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Top-ranked Mooseheads continue to focus on their own game ahead of Memorial Cup

05/15/2013 05:54 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT
SASKATOON - The Halifax Mooseheads spent the 2012-13 season believing that if they played up to their potential, the results would take care of themselves.

All that strategy produced was one of the most dominating regular seasons in Canadian Hockey League history.

Now after a near perfect showing in the playoffs, the Mooseheads are out to finish the job at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.

The country's No. 1 ranked team finished the regular season with a 58-6-4 record, posting the fewest losses in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League history and the second-fewest ever in the CHL.

And after going 16-1 in the QMJHL playoffs, the favourites from Halifax are primed to meet the best that the rest of the country has to offer at the tournament which runs from May 17-26.

"That was obviously a solid season and our guys were really good at taking every game as a challenge and always looking for the next challenge and the next team that was coming up," Mooseheads coach Dominique Ducharme said. "We really set goals for ourselves. We were concerned with the way we played and not worried about results."

The Mooseheads are led by the dynamic duo of Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, who are both expected to be among the top picks at June's NHL draft.

The flashy forwards were in the spotlight all season along with Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones as scouts, media and fans debated who should go No. 1.

Ducharme says he sat down with both Drouin and MacKinnon to discuss the increased attention, but adds that the pair never lost focus of the team concept and the ultimate goal of bringing Halifax its first Memorial Cup title.

"As a team we can't control what people are thinking or saying ... scouts, media," Ducharme said in a recent phone interview. "We can only control what we can control. For Jonathan and Nathan it was the same. You can't control the rankings list or what the scouts are thinking. All you can do is work every day to get better."

The Mooseheads open the tournament on Saturday against Jones' Winterhawks, who are ranked No. 2 in the CHL.

Drouin and MacKinnon were part of the Canadian team at the world junior hockey championship that suffered a devastating 5-1 loss to Jones and the United States in the semifinals of this year's tournament. The U.S. went on to win gold, while Canada finished a disappointing fourth in Ufa, Russia.

What makes the Mooseheads' season even more impressive is how they continued to roll while Drouin (41 goals, 64 assists in 49 games) and MacKinnon (32 goals, 43 assists in 44 games) were away. Drouin finished just five points back of QMJHL top scorer Ben Duffy of the P.E.I. Rocket, despite playing 19 fewer games.

"We have a solid group of guys and when (Nathan and Jonathan) were at the worlds we kept winning because we have good depth," said Ducharme, the QMJHL's coach of the year. "We have a will to win, attention to detail and are willing to take a challenge and really go through it as a group."

That group includes forward Martin Frk, who had 35 goals and 49 assists in the regular season, defenceman Konrad Abeltshauser (seven goals, 47 assists) and goaltender Zachary Fucale, who was solid in posting 45-5-3 record to go along with a 2.35 goals-against average and .909 save percentage.

Drouin (12G, 23A), MacKinnon (11G, 22A) and Frk (13G, 20A) were the top three scorers in the QMJHL playoffs, and although Ducharme respects the opposition at the Memorial Cup, he says his players' focus will remain where it has all season — on themselves.

Considering past results, it's hard to argue with that strategy.

"We know we're playing good teams but at the same time we're concentrating on ourselves," Ducharme said. "There's always little details but the core of our game remains the same. We want to control what we do."

The other two clubs participating at this year's Memorial Cup are the Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights (ranked No. 3 in the CHL) and the host Saskatoon Blades. Those teams open the tournament on Friday.

Note: Only the 1978-79 edition of the Brandon Wheat Kings lost fewer games that the 2012-13 Mooseheads — five in a 72-game season.

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