By Terry Doyle
The hockey season is often described as a marathon, rather than a sprint. The Saint John Sea Dogs know that full well. Winning the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup gave the Sea Dogs the experience to know what it takes to capture junior hockey’s top prize.
With that in mind, the Saint John Coaching staff took steps during the season to prepare for what they hoped was another long campaign. For example, when the Sea Dogs had a full week between games in January, Coach Gerrard Gallant allowed Team Canada teammates and Sea Dogs veterans Jonathan Huberdeau and Nathan Beaulieu to go home.
“They played a lot of hockey in two-and-a-half years,” explained Gallant. “Go home for a week – we always want to win, but those (January) games are not (as) important. They need their time off, they need their space.”
The break meant Beaulieu could catch up with his family in Strathroy, Ontario while Huberdeau returned to his suburban Montreal home. The break allowed both to recharge after the World Junior tournament. Huberdeau scored five points in his next two games.
“He’s a good coach; he worries about his players to get some rest. I think it was nice of him to do that. Now we’re here to try and win this Cup,” said Huberdeau.
The strategy has continued into the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament, with the Sea Dogs seeing limited time on the ice outside of their scheduled games. Gallant is not afraid to cancel gameday skates if he feels his team would be better served staying off the ice.
“My philosophy is when you skate (one day) we’re not going to skate (the next). A lot of times when we take off the morning skate we play our best game that night,” said Gallant. “The last game we played in Rimouski we didn’t have a morning skate and the guys played their best game of the playoffs – so you change it up.”
Rather than being on the ice some days, the Sea Dogs prepare in other ways such as video sessions. The time away from the ice has also allowed Saint John to experience Shawinigan and the surrounding area during the tournament. Players have been seen enjoying lunch at local restaurants, or walking along the river.
Defenceman Charles-Olivier Roussel joined the Sea Dogs this season, and appreciates Gallant’s style of providing balance for the players over the course of the season.
“Especially for the guys that were here last year, they went far in the playoffs. The guys could have gotten tired by this time of the year,” said Roussel – who played for the Montreal Junior last season. “We had a lot of days off, our schedule was really good. They made sure we had our rest and it’s good for us now.”
After Wednesday’s victory over the host Shawinigan Cataractes, the Sea Dogs clinched a berth in the semi-final, avoiding the tiebreaker game. Now they are hoping that steps taken throughout the season will work in their favour towards defending last year’s Memorial Cup title.