MEM CUP NOTES: Jonathan Huberdeau returns to his junior roots

The Florida Panthers forward was back in Saint John on Saturday where he spent all four years of his junior hockey career, winning the Memorial Cup in 2011

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SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Jonathan Huberdeau is a star in the NHL, but still has fond memories of his days with the Saint John Sea Dogs in the QMJHL.

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On Saturday, the Florida Panthers forward was back in Saint John, where he spent all four years of his junior hockey career, winning the Memorial Cup with the Sea Dogs in 2011.

“It feels great, being back here is always special for me,” Huberdeau said. “I think seeing the guys is fun too, as well as seeing the fans. You see fans that were here when I was here. I’m here to support the team and I’m happy they got the Mem Cup here and hopefully they win it for the fans.”

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Huberdeau, 29, arrived in Saint John as a 16-year-old in 2009 and was selected third overall by the Panthers in the 2011 NHL entry draft. He went on to play for four seasons with the Sea Dogs before moving on to the NHL.

Last season, the product of Saint-Jerome, Que., had 30 goals and 115 points with the Panthers. He is one of a number of Sea Dogs alumni to visit during the Memorial Cup.

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“I was going to come for sure, there were a lot of guys that have come back,” Huberdeau said. “We have a tight schedule, we have a lot going on, but I wanted to come for a couple of days and come support the team.”

While in it, Huberdeau was focused on winning and developing with the Sea Dogs. Now almost a decade removed from junior hockey, he can appreciate his time with the junior team.

“Junior, I think you have to appreciate it, because I had some fun years here,” Huberdeau said. “There were some long bus rides and you’re always with the guys and it’s fun. And you’re all the same age too. In the NHL there are guys in their 20s and others in their 30s, and here you’re all around the same again and you’re all learning the same things together. It was a blast.”

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The Sea Dogs had 38 days to prepare for the Memorial Cup after being eliminated in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs, and have the hometown support firmly behind them in the tournament.

Harbour Station arena was again filled to the brim with more than 5,000 fans when the Sea Dogs took the ice to face the Shawinigan Cataractes in the final game of the round robin Saturday. The Sea Dogs overcame a three-goal, third-period deficit to win 5-3.

“It’s unbelievable how loud they are, it’s crazy,” said Sea Dogs forward William Dufour, who scored four goals in the victory. “They’re on our side, we know that. They cheer for us when we score, or when we make a big hit, it’s nice to have them on our side for the Mem Cup.”

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The Sea Dogs qualified directly for the final on Wednesday with two wins and an overtime loss. They opened the tournament with a victory against the Hamilton Bulldogs before losing in overtime to the Edmonton Oil Kings in their second game.

“We took a different route; we took the route of a training camp and now we have the opportunity to play,” said Sea Dogs head coach Gardiner MacDougall before the game. “We’re earning confidence and we’re getting better every day, similar to the performance of our team.

“It’s been exhilarating, to have that type of atmosphere, that type of energy from the crowd and the last game was fantastic. Like our club, they continue to get better to please them. I think the crowd can help us, but I think we can make a difference for the crowd as well.”

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The new points structure introduce by the CHL just prior to the tournament made for an interesting scenario between the Oil Kings and Bulldogs on Friday.

With three points awarded for a regulation win, two for an overtime victory and one for an overtime loss, the Bulldogs needed to win the game in regulation.

Had the game been tied late, the Bulldogs would have pulled their goalie in search of the victory inside of the 60 minutes. Had the game gone into overtime, regardless of the winner, the Oil Kings would have advanced with a minimum three points while the Bulldogs would have been able to finish with a maximum of two. Hamilton won 4-2 with a late empty-net goal.

“I looked up when there was about 25 seconds left and they had an O-zone draw in our end,” said Bulldogs head coach Jay McKee. “I thought if they score, would we have time to pull our goalie to try and get another one. It’s unique.”

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The CHL decided to award a loser point in overtime, because they went with a three-on-three format in an effort to conclude games in a timely fashion. The Bulldogs had lost their first two games in regulation, while the Oil Kings defeated the Sea Dogs in overtime, which left the door open for Hamilton to move on.

“We went into the game with the mindset of having the lead and the game plan of having the lead late,” McKee said. “But we had to be prepared to be in a tie game late with a couple of minutes to go and having to pull our goalie. I’ve never been in that situation before, but it’s a fun tournament to be in, we’re fortunate to be here, and if that’s what it came to, that’s what it would have come to. “


On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

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