The Saint Johns Sea Dogs became the first host team to take home junior hockey’s most coveted trophy since the 2017 Windsor Spitfires, fighting back after a first-round elimination of the QMJHL playoffs.
Facing off against the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Sea Dogs got out to an early lead and never relinquished their advantage. Every time the Bulldogs seemed to climb back into things, the Sea Dogs would score to put out the fire and keep the hometown crowd buzzing all night long.
Let’s zoom out a bit and take a look at the tournament as a whole. Here's a look at some of the top performers from the past week:
RW William Dufour, Saint John Sea Dogs
The QMJHL's MVP also finished as the Memorial Cup’s top goal scorer after tying Mason McTavish for the scoring lead. Dufour put his team on his back in a memorable four-goal game to help the Sea Dogs come back from a three-goal deficit against the Cataractes in round-robin play to secure a trip to the Memorial Cup final. He then scored the cup-clinching goal in the final in front of a wild home crowd.
The New York Islanders’ prospect's performance was outstanding from start to finish. Dufour put his impressive shot on display as well as his strength and power game. There were so many small moments in a game when Dufour would threaten with his offensive ability, scoring almost all of the Sea Dogs' biggest goals. Islanders fans should be very excited to see him work his way to the NHL over the next couple of years.
C Mason McTavish, Hamilton Bulldogs
The Hamilton Bulldogs acquired McTavish to be the exact kind of difference-maker that he was during the Memorial Cup. The Anaheim Ducks prospect may have been the most impactful player as a whole during the tournament, scoring big goals, making some great plays, bringing his physical brand of hockey as well as playing a solid defensive game.
McTavish finished tied for the tournament lead with eight points, including two goals in the final. The 6-foot-1 power forward was an impactful player at both ends of the ice, using his size and physicality to recover the puck. McTavish was the Bulldogs' best player at the Memorial Cup, as he was expected to be.
D Arber Xhekaj, Hamilton Bulldogs
The Canadiens’ prospect was the tournament's top-scoring defender and he brought the physical brand of hockey that fans of his are accustomed to. He tested - and at times crossed - the line at the Memorial Cup, which is exactly what has made him one of the most feared defenders in all of junior hockey.
Xhekaj was a punishing presence when opponents tried to enter the zone and an effective puck mover when the Bulldogs were trying to start the breakout. Functional physicality is what works in the modern game and although there were times when Xhekaj would go beyond that, his ability to play the game of hockey at a high level was evident as he helped the Bulldogs to the Memorial Cup final.
D Luke Prokop, Edmonton Oil Kings
The Oil Kings disappointed throughout this tournament, shockingly becoming the first team sent home from the Memorial Cup. But fortunately for Nashville Predators fans, Prokop looked as good as ever. His defensive acumen was on display, using his mobility and intelligence to thwart play before it became too dangerous and his ability to break out the puck with patient and calculated passing was one of Edmonton’s best qualities at the tournament.
Prokop won't you away on every shift, but his understated game allows others to take risks while the reliable Prokop ensures that nothing blows up in their face. He managed a point-per-game despite the Oil Kings' lack of success and showed why he's a promising young prospect.
C Mavrik Bourque and RW Xavier Bourgault, Shawinigan Cataractes
The dynamic duo of Bourgault and Bourque were phenomenal for the Cataractes. The team came in as the weakest on paper and they needed their stars to help carry them, which they did through the round-robin. They came up a bit short in the semifinal, losing in overtime, but the duo of Bourgault and Bourque were one point behind McTavish and Dufour for the tournament’s scoring lead.
The dynamic duo was magic on so many plays throughout the tournament, tearing teams apart on the power play as they did all season long. Bourgault displayed his off-puck ability and quick decision-making with the puck on his stick. Bourque showed off his dynamism and creativity as a playmaker, driving play on just about every shift. Without this duo, Shawinigan likely struggles to keep up in any game.
C Ryan Francis, Saint John Sea Dogs
The Sea Dogs acquired Francis to be an impact player, and despite a slow start, he finished as strong as they were hoping for. He finished second in scoring on the Sea Dogs, playing perhaps his best game in the final after setting up Dufour for the winning goal.
Francis wasn’t tendered by the Calgary Flames, who chose him in the fifth round of the 2020 draft. He was going to need a big performance to get back on the team’s radars for the 2022 draft, and that's exactly what he did. Francis displayed his skating and playmaking creativity throughout the Memorial Cup and had quite the tournament because of it.