Monday, February 27, 2012

The Top Dog Team

By Andrew McGilligan
SN Staff

Despite having been in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League less than a decade, the Saint John Sea Dogs have had a tremendous amount of talent grace the ice of Harbour Station. With this in mind, I decided to compile my list of Top Dogs or the All-Time team.

Let’s set out the ground rules I used for these choices. I’m not bothering to go by forward position, so don’t bother with arguments of this guy wouldn’t be playing with that guy. The second rule is no rental players. If a player was acquired at the deadline and only played half a season and no more in a Dogs sweater, then they are ineligible for the list. An example is Eric Gelinas, great player but acquired at the trade deadline, so he doesn’t count. However, in the case of a guy missing games at the start of a year to attend an NHL/AHL camp, or were acquired in the early part of the season, they’re still eligible.

With those parameters in place, let’s get started.

First unit
Jonathan Huberdeau – Michael Kirkpatrick – Mike Hoffman
Simon Despres – Nathan Beaulieu
Jacob DeSerres - Mathieu Corbeil

Second Unit
Zack Phillips – Tomas Jurco – Mike Thomas
Yann Sauve – Alex Grant 
Travis Fullerton- Robert Mayer

The top forward trio of Huberdeau-Kirkpatrick-Hoffman is as formidable as you can get.

Huberdeau is simply amazing at the junior level racking up points and accolades about as fast as anyone can. The thing I love about this guy is he’s more than just a dynamic scorer; he’s a leader as evidenced by his selection as team captain, solid on the defensive side of the puck and clutch. I know claiming a guy is clutch is easy to do, but Huberdeau backs it up with his QMJHL playoff and Memorial Cup MVP honours.

Kirkpatrick is deserving of his own column for all of the things he did for the organization during his time in the Port City. Former general manager and head coach Jacques Beaulieu said Kirkpatrick was going to be a special junior player just minutes after drafting him and he proved Beaulieu right.

Here`s an exact quote from Beaulieu from the draft floor courtesy of a Telegraph-Journal article from June 4, 2007.

"(Kirkpatrick) is a good two-way player with a lot of hockey sense," Beaulieu said. "He really knows how to play the game."

Kirkpatrick is the team’s all-time leading scorer, so that automatically vaults him to first team status.

Next is Hoffman. When he was in Saint John he was spectacular as an overage player scooping up league MVP honours, setting a team record for goals with 46 and notching 85 points. He helped lead the team to the President`s Cup final before bowing out to the Moncton Wildcats.

A player with a great shot and good vision, Hoffman was dangerous every time he stepped on the ice.

The blue liners for the first-team are a pair of first round NHL picks in Simon Despres and Nathan Beaulieu. The ‘Big Horse’ as Despres was called during his time in Saint John didn`t disappoint. A solid rookie campaign was followed up by three great seasons and all of it done with the added pressure of being a No. 1 pick in the 2007 QMJHL draft. He also has the distinction of being the first Sea Dog to register a point and score a goal in the NHL. And who can forget his play during the Memorial Cup, scoring in the final game, and looking like a man among boys in several instances.

Beaulieu arrived one-year after Despres and has gotten better every single year. A great offensive d-man, with a heavy shot, good wheels and an ever-improving defensive game have made him fun to watch at Harbour Station.

Between the pipes, you have to give the nod to the tandem hat helped bring the Memorial Cup to Saint John. DeSerres will never have to buy a drink in the Port City after his unbelievable play in the Mem Cup final, one-year removed from being shelled by the Windsor Spitfires in the 2009 championship game.

Corbeil was a great backup for DeSerres last season and is proving to be a tremendous No. 1 netminder this year. He’s one shutout away from tying several goalies including Roberto Luongo for most in a season while being the rock that helped guide the team through a few difficult patches this season due to injuries and absences.

Second Team
This group was much tougher to pick, so let’s start up front.

The trio of Phillips-Jurco-Thomas is an interesting one. Phillips was the easy selection as he’s put up great numbers since being acquired from Lewiston and played an amazing game, despite being injured, in the Memorial Cup Final. The Fredericton product is talented in every aspect of the game as evidenced by his first-round selection in the 2011 draft by the Minnesota Wild.

Jurco gets the nod for an overall great career with the Sea Dogs thus far, not to mention his prodigious YouTube clips. His shootout moves are the stuff of legend and he rarely plays a bad game. Put it this way, late in the game and down a goal, I definitely want Jurco on the ice.

Former Sea Dogs captain Mike Thomas was the toughest choice. While his numbers aren’t as flashy as others, it’s the intangibles that got him on the list. A great leader, devastating hitter, great defensive forward and willing to stick up for any of his teammates are just a few of the New Maryland natives best attributes. He knew his role and played it to a tee. While he got his fair share of suspensions, there’s no doubt that some opposing forwards altered the way they played or, as the saying goes, “heard footsteps,” whenever Thomas was on the ice.

On the blue line I had to go with two former first overall picks in Sauve and Grant, but part of me wanted to write in Kevin Gagne and Pierre Durepos. Sauve was a solid defenceman whom people thought should have been better in the offensive end. This always struck me as funny because he wasn’t that type of defenceman. He was a better stay at home d-man, reading the play and taking away the time and space of forwards.

This is why I enjoyed it when Grant and Sauve played together because they complimented one another well. Sauve’s steady defensive presence allowed Grant to join the rush which he excelled at doing.

Grant had the burden of being the face of the franchise and while it wore on him at times, as it would any 16-year-old, he matured into a leader and a vocal one at that for the team.

Fullerton gets the nod in goal on the second unit. He was a steady player and really the first guy to solidify the goaltending position in Saint John. His performance in the 2007-08 playoffs, especially against Bathurst, was a tremendous. He made an incredible diving save in Bathurst that should be remembered by all who were there. Fullerton also holds the distinction of being one of the more underrated players. All the guy does is win. Even after moving on from Saint John to UNB and winning two national championships, people still don’t give him enough credit.

Fullerton is joined by Mayer on this list because….well after DeSerres, Corbeil and Fullerton (Cousineau doesn’t meet criteria) there’s not much else. Let’s hope Sebastien Auger will supplant Mayer in future lists. Mayer did have a few memorable games in goal for Saint John, a shutout of the high-octane Quebec Remparts in the 07-08 season comes to mind, but other than the quirk of not talking on game days, his stint in Saint John isn’t all that memorable.

Honourable Mentions
Danick Gauthier is having a great season and has been a solid two-way player for the team, but I wouldn’t bump him in favour of any of the top six forwards. Scott Howes was fun to watch, outspoken and scored some big goals, but not enough to land him on the list.

Stanislav Galiev was hard to keep off the list and I wouldn’t argue with anyone including him on their version. He’s got a great shot and always seems to hustle back on the defensive end.

Another couple of guys who were hard to keep off were Chris Di Domenico and Ryan Sparling. Di Domenico was the first Sea Dog to see his name among the league scoring leaders and suited up for Team Canada at the World Juniors. No doubt some will find a spot for Di Domenico on their all-time team and they wouldn’t be wrong in doing so. Sparling was the team’s all-time leading scorer until being overtaken by Kirkpatrick.

On the blue line, the already mentioned Gagne and Durepos were two deserving of a spot on the squad, but just couldn’t crack the top four.

Photo Credit: Marc Henwood/Station Nation

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