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Upstart Oceanic look to upset powerhouse Saint John in QMJHL final

05/03/2012 05:07 EDT | Updated 07/03/2012 05:12 EDT
The Rimouski Oceanic are known for producing stars from Sidney Crosby to Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards, but this year's crop is a no-name group that has checked and battled its way to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final.

Now the seventh-seeded Oceanic hope to pull off a colossal upset when they takes on the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs in the best-of-seven series for the Presidents Cup.

The Sea Dogs, who open at home on Friday night, are the defending QMJHL and Memorial Cup champions who finished first with a 50-15-3 record and lost only one playoff game enroute to the final, an overtime loss to Chicoutimi in the semifinals.

"We're proud to be in the final," Rimouski coach Serge Beausoleil said Thursday. "We just have to enjoy it and do our best.

"It's a big challenge."

The winner moves on to the Memorial Cup tournament May 18-27 in Shawinigan, Que.

The Sea Dogs are in the final for a third straight year and still have most of the star-studded lineup that has made them the class of the Q, led by the third overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft Jonathan Huberdeau.

Despite only playing 13 games in the first three playoff rounds, Saint John has three of the top four scorers in Charles Coyle with 14 goals and 15 assists, Zach Phillips (27 points) and Stanislav Galiev (26 points). Huberdeau is at a comparatively modest nine goals and nine helpers. They also have Montreal Canadiens first rounder Nathan Beaulieu leading the defence.

"We have workers, not stars," said Beausoleil. "We have to stick to our game plan, play our system, and give them as little space as we can. We also have to stay out of the penalty box because they have an unbelievable power play."

It's not that Rimouski doesn't have some top talent of its own, including Jerome Gauthier-Leduc who is one of the league's top two-way defencemen.

Alexandre Mallet and Alexandre Belzile have 22 and 21 points respectively in 17 games, while Petr Straka (19 points) and Peter Trainor (16) are other offensive threats.

The Oceanic swept Val d'Or in the first round, then pulled off upsets of Blainville-Boisbriand and Halifax to reach the final.

Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant is not taking them lightly.

"To get where they're at, they're playing well," he said. "When the playoffs started, there were four teams people were picking and it seems they weren't one of them.

"But they play well as a team. Are they supposed to be in the final? Probably not. But they deserve to be there."

Gallant said Chicoutimi played much the same way and were a good test going into the Rimouski matchup. The Sea Dogs went to overtime three times before finishing off the Sagueneens.

"They play a team game," added Gallant. "It's not about one guy carrying the offence or a goaltender standing on his head.

"From the defence to the offence, it's about buying into the system. It's been the same in the NHL playoffs this year."

That the Sea Dogs were able to dominate the regular season again was somewhat a surprise because they were missing several players early in the campaign to NHL training camps and lost more as players left for the world junior championship in December. And there were injuries. Galiev played only 20 regular season games, while Huberdeau played 37.

That may have been a blessing, as the Sea Dogs stand to lose most of their top players to pro teams next season and it gave Gallant a chance to give his younger players extra ice time. Players from junior-A also had to be called in at times to fill out the roster.

"At Christmas, we didn't think we'd have the record we did, but they all worked hard," he said.

That may be added motivation for the final and perhaps the Memorial Cup: that it will be a last time together for a team that has been done a lot of winning over the past three years.

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