Sunday, May 28, 2017

The 2017 Memorial Cup Final

Tonight at 7 Eastern time is the final game of the 2017 Memorial Cup, awarded to the champion of the Canadian Hockey League, the organization that encompasses the three Canadian major junior hockey leagues, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League, for players between 16 and 20 years old.

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The format of the Memorial Cup is unique in that the playoff champions of the WHL, OHL and  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.

Sixty teams are eligible to compete for the Memorial Cup, which represent nine Canadian provinces and four American states. The trophy dates back to an idea in 1918 by Captain James T. Sutherland, president of the Ontario Hockey Association, wanted to create a trophy as a memorial to OHA players who died during World War I.

Memorial Cup photo MemorialCup.jpg
The Memorial Cup

The original format was an East vs. West showdown with a two game, total goals format from 1919 to 1928. Starting in 1929, it was changed to a best-of-three final. In 1937, the final was expanded to a best-of-five and a best-of-seven in 1943, which remained in effect through 1971.

With the creation of the Major Junior tier in 1970, which was divided into three leagues, the new format for 1972 called for a double round robin between the three league champions. After each team had played four games, there would now be a single championship game between the top two teams of the round robin phase.

After 11 tournaments of this format through 1982, a fourth team was added as a predetermined neutral site host, the first of which was the Portland Winterhawks, which led to the first time Memorial Cup games were held outside of Canada. The Winterhawks would go on to win the 1983 tournament, making them the first American team to win the Memorial Cup.

Should the host team, which rotates evenly between the three leagues, become the champion of its league, the responsibility of hosting the Memorial Cup then transfers to that league's runner up, ensuring a quality addition to the field.

Since the current format began in 1983, the WHL has produced 16 champions, with 11 for the OHL and 7 for the QMJHL. 6 times the original host team has won their league championship, necessitating a change in venue, and the host team has won the Memorial Cup 9 times.

With the difficulty in winning back to back titles, due to the sheer number of teams competing and the amount of roster turnover dictated by the age limit, since 1983 only the Medicine Hat Tigers in 1987 and 1988, the Kamloops Blazers in 1994 and 1995, and the Windsor Spitfires in 2009 and 2010 have managed to repeat as champions.

Windsor Spitfires 2009 Memorial Cup
Windsor celebrates with the Memorial Cup in 2009

Among the current CHL teams, the Oshawa Generals of the OHL have the most championship titles as they stand alone with 5. The Regina Pats are next with 4 followed by fellow WHL members Kamloops with 3, earned in a span of four years. Eight other teams have won twice with 14 other clubs with one to their credit.

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.

This year's competition is being hosted by Windsor. They were joined by Pennsylvania's Erie Otters of the OHL, the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL and the WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds , meaning half the field was from the United States.

Play began on May 19 with the host Spitfires defeating Saint John 3-2. Erie then beat Seattle 4-2 on the second day. Windsor hammered Seattle 7-1 the next day before Erie dominated the Sea Dogs 12-5.

With both teams needing a win to avoid a last place finish and elimination, Saint John left no doubt as they blanked Seattle 7-0 on May 23rd.

Windsor and Erie, both 2-0, met in the final game to see who would avoid having to play in the Semifinal with the winner earning three days off and a spot in the championship game. Windsor led by 3 after two periods and went on to win the round robin with an eventual 4-2 victory.

The Semifinal between Erie and Saint John was a tale of two games, as the teams traded goals over the first two periods and entered the final 20 minutes tied at 2-2. Erie then earned a rematch with Windsor after scoring twice in the first four minutes of the third period with goals by Dylan Strome and German Poddubnyi. At 12:31 Taylor Raddysh got his second of the game to give the Otters a 5-2 lead. The Sea Dogs scored at 16:28 but it was not enough and Erie added an empty net goal to claim their place in tonight's championship game with a 6-3 win.

Taylor Raddysh currently leads all scorers with 5 goals and 11 points in 4 games, while Erie teammate Strome has the most goals with 6 and is second in points with 9. Alex DeBrincat also has 9 point from 2 goals and 7 assists as Otters hold down the top five places in scoring. Heading into tonight's game, Windor's Michael DiPietro is the lone undefeated goaltender at 3-0, while his opponent tonight, Erie's Tory Timpano is 3-1, but has a goals against average that is more than twice as much as DiPietro's 1.67.

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Taylor Raddysh, #17, with his brother Darren

Of note, Erie won the OHL playoff by defeating the Sarnia Sting in 4, the London Knights in 7, the Owen Sound Attack in 6 and the Mississauga Steelheads in 5, while Windsor was eliminated in the first round in 7 games by London.

Tonight's final will be on Sportsnet and TVA in Canada and the NHL Network in the United States.

Today's featured jersey is a 2008-09 Windsor Spitfires Adam Henrique jersey from the year they won their first Memorial Cup after 33 years of trying.

The Spitfires, founded in 1971 in Tier II and promoted to Tier I in 1975-76, played in their first Memorial Cup Final in 1988, but were defeated by the Medicine Hat Tigers.

In 2008-09, they finished with a 57-10-1 record while playing their final season undefeated at the Windsor Arena, which dated back to 1924. They moved to their new home, the WFCU Centre mid-season and hosted the All-Star Game. Later in the season, goaltender Andrew Engelage broke the OHL record for most wins with 46. Taylor Hall led the team in scoring with 38 goals and 90 points.

After surviving an OHL semifinal against London, in which every game went to overtime, the Spitfires defeated the Brampton Battalion in five games to return to the Memorial Cup.

They did not do themselves any favors when they lost their first game to the Drummondville Voltigeurs 3-2 in overtime and then dropped a 5-4 decision to Rimouski Oceanic. In an absolute must win situation, the Spitfires got up off the mat and defeated the Kelowna Rockets 2-1 to earn a place in the tie-breaker game between the two bottom placed clubs to see who would earn a place in the Semifinal game and who would be eliminated from further play.

They defeated Rimouski 6-4 thanks to a third period natural hat trick by Dale Mitchell. In the Semifinal, they led 2-0 over Drummondville, but required a goal by Adam Henrique in overtime to advance to the Final, where they met Kelowna. Windsor scored on their first three shots and went on to win 4-1, becoming the first team to ever lose their first two games and then win the Memorial Cup and the first team to ever win the tie-breaker game and then win the championship, meaning they had to play six games compared to their opponent's four.

Of note, the original Windsor Spitfires team was formed in 1946 and played in Windsor until 1953. Then then moved to Hamilton, Ontario for 24 seasons before spending six in Brantford prior to moving back to Hamilton for four more. They were on the move yet again when they relocated to Niagara Falls for 8 season before moving yet again in 1996 when they became the Erie Otters, the current Spitfires opponent tonight!

Henrique played four seasons for Windsor from 2006-07 to 2009-10, which included two Memorial Cup championships. He spent his first three professional seasons divided between the Albany Devils of the AHL and the New Jersey Devils of the NHL, who drafted Henrique back in 2008. His last four seasons have been exclusively in the NHL, with his best being 2015-16 when he had 30 goals and 50 points.

This jersey has a number of stories to tell, as it has a commemorative patch on the shoulder in recognition of their last days at the Windsor Arena, another patch promoting the 2009 World Junior Championship being held in Ottawa, Ontario and most importantly, the "C-18" patch in honor of their team captain Mickey Renaud, who died of an undetected heart condition, shocking the Spitfires to the point that team General Manager Warren Rychel called it "the biggest tragedy in Spitfire history". Renaud's #18 was retired by the franchise and a road leading to their new stadium was named in his honor.

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 photo Windsor Spitfires 2008-09 B jersey.jpeg

Bonus jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2009-10 Windsor Spitfires Taylor Hall jersey from the second of their back-to-back Memorial Cup winning seasons.

After winning the Memorial Cup in 2009, the Spitfires introduced a new, modernized logo to go along with their new Reebok Edge jerseys.

Hall led the team in scoring again in 2009-10 with 40 goals and 106 points. After winning his second consecutive Memorial Cup, he was selected first overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, the second Spitfires player ever taken first overall.

 photo Windsor Spitfires 2009-10 F jersey.jpeg
 photo Windsor Spitfires 2009-10 B jersey.jpeg

Extra bonus jersey: Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1993-94 Windsor Spitfires Ed Jovanovski jersey. This jersey, from the year Jovanovski was drafted first overall by the Florida Panthers, features the logo used by the Spitfires from 1989 to 2009. Jovanovski was the first Windsor Spitfire ever taken first overall, and the only one until Hall in 2010.

Windsor Spitfires jersey
Windsor Spitfires jersey

Today's video section begins with the drafting of Ed Jovanovski first overall by the Florida Panthers in 1994, which includes footage of him wearing today's bonus Spitfires jersey.

Next, a video documenting the Spitfires remarkable comeback to win the 2009 Memorial Cup after losing their first two games.

Next, a tribute to Mickey Renaud, the late captain of the Spitfires.

Finally, 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 in 2008, 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!

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