The Saint John Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup in Mississauga, Ontario on Sunday, defeating the Mississauga St Michael's Majors 3-1 to become the first team from Atlantic Canada to take the crown and only the eighth from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to do so.
The Halifax Mooseheads, Moncton Wildcats, Acadie-Bathurst Titan, PEI Rocket and Cape Breton Screaming Eagles couldn't do it but the Sea Dogs, who were the last team to join the league, did.
And, they have played well all season long. They were ranked first in the CHL most of the season and led the QMJHL with 58 victories, tying the league record.
"It's a great feeling and I'm excited, really excited," said tournament MVP Jonathan Huberdeau, who has been touted as a possible #1 draft choice in this year's NHL Entry Draft.
It was a very sweet victory for goalie Jacob Deserres, who stopped 34 shots, including a flurry in the third period. Last year, he was on the losing end of a 9-1 wallop by the Windsor Spitfires when he played for Brandon Wheat Kings.
"Last year was the most horrible feeling in the world; this is the greatest," he said after the game.
For Sea Dogs' Nathan Beaulieu, he becomes the second member of his family to have his name on the cup. His dad, Jacques was a former Sea Dogs coach and has his name on it from when he was an assistant coach with the London Knights.
And, for the man who put up the money for the franchise, Scott McCain, it has been an interesting season. The team finished first and then went 19-4 in the playoffs. Two weeks ago, his dad Wallace McCain died and as a tribute to the former head of Maple Leaf Foods, the team wore his initials on their helmets in the four games in Mississauga.
"I'm sure he is looking down and smiling," said McCain.
The Sea Dogs accomplished their Memorial Cup journey in only six years. With the exception of the Acadie-Bathurst team, all other centres played in the American Hockey League with names of the Halifax Citadels, Moncton Hawks, Cape Breton Oilers, PEI Senators, St. John's Leafs and Saint John Flames being familiar to hockey fans.
Junior hockey came to the Maritimes in 1994 when the Halifax Mooseheads were formed, becoming the first Atlantic-based team.
The short-lived Moncton Alpines came next in 1995. Underfunded and poorly run, they barely drew a few hundred a game. The team was bought by the Irving family in June of 1996 and with a new name, sweaters and logo, they took to the ice as the Moncton Wildcats in September of 1996.
Prior to the Sea Dogs win, the Wildcats came the closest to winning the Memorial Cup, going to the final game in Moncton in 2006 before losing to Quebec.
The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles were next to come to Atlantic Canada and that took place in 1998 when they moved from Laval. They have never made the Memorial Cup. The biggest star who played for them is Marc-Andre Fleury, who has his #29 number retired and now plays goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Acadie-Bathurst joined the circuit in 1998 made it to the Memorial Cup in their first year, only to lose all their round robin games. More was expected of them with star goalie Roberto Luongo.
The PEI Rocket originally started in Montréal in 1999, hence the name Rocket for 'Rocket Richard' and came to the island of PEI in 2003. They have never competed for the Memorial Cup.
They have made the playoffs six times and lost in the first round every time.
And, the last team to join the league, the Saint John Sea Dogs joined the circuit in 2005. In fact, they were one of two expansion teams to join that year, the other being the St. John's Fog Devils, who regrettably didn't last long, only three years.
The Sea Dogs filled the void created when the Saint John Flames of the American Hockey League left town in 2003. That team was one of the few that did well, but at the end of their tenure, there was only one other team in Atlantic Canada, that being the St. John's Maple Leafs.
The Halifax Mooseheads have been in the league the longest at 17 years. They have no President's Cup and have been to one Memorial Cup in 1999 as the host team. Twice they lost Game 7 of the President's Cup.
As for the Sea Dogs, replacing the Calder Cup champion Flames was not easy. The city liked the AHL. In fact, this past Saturday marked the 10th anniversary of the Flames' Calder Cup victory.
The man who was behind the microphone that day 10 years ago says the city has taken to junior hockey.
"At first it was hard. Nothing against Quebec Major but people liked the AHL brand. And, having the Calder Cup winners didn't hurt," Andy Campbell said. "But over the last few years, especially with Gerard Gallant as coach, this town has really taken to the Sea Dogs."
Gallant became the coach two years ago. He hails from nearby PEI and his hockey roots are well known.
Sometime this week the city of Saint John will hold a parade for these guys.
Memorial Cup champs and the first from Atlantic Canada that has a good ring to it.
Alex J. can be reached via email at: email@example.com