HALIFAX – Maybe it’s because I can’t shake the memory of Saturday’s NBA game, but it felt like there were parallels with Sunday night’s Memorial Cup final. The Halifax Mooseheads – the team in the green shorts – came out strong and held an early lead, just like the Milwaukee Bucks. But for some reason, it felt like the red and black squad – in this case the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies instead of the Toronto Raptors – had the calmness and speed to overcome that deficit.
And sure enough, the Huskies made their charge early in the third period, bombing the Mooseheads with great team quickness and earning a 4-2 come-from-behind victory, giving Rouyn-Noranda its first Memorial Cup championship ever.
“In the dressing room, we were pumped,” said center Peter Abbandonato. “We wanted to win this game. We were first in Canada on paper, but we wanted to show we were first in Canada on the ice, as well. And we showed that tonight.”
After Halifax opened up a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Samuel Asselin and 2019 draft prospect Raphael Lavoie, the Huskies managed to even up the proceedings in the second, thanks to Felix Bibeau and Montreal Canadiens prospect Joel Teasdale (who would be named tournament MVP afterwards). Drawing even gave Rouyn-Noranda a mental edge heading into that final period.
“We went right after them,” said star defenseman Noah Dobson, the New York Islanders pick. “We knew they were feeling the pressure a bit after we came back from 2-0 and it was an unbelievable job by our guys scoring four answered.”
Really, the game hinged on the first 10 minutes of the third period. The Huskies kept pushing the pace and forechecking hard, causing havoc among the Mooseheads’ defense corps. That Rouyn-Noranda speed led to early goals by Abbandonato and Vincent Marleau, while the shot clock count continued to widen in favor of the Huskies. While the game started out very physical, with booming hits from the likes of Teasdale and Halifax’s Jake Ryczek (how Raphael Harvey-Pinard still has functioning internal organs right now is beyond me), the third period came down to skating and mental sharpness and that’s where the Huskies excelled. That has been a calling card for this group.
“Every game we were 100 percent pedal to the metal,” said right winger and Boston Bruins pick Jakub Lauko. “And the chemistry on the team…I’m so proud of this group.”
Far from underdogs, Rouyn-Noranda was the top-ranked team in the CHL rankings at the end of the regular season and the QMJHL champions after beating the same Halifax squad in six games. The Huskies got a scare from Shawinigan in the first round of the post-season (a series that also went six games), but cruised after that, sweeping their opponents in the second and third rounds. While it would be easy to call Dobson the Kawhi Leonard of the team (he logged a ton of minutes), it also wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the Huskies, all of whom contributed to this Memorial Cup victory.
“The depth on this team is incredible,” Teasdale said. “Every player can do something, so the big players don’t get as tired. Every player wanted to win for another and that made the difference.”
But make no mistake: Dobson was a focal point, as he should have been. He and coach Mario Pouliot both won last year’s Memorial Cup with Acadie-Bathurst and their additions were crucial to this season’s success in Rouyn-Noranda, as was the trade with Blainville-Boisbrand that netted the Huskies Teasdale.
Dobson was loudly and consistently booed by the host Moosehead fans throughout the game, just as he had been throughout the Memorial Cup. Given how he ended up breaking Haligonian hearts in both the QMJHL final and now Memorial Cup final – both times at the Scotiabank Centre – you have to sympathize with the Moosehead fans.
“I guess I get the last laugh,” Dobson said. “I won two championships here in the past two weeks.”