Friday, May 20, 2011
Today begins the 2011 Memorial Cup, a ten day tournament held annually to determine supremacy of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), the organization which represents the three junior hockey leagues for players between the ages of 16 to 20 years old.
The format of the Memorial Cup is unique in that the playoff champions of the Western Hockey League (WHL), the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) all compete, with the addition of the host team, in a round robin schedule of games against all three of the other clubs. Once each team has played three games, the fourth place team is eliminated from further competition. The second and third place teams then meet in a single Semifinal game with the winner advancing to face the top team from the round robin standings in a one game final two days later.
This year's competitors are the WHL champion Kootenay Ice, the OHL champion Owen Sound Attack and the QMJHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs, who will all be hosted by the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors of the OHL, who finished as the runners up in the OHL playoffs to Owen Sound after losing in overtime of Game 7, so their credentials are as strong as anyone.
Play begins tonight when Saint John faces Mississauga and Owen Sound and Kootenay begin play tomorrow night. There is a single game for each of the following four days to wrap up the round robin portion of the competition with May 26th set aside in the event a tie-breaker game is needed. This year's semifinal game will take place on Friday, May 27th with the championship final on Sunday, May 29th. All games are scheduled for 7:00 Eastern Time and will be televised on live Rogers Sportsnet and RDS in Canada. The NHL Network in the United States will show all the games, with three of them being shown live, including the championship final on May 29th.
Since the current four team format was adopted in 1983, WHL teams have won the championship 15 times, the OHL 9 times and the QMJHL 4, while the host team has come through 8 of 28 times, 4 of those as their league champions.
With the majority of NHL players coming out of Canada, combined with the NHL Draft on the horizon, the Memorial Cup is a great opportunity to see not only tomorrow's stars today, but a chance to scout the upcoming draft on your own as, aside from the 24 players already drafted by NHL teams, their are 17 players eligible to be drafted this season led by number 3 ranked skater Jonathan Huberdeau and number 5 ranked Nathan Beaulieu, both of Saint John, and the number 3 ranked goaltending prospect Jordan Binnington of Owen Sound.
Today's featured jersey is a 2009-10 Windsor Spitfires Taylor Hall jersey. The Spitfires are the two-time defending Memorial Cup champions and Hall was named the winner of the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as MVP of last year's Memorial Cup as well as the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as Top Scorer, a performance which also earned him an berth on the All-Star Team. Following his high profile success at the Memorial Cup, Hall was selected first overall by the Edmonton Oilers at the 2010 NHL Draft a month later.
It's rare for a team to repeat as champions due to the amount of roster turnover in junior hockey. The first club to do so after the formation of the Memorial Cup in 1919 was the Oshawa Generals in 1939 and 1940. It would take the Toronto Marlboros another 15 years to accomplish the feat in 1955 and 1956. The Montreal Junior Canadiens would add their name to the list in 1969 and 1970 with a roster that included many future NHLers such as John Garrett, Rick Martin and Gilbert Perreault.
The New Westminster Bruins (1977 and 1978) and the Cornwall Royals (1980 and 1981), who boasted having Doug Gilmour and Dale Hawerchuk in their lineup, won back-to-back during the three team era from 1972 to 1982.
Once the tournament expanded to it's current four team format in 1983, the Medicine Hat Tigers, coached by Barry Melrose and featuring Trevor Linden, won in both 1987 and 1988. Jarome Iginla and Darcy Tucker won in 1994 for the Kamloops Blazers and repeated in 1995 with the addition of Shane Doan. The Blazers were the last team to repeat until the Windsor prevailed in both 2009 and 2010 with Hall and Cam Fowler.
The Spitfires jersey is a copy of the Washington Capitals template and colors, plus name and number fonts, with the addition of the Spitfires logos on the chest and shoulders. While it is an attractive enough jersey, it does show a lack of imagination, especially compared to some of the more unique and creative jerseys in Canadian junior hockey.
Today's video section begins with a preview of this year's Memorial Cup.
In a moment that will live in infamy, the Spokane Chiefs had the Memorial Cup break in half during the celebration shortly after the trophy presentation, much to the embarrassment of the Chiefs and disapproval of those in attendance. You know they were either looking for a hole in the ice to crawl into or wishing they could hide in their playoff beards.
Finally, a tribute to the Windsor Spitfires, two time defending Memorial Cup champions.