This is it…
After nine months of grueling work, four teams remain in the 2018-19 CHL season. In Halifax, the Mooseheads will host the three champions from the QMJHL, OHL, and WHL as the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, Guelph Storm, and Prince Albert Raiders look to capture junior hockey glory. The tournament will see teams with vastly different styles clash, and teams who never have met will become instant rivals. Big names are given the opportunity to cement their legacy before they move up to the professional ranks, while unknowns have the chance to become legendary. With a lot of stories coming into this tournament, the 101st Memorial Cup is setting up to be quite entertaining.
Halifax at Home
This will be only the second time the Mooseheads will host the Memorial Cup. The first tournament they hosted was back in 2000, where the Mooseheads lost in the semifinals to the controversial “Brampton Boys”-led Barrie Colts. This year’s team looks to do one better, and repeat the success the team Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin led to the 2013 Memorial Cup title. Playing at Scotiabank Centre, the Mooseheads have clear home-ice advantage, and there is substance to back that up. Halifax went 25-5-4 at home during the regular season, and finished 8-3-1 on home ice during the QMJHL Playoffs. Despite not winning the President’s Cup, the Mooseheads have a great opportunity to redeem themselves in the Memorial Cup.
Raiders in Unfamiliar Territory
It was one of the most incredible seasons in the CHL. While the Prince Albert Raiders have been a competitive team for the majority of their history in the WHL, it has been a long time since they have been a contender for a championship. The last time the Raiders won the WHL Championship was back in 1985, the same year they went on to win the Memorial Cup. The Raiders had not even made it to the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals since then, until this year.
The Raiders started the season with an amazing 26-1 start through the beginning of December. While the Raiders cooled off by the end of the regular season, Prince Albert still finished as the best team in the WHL. With the play of Noah Gregor, Brett Leason, and goaltender Ian Scott, the Raiders were able to win their second WHL Championship. With none of the players on this roster having played at this stage of the season, you could expect some jitters early on from this team.
Huskies’ Second Chance
May 29th, 2016. Rouyn-Noranda met the London Knights in the Memorial Cup Final. The Huskies were less than five minutes away from their first ever Memorial Cup, but a goal from Christian Dvorak sent the game into overtime, where Matthew Tkachuk scored to give the London Knights their second Memorial Cup. Gilles Bouchard was behind the bench for that game, and Jacob Neveu, Peter Abbandonato, and Samuel Harvey were on that roster.
While the core of this year’s team has changed since that day three years ago, the few that remember the disappointment of losing in the championship game, look to change their fate this time around. The Huskies finished with the most points in the entire CHL, and have shown why throughout the playoffs. With arguably one of the best goaltenders coming into the tournament with Samuel Harvey, and a solid offence led by Joel Teasdale, Noah Dobson, and Abbandonato, Rouyn-Noranda has a good chance to get back to the Memorial Cup Final.
The Guelph Storm were not picked by many to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup, even when they made it to the OHL Finals. Despite having the talents of Nick Suzuki, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Sean Durzi, the Storm were in tough throughout the postseason. In round two, Guelph trailed the top-seed in the West, the London Knights, 3-0. Yet, the Storm were resilient, and somehow reeled off four straight to move on to the Western Conference Finals. Going up against the third-best team in the OHL, the Saginaw Spirit, the Storm found themselves down 3-1 in the series. Once against Guelph rallied and came from behind to win the series in seven. They then trailed the best team in entire league 2-0, but came back and won the OHL Championship by winning four straight against the Ottawa 67’s, a team that had not lost all postseason.
The biggest question is can they take the “comeback kids” mentality in this tournament? They cannot allow themselves to trail, because of the round-robin format. They have three games to prove themselves. If they fall behind at all in the Memorial Cup, the clock might strike midnight on the Storm.
With the round-robin portion of the tournament only lasting five days, the schedule is important in deciding how this tournament how could pan out. The opening night on Friday sees Halifax kick things off against Prince Albert, a game that the Mooseheads have the advantage given that it is their home barn and the Raiders will not take well to the loud Halifax crowd.
The next game will have Rouyn-Noranda play Guelph, which there could easily be 10 goals scored between the two teams. However, for the Storm, they will have to come back the next night against the rested Moosheads. That could spell trouble for Guelph following what could be a long game against the Huskies.
The Raiders will take on the Huskies on the following game. That one will be a treat as the world will get to see two of the best goaltenders in the CHL, as Scott and Harvey go head-to-head. Huskies may have a deeper offencive attack than the Raiders, but don’t think that Scott could easily steal the show that night.
Guelph will meet a tired Prince Albert team the next night, with Halifax closing out the round-robin with a President’s Cup rematch against Rouyn-Noranda.
The teams that may have the easiest time in their three games are the Huskies and Mooseheads, as neither have to play on back-to-back nights. That said, both will lose at least one game, as Rouyn-Noranda will beat Halifax in the final game of the round-robin, sending the Huskies directly to the final.
This would force a tiebreaker between Guelph and Prince Albert. The Storm may have played outstanding over the last month or so, but the Raiders will come away to move onto a semifinal meeting with the Mooseheads.
Halifax will come out strong, looking to take advantage of the tired Raiders. Prince Albert will give a valiant effort, but the Mooseheads will come away with the victory, and force a rematch, once again, against the Huskies.
With a day off in between the semifinal and championship game, there will be no excuse of fatigue for Halifax. It will be another tight battle as it was in the President’s Cup Finals, and just like that series, the Huskies will come away with the win, and earn the franchise’s first Memorial Cup.