play. Fellow rearguard Joey Leach (CGY) recorded two assists in five tournament contests.

Owen Sound Attack

Plagued by injuries to their top two players, Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson (FLA), the Attack came out of the gates strong but faded down the stretch en route to a 1-3 record. The Attack have four players likely to be drafted or perhaps signed this offseason. Overage, power forward Andrew Shaw followed up an impressive season and postseason with an even better Memorial Cup, leading all players in the tournament with seven points. Shaw was also named a Memorial Cup All-Star. OHL playoff MVP Robby Mignardi put his soft hands to good use, scoring twice and assisting on another. Mignardi, who just completed his fifth and final season of OHL hockey could be a late-round pick at the upcoming draft. Andrew Fritsch, who is a first-year-eligible prospect, was unable to produce at the level he did during the regular season as he notched just a goal and an assist and was a minus-two. The best player for the Attack at the tournament was 17-year-old goaltender Jordan Binnington, who saved 98 of the 103 shots he faced in the tournament for a 1.42 goals against average and a .951 save percentage. Binnington occasionally made some odd decisions playing iced pucks, but between the pipes he was nothing short of sensational. The fundamentally sound, quick-moving netminder will command a lot of attention at the NHL draft for his meteoric rise at the end of the 2010-11 campaign.

The Attack have six players associated with NHL teams. Joey Hishon, the Attack’s explosive scorer and playmaker during the regular season was sidelined in the first game with a concussion, while captain Garrett Wilson suffered a similar fate after being on the receiving end of a controversial hit in game three. Geoffrey Schemitsch (TBL) contributed with two assists in four games for Owen Sound. Jesse Blacker (TOR) had an assist, and though he impressed with several near end-to-end rushes, he took three untimely penalties in the Attack’s game against Mississauga that set the team back in their quest for a comeback. In a somewhat questionable coaching decision, Owen Sound’ head coach Mark Reeds elected to start Scott Stajcer (NYR) in the Attack’s fourth game. The 6’3 netminder looked shakey, surrendering six goals on 31 shots in the elimination loss. Goaltender Michael Zador (TBL) never saw action in the tournament.