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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Last man in: Saint John Sea Dogs clinch QMJHL title in double OT

With the Saint John Sea Dogs trailing 2-1 late in Game 6 of the QMJHL championship series on the road against the Gatineau Olympiques, a potential Game 7 staring them in the face tomorrow (and after Mississauga blew their OHL championship lead to Owen Sound not a nice thought), they looked to their go-to guy.

And Jonathan Huberdeau came through.

Standing just off to Gatineau goaltender Max Clermont's left (and Clermont was absolutely brilliant this series), Huberdau calmly collected a rebound of a Stanislav Galiev shot and slipped it into the net at 19:37 of the final frame to send the game to overtime.

For Huberdeau, it was just one more defining moment for the electrifying forward for whom a top-five pick seems a fait accompli, and he could go as high as third overall, even.

It was Huberdeau's 16th goal and 30th point in 19 games for a team that crushed the competition in the regular season and steamrolled their way to the President's Cup series only to find a fiery, tenacious opponent in Gatineau.

Thanks to the outstanding play of Clermont, who found himself under siege (he took 55 shots tonight, stopping 52 of them), and thanks to the emergence of little center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who is a highly gifted offensive player we didn't give enough credit to for his skating (can you say serpentine- the kid is a waterbug- cannot catch him) the Olympiques gave the Sea Dogs everything they could handle. Pageau finished with 14 goals and 29 points in 24 games- a real nice performance for a guy we weren't really tracking until recently. Kid's got game and will be interesting to see how much of a boost his playoff performance gives him after a solid 79-point campaign.

In the end however, it was too much. Alexandre Beauregard buried a shot at 15:45 of the second overtime session after the puck hit Gatineau defenseman David Weckworth's skate and bounced right to him. He wound up and drilled a shot that beat Clermont cleanly for the winner. Ironically, it was Beauregard's only goal of the playoffs. Talk about a crowning achievement!

NHL Draft Video has the game highlights here. In French of course, compliments of RDS.

In the end, Saint John was too skilled, too deep, too powerful. It almost wasn't fair. Their netminder is none other than Jacob DeSerres. You might remember him- he was playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings in last year's Memorial Cup. He gets to go back and try to close the deal now. However, DeSerres is so experienced that he's the perfect netminder for this talent-laden team.

Saint John didn't have injured star forward Zack Phillips, lost with a shoulder injury during the series. But it didn't matter, because all year, they've been able to bring talented guys into the lineup.

And did we mention that they won every single game on the road this playoffs to set a QMJHL record? Uh. Huh. This team deserved the big enchilada.

Nathan Beaulieu was solid, finishing the playoffs with four goals and 17 points in 19 games. He was a +2 in this match. Here's a picture his teammate Galiev tweeted after the game. Good stuff- Beaulieu is on the right. Between this huge win and his dad being named head coach of the Sarnia Sting this week, that family is living the dream right now.

Tomas Jurco was flashy at times, but didn't do much in this one. Finished the playoffs with a solid six goals and 18 points in 19 games. He's dangerous and can really score. He needs to work on not trying to beat the whole team all by himself and use his teammates more, but Jurco is getting there.

But we keep going back to Huberdeau- the straw that stirs the drink for this team. 105 points in the regular season, 30 more in the playoffs, including the clutch-as-clutch-can-be 1-1-2 line in the clinching game.

We said when the playoffs started that a long run and strong performance gave Huberdeau a chance to be this year's Taylor Hall if he was up for the challenge. Well folks, he answered that question and then some.

The Saint John Sea Dogs are going to Mississauga.

And the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup will be all the better for it.

B2011DW will be back this week with a Memorial Cup preview in which we will post capsules on each team with scouting reports on the key draft eligibles. If you're going to Mississauga, we urge you to print them out and have them on hand. If not, you can still print them out as the games will be televised in the U.S. and in Canada- check your local listings.

Game on!

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