Published May 25, 2011
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Never mind the risk. Jacob DeSerres wanted to play again. The goalie understood his junior hockey career possibly was over, but so what? He was going to move more than 600 miles away and prepare vigorously for a final season that might never materialize.
Shortly after DeSerres allowed every goal in the Brandon Wheat Kings' stunning 9-1 loss to the Windsor Spitfires in last year's MasterCard Memorial Cup final, he went home to Calgary and planned his future.
With 17-year-old goalies Corbin Boes and Liam Liston ready to take over for the Wheat Kings, DeSerres' time in Brandon likely was over. As an overage goaltender, he would have limited appeal all over the Canadian Hockey League because teams only can carry three players with 1990 birth years this season.
The 21-year-old DeSerres and his family decided he should spend the offseason training with Paul Fricker, his goalie coach, in Vancouver.
Almost a year later, DeSerres is back in the Memorial Cup, this time with the Saint John Sea Dogs, the prospect-laden QMJHL team that clinched a berth in the Memorial Cup final with a 3-2 overtime win Monday. He wasn't in net for Tuesday's 5-4 overtime loss to the Kootenay Ice, giving him an extra day off to prepare for his second straight title game.
"I figured it's my last shot and I wanted to make a better version of myself for this upcoming season," DeSerres said prior to Tuesday's game. "I was hoping that I'd get a good shot somewhere and it worked out, and I'm glad I did what I did over the summer to create this opportunity."
When DeSerres rejoined the Wheat Kings last August, general manager Kelly McCrimmon told him there was a chance he could stay, but McCrimmon knew his friend Mike Kelly, the Sea Dogs' Director of Hockey Operations, had an interest in him.
"We were looking for not someone who was going to come in and be our savior, but someone who was going to come in and play well when they had to," Kelly said.
DeSerres, who had started his WHL career in 2005-06 with three games for the Seattle Thunderbirds, cleared waivers in October and was free to sign in the QMJHL. He signed with the Sea Dogs on Oct. 10.
"It was tough, but I just went on with my daily routine, and I kept working, kept working and practicing hard because I knew one day I was going to be in," DeSerres said of getting another opportunity.
DeSerres adjusted to the new league quickly, going 27-3-0 with a League-best 2.22 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and four shutouts.
The Sea Dogs had been using Karel St. Laurent and Blue Jackets prospect Mathieu Corbeil, who made 40 saves subbing for DeSerres in Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Kootenay Ice.
Kootenay left wing Matt Fraser, a Dallas Stars prospect, scored his second goal of the game 3:55 into overtime. The win by the Ice means they'll play a tiebreaker game Thursday, against the loser of Wednesday's game between the host Mississauga St. Michael's Majors and Owen Sound Attack.
Sea Dogs right wing Tomas Jurco, NHL Central Scouting's No. 20 prospect in its final ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft, scored twice, including a the game-tying goal with 15 seconds left in regulation. The player famed for his trick shots was credited with his tournament-best fourth goal after the puck went in off his neck. He sported a large welt after the game.
Despite the loss, Saint John's spot in the Sunday's title game (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet) is secure. And a big reason for that is DeSerres, who has stopped 71 of 76 in winning both of his games at tournament.
"He (DeSerres) is probably a better goalie than we thought he was, but we were real happy to get him," Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant said. "Anytime you go to the Memorial Cup with the host team and you're their starting goalie, you know he's a pretty good goaltender."
Few players get a second kick at the Memorial Cup, let alone in another league as an overage player. But DeSerres certainly earned his opportunity.
"Jake faced himself rather than running from himself," Fricker told NHL.com. "By facing his weaknesses he no longer needed to hope for the best or hope that all would work out.
"He took control of his life and as a byproduct his game as a goalie. It was one of the bravest things I have seen a (young man) do."
DeSerres said he feels no sense of accomplishment yet. The rotten taste in his mouth from the 2010 championship appearance has lingered.
"I was happy, but at the same time I knew we hadn't won anything yet," DeSerres said of the Sea Dogs' win Tuesday. "It was a good feeling, but at the same time my eyes are still on the bigger prize."
It's unclear if DeSerres will have a job next season. He was picked by the Philadelphia Flyers in the third round (No. 84) of the 2008 Entry Draft, but never signed with them, making him an unrestricted free agent.
His recent output speaks for itself, however. He's backstopped two teams to the Memorial Cup final in the last two years. Counting the postseason, he's an amazing 72-15-2 since he joined the Wheat Kings early last season.
"I hope I get an opportunity. I'm a hockey player," DeSerres said. "Like any other hockey player, it's my dream (to play professionally). Hopefully I sign a contract this summer or this spring. (It's great) getting more time to actually keep working, building my game into an NHL level."
Gallant and Kelly believe some team will ink DeSerres.
"He's come in and handled pressure very well," Kelly said. "He seems to have gotten to a point now where he enjoys the competition and he enjoys the battle and he works extremely hard. I think he deserves a chance. No question.".