2017 Memorial Cup recap: Saint John advances past Seattle; Mathieu Joseph leads the way

The Tampa Bay prospects were key to the Sea Dogs staying alive and defeating the Seattle Thunderbirds 7-0

It was the biggest game of the tournament for the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Seattle Thunderbirds. Win and move on to the semi-finals and a chance at revenge on the teams that beat you. Lose, and you pack your bags and head back to the coast you left, your season over.

Both of these teams suffered a humiliating loss to a OHL team. The Seattle Thunderbirds went down 7-1 to the host Windsor Spitfires, and last night the Saint John Sea Dogs were on the wrong end of a multiple record setting 12-5 game against the Erie Otters.

The Thunderbirds have had a hard road into the Memorial Cup to see it all blown away in three games. They faced multiple top teams in the WHL playoffs, including the dominant Regina Pats in the final, all on the back of a 16 year old goalie - he turned 17 last week - who looks to be the face of the Thunderbirds for the next few seasons.

The Saint John Sea Dogs path to the QMJHL championship wasn’t as hard as the other two champions had, thanks to the Quebec league having a 1-16 seeding for their playoffs. Losing only two games on their way to Windsor, this week saw them double that up with two losses to Erie and Windsor.

The Thunderbirds were on the lookout for their first ever Memorial Cup win after winning their first WHL championship this year. Seattle has had a taste of the Memorial Cup before; they hosted in 1992 and lost in the semi-finals to the Kamloops Blazers who were kicking off a run of three Memorial Cups in four years. Of course this was before anyone on this team was born, but there are Seattle fans who know just how close the team came to infamy.

Sadly, it was not in the cards for the Thunderbirds. Pinning their hopes on a rookie goaltender and New York Islanders superstar prospect Matthew Barzal, they were no match for the powerful line of Mathieu Joseph - Matthew Highmore - and Bokondji Imama. They will take their experience, their knowledge of what it takes to win, back to Seattle with them. Hang that Ed Chynoweth Cup banner with pride from the ceiling of the ShoWare Centre, knowing a large portion of this well-experienced team will be back, ready to defend the throne next season.

It’s in the post game that you realize how much this takes out of a player, especially at their age. '97 born Keegna Kolesar, comes into a post game scrum with fresh tears. Unless he’s back for an overage year, the Blue Jackets draft pick has played his final game as a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds.

It was tears of joy for the Saint John Sea Dogs, left for dead after last night’s 12-5 drubbing by the Erie Otters, they rallied around the desperation of their situation and came out fast, not giving the Thunderbirds an inch.

The line of Bokondji Imama, Matthew Highmore, and Mathieu Joseph was rolling all night as the Sea Dogs top offensive line. Imama was a good in-zone net presence, not letting Seattle players come too close to his goalie, and not letting them take liberties with his teammates. There’s a lot of energy with this unit, and they’re always eager to play, hanging over the boards waiting for their shift to start.

Mathieu Joseph was putting on a take away clinic tonight, not giving the Thunderbirds much of a chance to clear their zone. He played forward hard tonight, and was rewarded with scoring the Sea Dogs third goal, his second of the tournament, on a bouncing pass from Matthew Highmore that spun its way past rookie goaltender Carl Stankowsi.

Bokondji Imama got the second assist on that goal, and had another helper when Joe Veleno scored his second goal of the game - the Sea Dogs seventh of the game.

Imama had his own moment in the spotlight, when he scored the Sea Dogs’ sixth goal as the second period was ending. Stopping the Thunderbirds from clearing the zone, he stole the puck and whipped a shot past Rylan Toth, who replaced the young Stankowski in net after the fourth goal.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have an embarrassment of riches in this tournament and have all but one of them signed to a contract. Bokondji Imama’s rights expire in just 7 days, so if the Lightning want to see more of his well rounded play, they’ll have to act soon.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and their fans have a lot to be happy about tonight. After five games, Taylor Raddysh is tied for the lead in points with 2G, 6A for 8 points, Anthony Cirelli has 5 points (1G, 4A), Mathieu Joseph has 4 points (2G, 2A), Bokondji Imama has 3 points (1G, 2A), and Erik Cernak has 2 assists. That’s 6G, 16A for the prospects. 22 points for five players.

The Saint John Sea Dogs play their next game Friday night at 7PM.

Their opponent will be the loser of the Windsor Spitfires vs Erie Otters game that is played tomorrow night at 7PM.

Full Video Highlights: Imama (#51 in black); Joseph (#21 in black)