The long wait is finally over for Philippe Daoust.
The former Moncton Wildcats centre opens the Memorial Cup, presented by Kia, with his Saint John Sea Dogs taking on the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs Monday at TD Station.
It will be Saint John’s first game since May 12, when the tournament hosts were eliminated by the Rimouski Oceanic in the first round of the QMJHL President Cup playoffs.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment,” Daoust said, following the Sea Dogs’ morning skate ahead of Monday’s game. “We’re really excited. We’re ready to go. I think we’ve got high expectations for ourselves, so we’re really excited.”
The Sea Dogs went 32-5-1 in the second half of the season after adding Daoust and several other key pieces to bolster an already impressive lineup.
Daoust spent two seasons in Moncton from 2019 to 2021. He had been playing with the American Hockey League’s Belleville Senators during the first half of the 2021-22 season, posting five assists in 15 games.
He was returned to junior hockey during the QMJHL’s holiday trading period. The Wildcats then traded his rights to Saint John in a multi-player deal that brought rookie defenceman Natan Grenier to Moncton.
Daoust tallied three points in Saint John’s first-round playoff loss, including a two-goal performance in Saint John’s 5-3 triumph in Game 3.
“It was obviously a tough loss,” Daoust said of the Rimouski series. “But we had to accept the loss and look at the positives and the negatives of that series. We had to soak it in a little bit. We took a little bit of time off, but now we’re back. We’re ready to go and we’re in the right mindset for this tournament.”
The series loss prompted Saint John to fire head coach Gordie Dwyer and replace him with Gardiner MacDougall from the University of New Brunswick Reds program.
Daoust said the coaching change was difficult, but it’s been an “exciting” transition.
“He brings a different atmosphere, a different attitude to the rink,” Daoust said of MacDougall. “Lots of positivity, lots of excitement. Just a different mood in the dressing room. It’s really good for us after that tough round.”
MacDougall has seven national university titles to his credit. His success in short tournaments was cited by Sea Dogs management among the reasons for his hire.
“He really brought us into a better mindset and obviously there’s high-intensity on the ice,” Daoust said. “He’s a winning coach, so we have trust in him.”
After 39 days between games, Daoust believes his team is ready to compete and succeed against the CHL’s best.
“We’ve had a lot of time off,” Daoust said. “A lot of practices. We’ve been working out a lot. We’re in shape, ready to go. We’ve been practising, probably two-hour practices in the first two weeks after coming back from that little break, (other teams in the tournament) have been battling, wearing their bodies down so they might be a little bit gassed. We’re really excited and ready to go and lots of energy.”
Good luck, Phil!