The wait is finally over for the Saint John Sea Dogs. For the past week, the top-ranked team in the QMJHL has been patiently awaiting their next opponent after sweeping the Val-d’Or Foreur.
Even with their regular practices, it’s been difficult killing time after a perfect 8-0 start to the playoffs.
On Friday, the Sea Dogs will open at home against the Chicoutimi Sagueneens (8-3).
“It’s exciting,” said Saint John forward Mathieu Joseph. “We’ve been waiting for a little bit now, so it was nice that we had time to rest, but now we’re going to be ready for a really hard series.”
The upstart Sagueneens shocked the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the team second seed in the post-season, with a thrilling 4-3 overtime victory in Game 7 of their quarter-final after climbing back from a 3-1 deficit in the series. Despite the fact Chicoutimi is the lowest ranked team (8th) remaining in the playoffs the Sea Dogs aren’t taking them lightly.
“Anything can happen in the playoffs,” said Joseph. “There are upsets every year. Playoffs are another season and while it’s a surprise with the rankings – hockey’s played on the ice so (Chicoutimi) got the job done and played really well.
“It was a good series and they worked really hard to get where they are now.”
The Sea Dogs won both their regular season contests against the Sagueneens. The two teams met in the semifinals of the 2012 QMJHL semifinals under similar circumstances, as the Sea Dogs were undefeated going up against the lower-seed Sagueneens. The Sagueneens handed the Sea Dogs their lone loss of the 2012 playoffs en route to another President’s Cup victory for Saint John.
The Sea Dogs have used part of their downtime to do some pre-scouting of the Sagueneens. Joseph says he watched a few of the games and was impressed by the Chicoutimi, even though going to overtime in Game 7 the series could have gone either way.
“They’re a deep team, they have a really good goalie (Julio Billia) and they’re solid defensively,” said Joseph. “They played well against Rouyn and they blocked a lot of shots.”
Chicoutimi is going to have their hands full against the offensively strong Sea Dogs. In eight playoff games Saint John has scored 42 goals while keeping the opposition to 14 goals in total. The 20-year-old Joseph has been a big part of that as the team’s top scorer with seven goals and eight assists.
“We’re sticking to our game plan,” said the native of Chambly, Que. “We’re trying to execute it as good as we can. When you’re able to get and keep the puck you can create more offensively.”
For Joseph it’s also a step closer to the President’s Cup title and a chance to soothe some of the sting left after losing the gold medal at the 2017 world junior championship as member of Team Canada.
“It was disappointing at the world juniors,” he said. “It was something that I learned from. Obviously I wanted to win. Now I want to win more so it gave me the motivation to work hard and play the best hockey I can to help my team win.
“Playoffs are a team effort and every single guy is going to have to play hard to get through this series.”