SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Jan Mysak of the Hamilton Bulldogs picked the perfect time to score his first goal of the 2022 Memorial Cup.
The 20-year-old native of Litvinov, Czechia, expertly tipped defenceman Nathan Staios’ point shot past goaltender Antoine Coulombe 10:08 into overtime to lift the Bulldogs past the Shawinigan Cataractes 4-3 and into Wednesday’s Memorial Cup final.
“I was waiting for that and I picked the right moment,” said Mysak, selected 48th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2020 NHL entry draft. “We are really happy we can play in the final and we are really excited.”
Artem Grushnikov, Mason McTavish and Logan Morrison scored in regulation for the Bulldogs, who went 16-3 in the playoffs to capture the Ontario Hockey League crown, defeating the Windsor Spitfires in a spirited seven-game championship series.
Morrison, the OHL playoff's MVP, tied the game with 6:04 remaining in regulation when he drifted into the slot and drilled a quick feed from Ryan Winterton past Coulombe.
“He says ‘Wints, Wints, I am open’. So you have to find guys like that when they are open,” said Winterton, who picked up a pair of assists and was plus-3 on the night.
The dramatic semifinal featured big hits, outstanding goaltending and the timely tip from Mysak to propel the Bulldogs into the franchise's first Memorial Cup final. They'll face the host Saint John Sea Dogs who beat them 5-3 to open the tournament on June 20.
On the winning goal Monday, Staios gained control of the puck in the Shawinigan zone, circled the net and then skated back to the blue line before he fired a shot toward the goal, where Mysak broke free to get his stick on the puck for the winner.
“If you want to score a goal, you need a net front (presence),” Mysak said. “The whole game, we knew they were hard around the net, so I just tried to spin around to create a space for me to screen the goalie. I knew he was going to shoot it when he had the puck on his stick and when he picked the right moment, I picked the right moment.”
Mavrik Bourque, Olivier Nadeau and William Veillette scored for Shawinigan, who set a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League record with seven overtime victories in the playoffs en route to the President Cup title, their first in the franchise’s 53 years of existence.
“It has been a great year,” said Shawinigan coach Daniel Renaud. “Bottom line, we are champions. That is the message to the players — ‘Keep your heads-up, be proud of yourself, be proud of your team. It has been a hell of a year and you will be champions forever, no matter what.'"
Marco Costantini made 33 saves in goal for Hamilton while Coulombe stopped 39 of the 43 shots he faced.
In the preliminary round, the Cataractes used three power-play goals on seven chances to edge the Bulldogs 3-2.
Hamilton made significant changes to their approach for Monday's game, allowing just one power-play opportunity while outshooting Shawinigan 38-30 in regulation time.
“It was a point of focus for sure,” said Hamilton coach Jay McKee. “Their power play is fantastic, we made some adjustments in what we did and I thought we did a good job with the one kill. If we were going to win the game tonight, we had to stay out of the box.”
In an evenly played first period, each team hit a post early on and the shots were tight, as Hamilton led 9-8 in that department.
Bourque opened scoring when he redirected a Nadeau feed past Costantini at 14:39. Nadeau gained control of a loose puck in the left corner, and hit Bourque, whose shot found the net under Costantini’s glove.
Grushnikov tied it less than two minutes later when he joined the rush on a 4-on-4 situation and finished off a slick pass from the right wing by McTavish at 16:29.
The play opened up in the second period and the scoring chances increased as a result.
McTavish put Hamilton ahead 1:23 into the second period, when his snap shot beat Coulombe just seconds after one of their power-play opportunities had expired.
Nadeau brought the Cataractes back once more, when he tipped Isaac Menard’s point shot past Costantini at 5:49. The tip came on a high shot that led to a video review but was quickly confirmed.
From there, the goaltenders took over as Coulombe made 17 saves in the second period and Costantini was equally sharp as he blocked 14 Cataractes offerings.
That set the stage for the tense and thrilling third period.
The Bulldogs appeared to have taken a 3-2 lead with 12:27 remaining in regulation as Avery Hayes swatted a pass from behind the net that trickled through Coulombe and over the goal line. However, it did not count as the official blew the play down before it crossed the line, a call that stood after a lengthy review.
Just 2:28 later, Vermette reached out and tipped an Angus Booth wrist shot high into the top corner past Constantini at 10:01.
This time, it was the Bulldogs who responded in quick fashion as Morrison drifted into the slot and one-timed a feed from Winterton at 13:56.
Shawinigan, the 2012 Memorial Cup champions, finished second in the preliminary round, advancing with wins over Edmonton and Hamilton before dropping a 5-3 contest to the host Sea Dogs in the final round-robin game.
Hamilton struggled early in the event, falling to Saint John and Shawinigan before recording a 4-2 victory over Edmonton in its final preliminary round game to clinch its semifinal berth.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022
Kevin Barrett, The Canadian Press