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Memorial Cup Three Stars: Shawinigan’s Magic Stays Alive

Tony Ferrari looks at the top performers from Thursday's Memorial Cup action as Shawinigan continues to stay hot.
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The Shawinigan Cataractes went into the QMJHL playoffs as the seventh seed, yet currently sit in the top spot at the Memorial Cup after two games.

The Cinderella story they are building lives on as they have now taken down the two teams - Edmonton and Hamilton - that every prognosticator, including myself, predicted would be battling it out for junior hockey’s biggest prize. Shawinigan managed a 3-2 win over Hamilton in a game that at times didn’t feel as close as it ended.

Shawinigan wasn’t necessarily the better team at 5-on-5 on Thursday night. They were outshot and out-chanced as the Hamilton Bulldogs showed exactly why they ran through the OHL playoffs as seamlessly as they did. The Cataractes took advantage of the Bulldogs' undisciplined play though, going three-for-seven on the powerplay, showcasing their biggest strength - the CHL’s most dangerous and efficient power play over the course of the year.

First Star: Shawinigan’s Dynamic Duo - C Mavrik Bourque and RW Xavier Bourgault

The QMJHL’s version of ‘Batman and Robin’ strikes again! It felt unfair to separate them in the Three Stars so they get on the board together here. Bourque and Bourgault had a goal and two assists each, getting into the action on each of Shawinigan’s goals. As noted before the tournament, if the Cataractes had planned on upsetting some teams who looked stronger on paper, their dynamic duo of Bourgault and Bourque would need to show up. They most certainly have.

The chemistry and dynamism that exists between the two first-round NHL draft picks are exceptional. They are able to read and react to each other's movements and play like few other duos in hockey, let alone junior hockey. Bourgault’s goal was the perfect example of that. Bourque controls the puck on the half-wall, passes to the point and circles high. 

As he does this, Bourgault is across the ice, fading into space and stalking the play on the backside evading the cover of a defender. When Bourque receives the return pass, he attacks the space he has in front of him to draw in the defenders. The entire arena reads that he has all the intention in the world to shoot before threading the needle with precision to Bourgault who buries the one-timer.

Later in the period, Bourgault set Bourque up right off the faceoff for a one-time blast as the two lined up as the de facto defenseman on the powerplay. As soon as the faceoff was won, Bourque was retreating into space in the high slot with his stick cocked and loaded while Bourgault collected the puck and sent a perfect pass to return the favor for his longtime linemate and good friend. Late in the game, the duo nearly recreated Bougault’s goal but instead of the Oilers’ prospect firing a one-timer, he spotted their linemate, Olivier Nadeau, on the backdoor and sent a pass to the 19-year-old for a tap-in, which was ultimately the game-winning goal.

Bourque and Bourgault drove the Cataractes to a massive win and put them in the driver's seat from here on out at the Memorial Cup. If they can keep this magic alive, which doesn’t seem to be slowing down, they very well could be hoisting the grand prize at the end of it all.

Second Star: G Antoine Coulombe, Shawinigan Cataractes

The dynamic duo of the Cataractes receive a ton of love, and rightfully so, but they couldn’t do what they do without the safety net that Antoine Coulombe has provided for them. Making 38 saves in a tight game is hard enough but putting together that performance in a game where his team largely was outplayed at even strength is quite the task. The Cataractes did a decent job of keeping many of the shots to the outside but Coulombe still had to make more than a few very good saves.

Coulombe had to deal with four penalty kills of his own, shutting the door on Hamilton’s powerplay after the game’s opening goal and helping ensure that the Bulldogs’ couldn’t use the man advantage to get a stranglehold on the game. Coulombe is a bit undersized at just 6-foot but he is a battler. He uses his athleticism to move around his crease and make saves in often unorthodox ways despite showing some solid technique on the majority of his saves. Coulombe was a calming presence in this game, allowing his team to bide their time and strike when the opportunity presented itself.

Third Star: G Marco Costantini, Hamilton Bulldogs

Goalies, especially in losing efforts, never get enough love. Costantini was very good in this game, making 31 saves and allowing no goals at even-strength. There was nothing he could do to prevent his team from taking seven penalties and while he did allow three powerplay goals, one of them came with a two-man advantage. Costantini made 15 saves in the third period, including a number of big saves to keep the game in reach after Shawinigan took a 3-2 lead.

The Bulldogs did Costantini no favors. The Cataractes were able to get to the inside early and often, generating an astounding 25 shots from in the home plate area. For comparison sake, despite the Bulldogs generating 40 shots on goal compared to Shawinigan’s 34, only 18 of Hamilton’s shots came from high-danger. The Bulldogs’ defense allowed far too many easy runs to the slot or free lanes to the net. Constantini did an outstanding job of standing his ground and making sure the Bulldogs were in this game, even if his defenders decided not to hold up their end of the bargain. 

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