The final ten days on the Canadian junior hockey season start tonight when the Memorial Cup gets under way in Shawinigan. The Memorial Cup, which has been awarded annually since 1919, was originally dedicated to the memory of those who had died during World War I. Recently it was rededicated to honour all who have died while fighting for Canada.
This season the host Cataractes will be joined by teams from Edmonton, London, and Saint John as they battle for title of Canadian Hockey League Champions. Not only did each of those teams manage to win 16 games to capture their respective league titles, each was also the regular season champion as well. That combination, which hasn't happened since 1979, should lead to some terrific hockey over the next week and a half.
For Edmonton this is the first time the city has been to the Memorial Cup since 1966 when the Oil Kings won their second title defeating the Oshawa Generals in last of a stretch of seven seasons starting in 1960 when they competed for the title every year. The format has changed since then and this year's Oil Kings team is an reincarnation of that old squad but the ultimate goal and the trophy remain the same.
After the jump you'll find a look at each of the team's in this year's tournament and a couple numbers that might be of interest as well.
Host Team: Shawinigan Cataractes - As the host team of the 2012 Memorial Cup the Shawinigan Cataractes will obviously have the hometown crowd behind them but after a strong regular season the Cataractes were upset in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs and will have been out of action for more than a month before their first game of the tournament. Rust could certainly be a factor for the Cataractes as they vie to become only the fifth non league winner to hoist the Memorial Cup since the change to the current format in 1983. Shawinigan almost did just that the last the last time they hosted the tournament in 1985 but lost to Prince Albert in the final game.
Regular season record: 45-16-3-4, 97 points and 2nd overall in the QMJHL
How they got here: After sweeping the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in the opening round of the playoff the Cataractes were upset by Chicoutimi in a seven game series in the next round. Of course as the host the Cataractes were guaranteed a spot in this year's Memorial Cup as the host team.
By the numbers:
- +5 - The Cataractes goal differential in the second round series loss. Every game Shawinigan lost in the series was lost by a single goal (excluding the late empty net goal in Game 6). Shawinigan also had the second best goal differential in the QMJHL during the regular season as well. Don't let the early playoff exit fool you, this team can play as evidenced by the 24 weeks they spent ranked in the CHL Top Ten.
- 127 - The ISS rank of the Cataractes top scorer Anton Zlobin. The Moscow native finished with 40 goals and 76 points this season, good for fourth and 18th respectively in the QMJHL. This was Zlobin's second second in North America and he improved dramatically on the 45 points he recorded as a rookie last year. A strong performance in front of the big Memorial Cup audience might be enough to encourage a team to take a chance on him a little earlier than otherwise expected at the draft this June.
- 52.4% - Of the total ice time played by the Cataractes two main goaltenders, the percentage played by Alex Dubeau. In the playoffs the two headed approach continued with Dubeau getting starts and Gabriel Girard the other five. How Head Coach Eric Veilleux handles his goalies is one of the biggest questions of the tournament.
QMJHL Champions: Saint John Sea Dogs - The Saint John Sea Dogs return to the Memorial Cup this year, looking to repeat as Champions and follow in the footsteps of the Windsor Spitfires (2009 and 2010), Kamloops Blazers (1994 and 1994), and Medicine Hat Tigers (1987 and 1988) as the only back to back winners under the current format. With fourteen players on this year's squad who also played in for Saint John in last years playoffs the Sea Dogs have a lot of experience and are without a doubt one of the favourites this year.
Regular season record: 50-15-0-3, 103 points and 1st overall in the QMJHL
How they got here: Following the team's second straight regular season title the Sea Dogs demolished all comers as the cruised though the QMHJL playoffs en route to their second consecutive President's Cup championship. Along the way the Sea Dogs swept Cape Breton, Baie-Comeau, and Rimouski, and lost just a single game to Chicoutimi in the third round.
By the numbers:
- 103/39 - The Sea Dogs goals for and against in the playoffs this season, a goals for/against ratio of 2.64. During the regular season the Sea Dogs were a little worse posting a ratio of 1.65 which was still good enough to lead the Quebec league.
- 3 - Selection number of Jonathan Huberdeau in last year's entry draft and also where he finshed on the Sea Dogs in scoring this season. At first glance that result may seem less than encouraging from a high draft pick but his 72 points came in only 37 games.
- 3 - The number of Sea Dogs drafted in the first round of last summer's draft. In addition to Huberdeau (#3 Florida), Nathan Beaulieu (#17 Montreal), and Zack Phillips (#28 Minnesota) were also taken on Friday night last year.
OHL Champions: London Knights - The Knights switched coaches midseason when Dale Hunter stepped down to take the job as the Washington Capitals head coach. Dale was replaced on the Knights bench by his brother and the transition must have been nearly seamless as the team never missed a beat on route to their fifth Hamilton Spector Trophy - awarded to the OHL regular season champions - since the 2003/04 season. Despite their dominant regular season record over the last decade the Knights have struggled to make it to the Memorial Cup, playing in only the 2005 tournament which they also won.
Regular season record: 49-18-0-1, 99 points and 1st overall in the OHL
How they got here: The Knights opened the playoffs with a sweep of the Windsor Spitfires, followed by a six game triumph over the Saginaw Spirit, and another sweep this time against the Kitchener Rangers. In the OHL Final the Knights faced the Niagara IceDogs who they beat in five games.
By the numbers:
- 19.5% - The Knights power play percentage during the regular season, a percentage that wouldn't even see the Knights rank in the top half of the league. During the playoffs the story on the power play has been exactly the same with the team converting on 19.6% of their chances.
- 12 - Out of 16 teams in the OHL playoffs the Knight rank on the penalty kill. With a 78.9% penalty killing percentage in this years playoffs the Knights rank ahead of only only four other playoff teams, all of which failed to make it past the first round.
- 23 - Points for draft eligible defenceman Olli Matta in 19 playoff games. After scoring a quite reasonable 32 points in 58 regular season games, enough to lead the Knights defenders, the 6'2" defender had everything going his way during the playoffs.
WHL Champions: Edmonton Oil Kings - Just five years removed from expansion the Oil Kings make their first appearance at the Memorial Cup in the franchise's modern history. The Oil Kings followed the model laid out by other recent WHL expansion successes who won their first WHL title within their first five seasons. The Calgary Hitmen and Kootenay Ice (originally the Edmonton Ice) accomplished the feat in four years, the Vancouver Giants, like the Oil Kings, took five seasons. The bad news for Edmonton: none of those teams won the Memorial Cup in their first appearance.
Regular season record: 50-15-3-4, 107 points and 1st in the WHL
How they got here: The Oil Kings won the first 11 game they played in the playoffs sweeping the Ice and Brandon Wheat Kings and pushing the Moose Jaw Warriors to the brink of elimination before finally losing a game. In the final the Oil Kings knocked off the Portland Winterhawks, who had also lost the final the season before, in seven games.
By the numbers:
- 22 - The Oil Kings longest winning streak of the season. Edmonton's 11 games playoff winning streak was preceded by an 11 game winning streak to finish the regular season. The streaks ended one game short of tying the WHL playoff record of 12 held jointly by Swift Current, Vancouver, and Calgary, and the leagues longest winning streak of 27 games set by the Victoria Cougars. (from Coming Down the Pipe)
- 4 - Oil Kings whose fathers played in the NHL. Keegan Lowe (father Kevin), Michael St. Croix (Rick), Griffin Reinhart (Paul), and Henrik Samuelsson (Ulf) had dads who played a combined 3,552 games in the NHL including playoff appearances.
- 0.933 - Goalie, and Calgary Flames prospect, Laurent Brossoit's save percentage in the playoffs. Brossoit was among the league leaders during the regular season with a 0.914 save percentage but his play during the playoffs was at another level and was big reason the Oil Kings were as successful as they were, and perhaps the biggest reason they were able to hold off the Winterhawks in the final.
- May 18 - Shawinigan vs Edmonton
- May 19 - London vs Saint John
- May 20 - London vs Shawinigan
- May 21 - Edmonton vs Saint John
- May 22 - Edmonton vs London
- May 23 - Saint John vs Shawinigan
- May 24 - Tiebreaker (if necessary)
- May 25 - Semi Final
- May 27 - Final