Knights' fight made for riveting final
Shawinigan Cataractes' Gabriel Girard (38) celebrated with the Memorial cup after the Cataractes 2-1 win over the London Knights for the Memorial Cup at the Bionest Centre in Shawinigan, Quebec. (DIDIER DEBUSSCHERE/QMI Agency)
SHAWINIGAN, Que. – A few minutes after the Memorial Cup final ended, Dale Hunter descended from his familiar perch in the Centre Bionest rafters and headed for the rink's bowels to join his hockey team.
In the corridor, the London Knights president and co-owner was stopped by a couple of fans eager to take a picture with him.
It was unclear if they were seeking induction into the bad timing hall of fame, but Hunter complied for a moment. He posed, asked if they were OK, then shuffled back on his way, an unfamiliar mask of pain covering his face.
There are no flowery phrases to gloss over what happened to the Knights late Sunday night.
Every offer of comfort is nothing more than a stone pillow.
Hey, most of your team is still young enough to get back to the final next year in Saskatoon.
No one has a crystal ball to make that prediction.
At least it was a nice goal Shawinigan's Anton Zlobin scored and not one of those cheesy ones that go in off someone's shin pad.
Michael Houser, who did everything he could to stop it, slammed his stick on the ice in raw frustration before leaving the ice one last time in his incredible season. No one cares where the winner ranks on the highlight reel.
This London team knows what it accomplished and understands it was part of one of the more riveting Cup finals in tournament history.
Canadian Hockey League president and OHL commissioner David Branch walked off the ice after presenting the Cup to the Cataractes, shook one more hand, and said, “There are no losers here tonight.”
If any city can appreciate the party triggered in Shawinigan, it's London.
The Cataractes were basically the Quebec version of the Knights, a star-crossed junior hockey franchise who waited over 40 years to celebrate something like this, and when it finally happened, it took place on home ice – just like the John Labatt Centre in 2005.
Shawinigan just happened to add its own dramatic flair to it by becoming the second team in Cup history – after Austin Watson's 2009 Windsor Spitfires – to emerge from the tiebreaker game and win it all.
That's of little consolation to the London coaches and players, who poured their heart and soul into joining the '05 juggernaut.
This hurts worse because there's nothing the Knights really could've done differently.
They played the style of game they wanted, they took the boisterous crowd out of it early and gave themselves an opportunity to win.
There's no sense indicting their shot-blocking, defensive-minded style, because it's a credit to the young men they bought into such a professional system and were willing and able to play it with the commitment and discipline it required.
They just didn't score enough goals under its umbrella and it will be a summer spent lamenting Max Domi's just-wide shot and the pucks that hopped and spun off the stick of Watson.
One goal usually doesn't get it done.
It will – and should – bother the Knights they couldn't solve tiny overage goalie Gabriel Girard, who started this tournament frozen to the bench 44 days from his last game action, but beat the Knights and their CHL goalie of the year twice in one week.
Earlier, the unlikely hero spoke about the stirring run his Cats made here, saying it would all be naught if they didn't win the Cup “because no one ever remembers who played in the final – they only remember who won.”
We beg to differ, Mr. Girard.
In something like this, there's too fine a line between the dizzying heights and the depths of despair.
And whatever side you fall on, you never forget that journey – and the people who took you there.