Fighting back tears and a contingent of Saint John residents who had made the trip down to Ontario and found themselves on the ice post-game, Jacob DeSerres jumped into the arms of mother Sharon. This is a goaltender who, a year ago in the same tournament, was shelled for nine goals against the Windsor Spitfires.
That season, primarily playing with the Brandon Wheat Kings, DeSerres limped through it to a .887 save percentage. The Philadelphia Flyers, who drafted him, chose not to sign him. He went through waivers, unclaimed by all 20 Western Hockey League teams. He landed in Saint John as an overage player and made terrific use of the chance he was given. A year later, he was the winning goalie in a championship game with a more modest score line, 3-1 for the New Brunswick team against the local Mississauga-St. Michael’s Majors.
The post-game moment with Sharon and his father Luc was indicative of all DeSerres had been through. He made 34 saves on 35 shots Sunday night against the Mississauga-St. Michael’s Majors to lead his team to the Sea Dogs first ever Memorial Cup win. Was it worth the loss he suffered last year, to finish on top this time around? “Absolutely,” said DeSerres. “I wouldn’t change a thing that happened in my career because it all led to this.”
It was an odd fit for DeSerres, who ended up on a team stockpiled with young talent and as many as four prospects who could be drafted in the first round. But, as a 20-year old, his performance may have landed him a shot at training camp with a pro club next season and not a surefire NHL shot.
But, hey, he’ll take it. He had a .946 save percentage in the three tournament games he played, a whopping 105 saves in 111 shots against, and two important ones off of Devante Smith-Pelley with his team up by two goals late.
“I can’t remember any saves, to be totally honest with you,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “I just remember a lot of good saves.”
After Simon Després put the Sea Dogs up with an early shorthanded tally and Zack Phillips converted on a powerplay, DeSerres went to work. He made an excellent post-to-post save on Chris DeSousa and held the Sea Dogs in it as we went to the second period. There was the only blemish on the netminder’s game, a finish by Riley Brace on a pretty passing play set up by Justin Shugg and Casey Cizikas.
He shut the door there, and there were nervous moments, with Mississauga playing the best they’d played all tournament. But their tip plays met DeSerres’s pads, and passes through the crease went woefully by the intended Majors sticks. Both Maxim Kitsyn and Jordan Mayer, goal scorers alike, had pucks hop over their sticks while they were alone in front. Justin Shugg shot a puck over the net from in close. It seemed like everything was working for Saint John on this night.
Then, late in the third, as top-prospect Jonathan Huberdeau describes, “Big play by [Stephen] MacAulay to chip it up the boards and passed it to Zack [Phillips], he came in on the far side and passed it through the d-man, I just tried to deke backhand and the goalie went to the other side.” Huberdeau made no mistake, and leapt into the air in what will surely be a terrific picture on the front page of any New Brunswick newspaper. It wasn’t over yet, but the tournament earned its defining moment with a goal from its most marketable star.
For the first time, a team brought the Memorial Cup to the maritimes.
Tournament All-Star Team
G – Jordan Binnington, OS: No doubt, the Owen Sound goalie raised his draft stock by keeping the Attack in games after they lost two of their stars. He had a .951 save percentage in 4 games.
D – Simon Després, SNB: The big defenseman battling bronchitis scored in the final, but was also rock solid in his own end all tournament, not conceding many scoring chances.
D – Jesse Blacker, OS: In the spotlight, as a Maple Leaf prospect in Mississauga, Blacker took a few bad penalties, but dominated physically and took part in a good number of rushes.
F – Jonathan Huberdeau, SNB: Huberdeau closed out the tournament with the goal heard ’round New Brunswick and scored the overtime winner against Owen Sound that lifted the ‘Dogs to the Final. The most noticeable of Saint John’s stars.
F – Devonte Smith-Pelley, MISS: He took home a handful of points and was a force on a relatively successful Mississauga powerplay, operating as both a point-man and a body in front. The charismatic DSP may have an NHL shot.
F – Matt Fraser: Fraser scored a pair of goals in back-to-back wins in elimination games and was dangerous on his line with Max Reinhart and Cody Eakin.