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Walling: Sea Dogs could take big step at Memorial Cup

A.J. Walling
5/18/2012 3:10:24 PM
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Let's be honest here and admit that the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League ranks last in winning Memorial Cups. Ontario and the West have more wins by far and in the era of winning back-to-back championships, it has happened with Quebec teams but again it doesn't happen often.

But last year, the Q won with the Saint John Sea Dogs taking the Cup and, with a lot of players returning, the same Sea Dogs might be slight favourites to capture the title again. The Memorial Cup takes place in Shawinigan starting Friday.

Last year, the Maritime entity took the championship game by defeating the Mississauga St Michael's Majors. The Major's didn't advance to this year's tournament. Meanwhile, the Sea Dogs have held their #1 ranking among junior teams in the Canadian Hockey League for many months.

In addition to the Sea Dogs, the other teams making the journey to Shawinigan are the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, the London Knights of the OHL and the host Shawinigan Cataractes. So numbers wise, the Quebec teams have a numerical advantage but they have that every three years and it doesn't seem to help.

Prior to the Sea Dogs winning it last year, the last time the Quebec league took the Cup was in the Quebec Remparts in 2006. That year, it was an all-Quebec final as they played the host Moncton Wildcats in the final.

The last time the Quebec league posted back-to-back winners was with Granby in 1996 and Hull in 1997. In the last 32 years, the Q has won the title seven times so you can see, it doesn't happen often for this league. The WHL leads with 14 titles and the OHL has had 10 winners in the same timeframe.

It's a very short series so many things can happen but three of the four teams make the playoff round so at least one team from the Q will be there.

The Sea Dogs are favoured to win the whole thing but in a short series, that really doesn't mean much. However, they stand to become the first team since Windsor (2009 and 2010) to win back-to-back title and if they accomplish that feat, they will become the first Quebec league team to accomplish the feat since the Cornwall Royals did it in more than 30 years ago in 1980-81.

Medicine Hat did it in 1987-88; Kamloops Blazers did it in 1994-1995. In fact, Kamloops also recorded a championship in 1992 making them the only team to record three crowns in four years. Windsor is the only other team to win back-to-back titles since the early 1980's.

The Sea Dogs come into the series after a dominating season and that continued in four rounds of the playoffs where the lost only one game in going 16-1.

The Sea Dogs won last year and might have a stronger club this season. They have lots of talent from Jonathan Huberdeau, last season's Memorial Cup MVP to 2012 Quebec League MVP Charlie Coyle to an assortment of talent everywhere in their lineup. They are healthy and, as the Q playoffs showed, they are indeed on a roll.

The other Q team in the mix is the Shawinigan Cataractes. They haven't played a meaningful game since being eliminated by Chicoutimi in the second round more than a month ago. That's a lot of time to remain inactive. That happened to the Halifax Mooseheads when they hosted the tourney in 2000. After being inactive for a longer period than Shawinigan, they came out and won the first two games that year.

"We couldn't wait to play and we had a full house," a player said.

The same thing could happen with Shawinigan.

So the Cataractes have had plenty of time to get over injuries and did not have to face a grueling series. Yes, they lost in the second round but that doesn't take away from the fact they had a strong club during the season. Their goaltending is decent and the strength of the team is a superb defence anchored by Brandon Gormley, Morgan Ellis and the Jonathan's, Racine and Narbonne. Coach Bob Hartley, who may be returning to the NHL soon, will have team ready.

This year it looks good for the Q. Even an all Q-final, as in 2005, may not be out of the question.

For TSN.ca I'm Alex J. Walling

Alex J. can be reached at ajw@eastlink.ca




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