Cataractes win Memorial Cup
Shawinigan Cataractes celebrate winning the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Quebec, May 27, 2012. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger
SHAWINIGAN, Que. -For the eighth time in the last 40 years, the Memorial Cup needed an overtime hero.
Today, his name is Anton Zlobin.
The crafty Russian scored 17:51 into overtime to deliver the Shawinigan Cataractes their long-awaited first Canadian Hockey League title, 2-1 over the London Knights before 4,763 Sunday night at Centre Bionest in one of the most riveting finals in tournament history.
Zlobin will get free poutine for life in Quebec.
For the Knights, it's a shot right to the gut.
Seven years ago when the Knights won the Cup, it felt like the coronation of a king.
This time, they tried to grab the crown and shove it onto their heads, defying all pretenders with fortified defence, expert shot-blocking, timely scoring and shameless icings.
The game plan worked perfectly but, in the end, they fell one goal short.
They call Shawinigan the 'Energy City,' and you have to wonder where the Cataractes got theirs this week.
Four games in five nights wasn't enough.
They needed the legs for overtime, too, before finally knocking off the Knights.
After 43 years of close-but-no-cigars, they started to feel like a team of destiny this year.
The Cats had been either prince or paupers in their star-crossed Quebec league history. They were hoping for, just this once, to sit in the throne.
They finally got there.
But not before Eric Veilleux's run-and-gunners had a devil of a time removing the sword from GM and head coach Mark Hunter's massive stone of discipline and structured hockey.
Nothing was decided after three periods.
Fitting, because no one with the Knights saw a trip to the final coming. Not until the trade deadline, anyway.
"Once we saw (the indefatigable Austin) Watson and (Greg) McKegg walk in the room in January," London forward Matt Rupert said, "we knew what was expected of us."
London lost its head coach Dale Hunter to the NHL's Washington Capitals and his Stanley Cup dreams, but never flinched. His younger brother Mark stepped in.
The Knights stared at elimination for the first time in the last game on the Canadian Hockey League calendar, and didn't blink.
London turned defenceman into forwards, forwards into D-men, and sat out older players to give younger kids minutes. They put together a checking line of 18-and-unders who didn't care if they played against the other team's top scorers.
They had junior hockey's best goalie, then camped out in front of him and did everything humanly possible to avoid pucks from getting to him.
A handful of Knights from the 2005 Cup champs flew in on a private plan for the game, including Anaheim Ducks star Corey Perry and former captain Danny Syvret. Knights rookie assistant coach Dylan Hunter was on that legendary Knights team, too.
"We wanted to be here to support the boys," former Knights sniper Rob Schremp said, "and to hope this team got to feel what we did back then. The games I saw them play, and it was just in the playoffs, they were relentless (the way they were in '05).
"They never give up and keep pushing. It's great to see and it's fun to watch."
London had a dream start.
They wanted, in the first 10 minutes, to score first, shut down Shawinigan's red-hot offence and take the revved-up crowd out of it early.
They did it all.
Ryan Rupert put the Knights, who came in with four days rest, on the board 5:42 into the game, banging home a pass in the slot after furious forechecking by his twin brother Matt, and Austin Watson. The Cataractes surrendered the opening goal in five of their six Cup games.
Shawinigan scored 13 goals in its previous two games and lit up London for a half-dozen last Sunday.
But it took them 10 minutes to register a shot and they ended up with only four in the opening 20 minutes. It looked like the Cats needed a map to find the Knights net.
When you're watching London play, you have to look beyond the usual stats to the smaller things - blocked shots, faceoff wins and the number of icings.
London GM and head coach Mark Hunter figured if his team could establish a lead and play physically, the quick Shawinigan forwards would start to feel the lead in their legs from playing four games in five nights.
But Russian forward Anton Zlobin gave the Cats a second-period jolt, scoring three minutes in to tie the game.
From there, it turned into a stalemate.
Shawinigan was trying to become the second team - after Watson's 2009 Windsor Spitfires - to win the Cup from the tiebreaker game.
It's a little easier to do now because there's a day off between the semifinal and the championship game. Teams no longer have to play three-in-three to win the tournament like they did seven years ago.
In fact, the 2005 Knights were the last team able to jump on a tuckered-out squad, beating the Sidney Crosby-led Rimouski Oceanic less than 24 hours after they had to win a semifinal game against Ottawa.
The following year, the CHL added the day off in between, hoping to create more competitive final games. In Quebec, they call it the 'Doris Labonte' rule after the outspoken Oceanic coach, who complained about the format.