The Memorial Cup begins Friday Night in Mississauga, with the host Majors being joined by Quebec League champion Saint John Sea Dogs, Western League champion Kootenay Ice and OHL champion Owen Sound Attack.
This tournament crowns the best Major Junior hockey club in Canada. It is a 6 game round robin format that sees each team play one another once, with the best team in the round robin advancing to the Final, while 2nd & 3rd place play a semi-final game.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Kootenay Ice marched through the WHL playoffs with a record of 16-3. After falling down 2-1 to the Moose Jaw Warriors in the first round, they reeled off 15 wins in their next 16 games to claim the WHL crown. Ranked 4th in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, the Ice then swept the top ranked WHL team, the Saskatoon Blades in round 2 and the Medicine Hat Tigers in round 3. The Portland Winter Hawks managed an OT victory in game 1 of the Finals, but the Ice won the next 4 to complete their remarkable run.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Ice are led by Canadian Junior Team member Cody Eakin (WSH ’09), Matt Fraser, and Max Reinhart (CGY ’10) who each tallied 27 points in 19 games. Towering goalie Nate Lieuwen has been stellar in the post-season, playing all 19 games and recording a GAA of 2.24.
OTHER NHL DRAFTEES - Braden McNabb (BUF ’09), Drew Czerwonka (EDM ’10), Joey Leach (CGY ’10)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Owen Sound Attack get into the Memorial Cup as the OHL Champions after defeating the host Mississauga Majors in the OHL Finals. The Attack beat the London Knights 4-2, and then swept the Plymouth Whalers. In a statement series, the Attack dispatched the defending Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires in 5 games. They had their hands full with the Majors, but the Attack managed to pull out a game 7 OT victory to win the OHL title.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The duo of Joey Hishon (COL ’10) and Robby Mignardi have been lethal in the playoffs. They lead the OHL playoffs in assists and goals respectively, and tied for the lead in points. Garrett Wilson (FLA ’09) rounds out the top line in the playoffs as each had over a point per game. Goaltending was a problem in the final series, as neither Michael Zador (TBL ’09) or Scott Stajcer (NYR ’09)could find any traction against the Majors, and 17 year old Jordan Binnington stepped in and won games 6 and 7.
OTHER NHL DRAFTEES: Jesse Blacker (TOR ’09), Geoffrey Schemitsch (TBL ’10),
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Saint John Sea Dogs come into the Memorial Cup as the clear cut favorites, having been ranked #1 for most of the season. The Sea Dogs stormed through the QMJHL playoffs with a record of 16-3, sweeping Cape Breton in round 1 and then eliminating Drummondville in 5. They swept the Lewiston MAINEiacs and then dispatched the Gatineau Olympiques in 6 games to win the QMJHL title.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: The Sea Dogs are a stacked team with talent, first and foremost being Jonathan Huberdeau, one of the top ranked players for the 2011 NHL draft. He had 30 points in 19 games to finish second in playoff scoring. In fact the Sea Dogs could have as many as 4 players, including Huberdeau, taken in the first round this summer. Get to know the names of Nathan Beaulieu, Zack Phillips and Tomas Jurco as well. Jacob DeSerres (PHI ’08) has been good in the Sea Dogs net, but given the dominant team in front of him, has not been overly busy, as his 2.00 GAA and .916 SP would indicate.
OTHER NHL DRAFTEES: Stanislav Galiev (WSH ’10), Steven Anthony (VAN ’09), Simon Despres (PIT ’08), Stephen MacAuley (STL ’10), Eric Gelinas (NJD ’09)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: The Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors were named the host club last May, and they have geared their entire season towards this week. The top ranked OHL team in the regular season, the Majors swept through the Belleville Bulls and Sudbury Wolves before taking out the Niagara Ice Dogs in 5 games. They then took a 3-2 series lead over Owen Sound before dropping the last two games to finish as the OHL runner-up.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Majors’ captain Casey Cizikas (NYI ’09) was a key member of the 2011 Canadian World Junior team that captured the Silver Medal. Also on the Majors is Maxim Kitsyn (LAK ’10), who won the gold with Russia in that tournament and then joined the team when the gold medal game was over. Devante Smith-Pelly (ANH ’10) was the Majors’ leading playoff scorer and has a penchant for scoring big goals. Goalie JP Anderson was the playoff workhorse, winning 15 playoff games and posting a 2.11 GAA.
OTHER NHL DRAFTEES: Justin Shugg (CAR ’10), Rob Flick (CHI ’10), Brett Flemming (WSH ’09), Gregg Sutch (BUF ’10), Chris Doyle (NYR ’10)
FROM A SENATORS’ POINT OF VIEW
Fans of the Ottawa Senators might have significant interest in a number of factors this week. Sens Owner Eugene Melnyk is also the owner of the Majors. Two people who have been rumoured to be considered for the Senators vacant coaching position are in this tournament, Majors head coach Dave Cameron and the Sea Dogs’ Gerard Gallant. Also, as they are in possession of two first round picks in this summer’s draft, it is entirely possible that 1 or even 2 of the top end prospects on the Sea Dogs roster could be selected by the Senators.
In most years, there is one team that is considerably weaker than all the others, so it generally comes down to the semi-final and final. However, this year I cannot pick out the weak sister in the group. I think Saint John is a head above the rest of the competition and should come out with the bye to the final. I see a dog-fight for the semi-final spots, and it is entirely possible that the tie-breaker could be needed. The key factor may be the Owen Sound fans, who are a small but mighty force that have scooped up tickets en masse since they beat the Majors in game 7. Support of the CHL is not strong in the Metro Toronto area, and home ice advantage will be turned against the Majors when they play the Attack. In the end I see a final matchup between Owen Sound and Saint John, with the Sea Dogs coming out the victor. The Sea Dogs will be hosting this tournament next year, and I believe they will be doing so as the defending Memorial Cup Champions. They are too strong, too talented and too deep for the opposition, and the Wednesday to Sunday layoff should they get the bye to the final will be a blessing.
GAME SCHEDULE (from http://www.mastercardmemorialcup.com/page/schedule)
Round-Robin Game 1 – Saint John vs. Mississauga on Friday May 20, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Round-Robin Game 2 – Owen Sound vs. Kootenay on Saturday May 21, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Round-Robin Game 3 – Mississauga vs. Kootenay on Sunday May 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Round-Robin Game 4 – Owen Sound vs. Saint John on Monday May 23, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Round-Robin Game 5 – Kootenay vs. Saint John on Tuesday May 24, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Round-Robin Game 6 – Mississauga vs. Owen Sound on Wednesday May 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Tie-Breaker (if necessary) – Thursday May 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Semi-Final – Friday May 27, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Championship Final – Sunday May 29, 2011 at 7:00 pm
Thanks for reading and as always, comments are welcomed.
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