WINDSOR, Ont. — Jonathan Huberdeau remembers the Saint John Sea Dogs’ only Memorial Cup championship all too well.
Saint John held a 2-1 lead late in the 2011 tournament final against the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.
Huberdeau broke free, took a pass on a 2-on-1 from linemate Zack Phillips and went forehand to backhand with less than four minutes to play to give his team the assurance that the Canadian Hockey League’s biggest prize would be theirs for the first time in team history.
“He made a really good pass to me and that kind of closed the deal a little bit,” said Huberdeau. “There was still three minutes left but you’re way more confident up two goals than one.”
Huberdeau and his Sea Dogs were a powerhouse in 2010-11, finishing the regular season a league-best 58-7-3 before cruising their way to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship.
Saint John was coached by Vegas Golden Knights’ Gerard Gallant that season, and the roster was deep in NHL prospects.
Huberdeau was the top one at the 2011 NHL Draft, being selected third overall by Florida. Defenceman Nathan Beaulieu went 17th to Montreal while Phillips wound up being Saint John’s third player to go in Round 1 when Minnesota took him 28th.
Winger Tomas Jurco went in the second round, 35th to Detroit, while soon-to-be NHL blue liners Eric Gelinas and Simon Despres were drafted the previous year.
“We had a special team, we knew we had a good chance to win and that’s what we did,” said Huberdeau. “That was a really fun time. Even now we still hang out with each other, that says a lot.”
The 2011 season was an important one for Huberdeau, who set the new team standard with 105 points in 67 games as a 17-year-old.
The Saint-Jerome, Que., native earned QMJHL playoff MVP after leading Saint John to its first league title in franchise history. He followed that up as Memorial Cup MVP, then went to the NHL combine before attending the NHL Draft, where the Panthers made him a Top-3 selection.
“You didn’t even have time to realize it or time to even think about winning the Memorial Cup (in the moment), but it was a pretty good year for me,” said Huberdeau.
This season Saint John is making its third appearance at a Memorial Cup after breezing through the QMJHL playoffs. They will play the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters in the semifinal on Friday.
Huberdeau has continued to follow the Sea Dogs since turning pro in 2012 and made it out to a few home dates in the post-season to support the organization he spent parts of four seasons playing for.
“I’m watching them a lot,” said Huberdeau. “It’s fun to always follow your team and it’s great they have a chance to win this year.”
Five players from the 2010-11 Saint John team went on to play full time in the NHL, and Huberdeau captured the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year in 2013.
With time to think about his junior career, and what his Sea Dogs accomplished, he realizes how great that season was.
“The Memorial Cup is what you want to win when you play junior and to win it is what stands out from 2011,” said Huberdeau. “I think it was special. When you get to hoist the trophy over your head it’s a special moment and I’ll always remember it.”