There are roughly 10 games left in the junior hockey season, and bonafide Memorial Cup contenders are separating themselves from the rest of the pack. With 10 wins in their last 11 games, the Saint John Sea Dogs are a favourite in the QMJHL—and this could be their last chance to win it with their current core.
The Winning Cycle
Winning is cyclic in junior hockey, just as in the pros. Once a team is experienced enough to contend, it has a short window to win a Memorial Cup. Players move on to either pursue an education or play professional hockey (or in the NHL, greener pastures). There are a few “desirable locations” that manage to stay competitive every year—the OHL’s London Knights for example—but those teams are exceptions.
When players like Matthew Highmore and Thomas Chabot joined the Sea Dogs, the team was rebuilding after spending three years at the top of the QMJHL standings, from 2009 to 2012. During that period, the team had advanced to two Memorial Cup Tournaments, winning the championship in 2011. The team featured a number of future NHLers, including Simon Després (ANA), Charlie Coyle (MIN), Éric Gélinas (COL), Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA), Mike Hoffman (OTT) and Tomas Jurco (DET).
Although the 2009-12 team had a lot of graduates, the team did well to stockpile draft picks to ensure it would have another solid core to develop in the years to come.
Ready to Win a Memorial Cup
Now, the Sea Dogs are again ready to compete for a Memorial Cup. Bolstered by some notable trade deadline acquisitions, the team has surged since mid-January, winning 10 of its last 11. And with nine of the team’s top ten scorers moving on at the end of the season, it’s do-or-die time this spring.
The team has eight NHL prospects, but it’s the undrafted Highmore who paces it with 74 points (27 goals, 47 assists). That may sound like a low total for the top scorer on a Memorial Cup contender, but there are only so many goals to go around—there are nine players with more than 30 points on this team. It’s a deep, balanced squad that can burn you with any line.
Although the team has many offensive weapons, it is led from the backend. First round NHL draft picks Chabot (OTT) and Jakub Zboril(BOS) were joined by Rimouski Oceanic captain Simon Bourque (MTL) at the trade deadline, giving the team one of the most reliable defensive squads in the country.
Up front, the team has a stellar cast that includes impending junior grads Mathieu Joseph (TBL), Spencer Smallman (CAR), Bokondji Imama (TBL) and Samuel Dove-McFalls (PHI). At the trade deadline, the Sea Dogs added Julien Gauthier (CAR), who played with Chabot and Joseph at the 2017 World Junior Championships. The front line also features Nathan Noel (CHI) and 2018 draft-eligible prospect Joe Veleno.
The Sea Dogs would have competed for a QMJHL championship regardless, but the addition of netminder Callum Booth really enhanced their chances. He has been a big part of the team’s recent run, and should only improve as the season closes.
The QMJHL regular season ends on March 18th, and it will be a long playoff slog for whichever team advances to become President Cup champions. The Memorial Cup will begin on May 19th, hosted by the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires.Back to Top
1) Team South Wins 2017 Alberta Cup
2) Road to the RBC Cup: Cougars Captain Josh Maguire Ready to Return for Nationals
3) Western Canada Cup Finals Set with Brooks Against Chilliwack
4) St. Albert Slash Make History at 2017 Esso Cup
5) Supporting Casts Will be Key in OHL Final