This year in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada one of the hardest trophies to win in North American hockey will be won by one of four teams in a single elimination winner takes all tournament after a round robin. It’s the MasterCard Memorial Cup this year being hosted by Sharks prospect Adam Helewka and the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, with WHL Champion Brandon Wheat Kings, the OHL Champion London Knights, and Sharks top prospect Timo Meier and the QMJHL Champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. The tournament will open Friday at 5 PM Pacific 8 PM Eastern with the Host Red Deer Rebels facing off against the London Knights. To get familiar with these teams we should take a look at how they got there.
Host Team – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
The Red Deer rebels had a guaranteed spot in the tournament going into it once they were selected to be the host of the tournament but still did their best to make sure they were worthy of the spot by earning a trip to the Conference Finals after defeating the Calgary Hitmen in five games before a grueling seven-game series with the favoured Regina Pats. In the Conference Finals, they would bow out to the eventual WHL Champion Brendan Wheat Kings in five games.
The Rebels should be in tough this tournament as this is in my opinion, one of the strongest showings in the Memorial Cup as far as competition level. However, I would argue that in a single game elimination anything can happen so that almost favors the underdog where I’d argue the better team should win a best of 7 series.
The Rebels while maybe not the best team in the tournament have a significant amount of NHL draft picks on their team including a trio of first-round picks in D Haydn Fleury (Hurricanes), C Connor Bleakley (Avalanche) both taken in 2014 and LW Jake Debrusk took 14th overall in 2015. Other NHL prospects include the D Nelson Nogier (Jets), C Micheal Spacek (Jets), C Adam Musil (Blues) and LW Adam Helewka (Sharks) who lead the team in playoff scoring with 18 points (9 goals and 9 assists).
The Rebels will be tested when they face off against the incredibly stacked London Knights on Friday night to open the tournament.
WHL Champion – Brandan Wheat Kings
The Brandon Wheat Kings are a team who is likely at the end of its short championship window. They were denied a trip to the Memorial Cup in Quebec City last year by the Kelowna Rockets but this year would not be denied in their quest to not only win the WHL Championship but to also have a chance at winning their first Memorial Cup in franchise history. The Wheat Kings had a dominant run to the finals dispatching the Edmonton Oil Kings in six games before they would move on to defeat the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Red Deer Rebels and shocked many with a victory over the Seattle Thunderbirds for the WHL championship all in five games.
The Wheat Kings, in my opinion, have the best defenceman in the CHL today in Ivan Provorov who was taken seventh overall in the 2015 draft, C John Quenneville (Devils) also closed out the first round of the 2014 Draft. They also have a handful of other draft picks including C Reid Duke (Wild), C Jayce Hawryluk (Florida), and D Mitch Wheaton (Red Wings). Tim McGauley was also signed as a free agent by the Capitals in 2015.
Entering this year’s draft will be Kale Clague may sneak into the first round but is very likely to be taken in the second round is a defenceman with a lot of raw skill and upside that will need to be refined.
OHL Champion – London Knights
The London Knights are in my opinion the favorite to win this tournament, now this could be some bias on my part as I do live in an OHL city (Sault Ste. Marie) so this is a team I see a lot of. That said this is a team that after beating the Owen Sound Attack in their round-one series would sweep their way to the OHL Championship beating some very good teams in the Kitchener Rangers, the Erie Otters, and the Niagara IceDogs. The Knights are no strangers to championships having won one previous memorial cup title as well as four OHL Championships including this year’s title.
This is a team that is full of top flight NHL prospects both drafted and undrafted which makes this team incredibly fun to watch. Already drafted prospects, include C Mitch Marner (Maple Leafs) taken 4th overall in 2015 as well as LW Christian Dvorak (Coyotes), RW J.J. Piccinich (Maple Leafs), LW Daniel Bernhardt (Rangers), RW Chandler Yakimowicz (Blues), and G Brendan Burke (Coyotes).
What is more impressive though is their players that are yet to be drafted. LW Matthew Tkachuk and D Olli Juolevi are likely to be top ten picks in this upcoming draft while LW Max Jones will likely be taken before the first round concludes. Rounding out an impressive draft class are players like RW Cliff Pu, D Victor Mete, and G Tyler Parsons are all likely to be selected before the draft concludes.
QMJHL Champion – Rouyan-Noranda Huskies.
The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies are another favorite to win the MasterCard Memorial Cup they entered the QMJHL players as to top-ranked team in the country in the BMO CHL Rankings. The reason why I have a hard time getting behind the Huskies being the favorite in the tournament is because of the QMJHL’s playoff format which makes it difficult to gauge how good a team is because the seeding is top plays bottom out of the entire league. Their path to the finals saw them obliterate the Drummondville Voltigeurs in a four-game sweep of games as they outscored their opponent 33-4. In the next round, they would see their first playoff loss in game one against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada before they would win the next four games and outscored them 14-3 over the course of the series. The third round opponent the Moncton Wild Cats would be dispatched in six games before they would eliminate the Shawinigan Cataractes in five games to win their first Presidents Cup in franchise history.
The Huskies are the home of San Jose Sharks 2015 first round and ninth overall pick RW Timo Meier who was second in team points with 23 (11 Goals and 12 assists). Other NHL drafted players, include leading scorer C/LW Francis Perron (Senators), LW Anthony-John Greer (Avalanche), (C/RW) Jean-Christophe Beaudin (Avalanche), RW Martins Dzierkals (Maple Leafs), C/LW Julien Nantel (Avalanche), and D Jeremy Lauzon (Bruins).
Sharks Prospect Playoff Point Totals
|Player Name||Team||League||Games Played||Goals||Assists||Points||+/-||PIM|
|Timo Meier||Rouyn-Noranda Huskies*||QMJHL||18||11||12||23||11||30|
|Cavan Fitzgerald||Shawinigan Cataractes||QMJHL||21||3||17||20||14||8|
|Alexis Vanier||Charlottetown Islanders||QMJHL||12||6||4||10||-2||6|
|Jeremy Roy||Sherbrooke Phoenix||QMJHL||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dylan Sadowy||Barrie Colts||OHL||8||2||3||5||0||11|
|Kevin Labanc||Barrie Colts||OHL||15||6||20||26||14||28|
|Adam Helewka||Red Deer Rebels*||WHL||16||9||9||18||-5||18|
|Rourke Chartier||Kelowna Rockets||WHL||18||7||6||13||-3||7|
|Alex Schoenborn||Portland Winterhawks||WHL||4||1||0||1||-3||8|
* = Team advanced to Memorial Cup