This year’s Memorial Cup should be one of the closest tournaments in years, considering how the four participating teams got there.
The host, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, were a single goal away from the OHL Championship, but the Owen Sound Attack managed to snatch away the victory in a Game 7 overtime decision.
WHL champions Kootenay Ice lost Game 1 of their finals to the Portland Winterhawks, but then won four straight to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
It took the St. John Sea Dogs two overtimes in Game 6 to score the game-winning goal to get them to the Memorial Cup.
Here’s a look at how the four teams match up.
Owen Sound Attack (OHL Champions)
First-time Memorial Cup participants, Owen Sound is a team that is considered to be the underdog in the tournament, having had poor regular season records in the past. However, the Attack now has a solid core of future NHLers. Up front, the Attack relies on Joey Hishon, a 2010 draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche (17th overall). Though small for a center at 5’10”, he makes up for it with tremendous work ethic and a fantastic shot.
On the back end, Jesse Blacker continues to make a difference for the Attack. Blacker won a Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires in 2009, and shortly after, he was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The consummate stay-at-home defenseman, he possesses good size and plays a positionally sound game.
Between the pipes, Owen Sound has three talented goaltenders who have shared netminding duties this season. They’re likely to start 2011 draft-eligible Jordan Binnington, recently named the CHL Goaltender of the Week after winning Games 6 and 7 of the Robertson Cup Final with a 1.94 GAA.
Overall, the Attack have talent on all sides, and may surprise opponents with their skills.
Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (Host)
After leading the OHL all season, the Majors suffered a heartbreaking Game 7 overtime loss and were denied the opportunity to play both host and OHL Champions at this year’s Memorial Cup. The Majors are packed with talent and highly touted NHL prospects.
This will be forward Justin Shugg’s third straight Memorial Cup, coming to the Majors in the off-season after spending two seasons with the Windsor Spitfires. From his time with the Spitfires, he has enjoyed two Memorial Cup wins. Should the Majors win the Memorial Cup, Shugg will be just the second player in history to win three consecutive Memorial Cups. He has a great shot, scoring 41 goals in the regular season and another 10 thus far in the playoffs. In his last year of junior eligibility, he is also a mature player with a good work ethic, and is willing to sacrifice his body, blocking shots and making hits in order to help his team win.
The Majors’ roster also boasts the goaltending talents of J.P. Anderson, who finished the regular season with a 2.36 GAA and .911 save percentage. He is one of the few junior hockey players to have spent time on an NHL roster. Signed as a free agent by the San Jose Sharks in September 2010, he was recalled on an emergency basis to the team in January. He backed up Antti Niemi for one game after an injury to Antero Niittymaki. Anderson has a strong technical goaltending style, and though he lacks size, he makes a big difference for the Majors team.
St. John Sea Dogs (QMJHL Champions)
The Sea Dogs have a great mix of draft-eligible and veteran players, and four of those draft-eligible players are expected to go in the first round of the 2011 draft. The team is just that talented.
Head to YouTube and search for Tomas Jurco, and it’s obvious that the young Slovakian possesses amazing talent with the puck. But Jurco is not the only one likely to go in the first round of the draft. Center Jonathan Huberdeau is slated to be drafted within the first five picks. Scouts have compared his puckhandling to the hands of Patrick Kane. Huberdeau recorded 105 points in the regular season and has been a clutch player for the Sea Dogs in pressure situations.
Goaltender Jacob DeSerres made his way to the Sea Dogs after playing in last year’s Memorial Cup for the host Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. After playing in the Memorial Cup final against eventual champions the Windsor Spitfires, the Wheat Kings released him and every WHL team passed on him when put on waivers. Luckily, the Sea Dogs were in need of a veteran goaltender, and signed DeSerres. He has vastly improved his statistics since the move to St. John and has proven his worth as a starting goaltender with a 2.22 GAA.
Kootenay Ice (WHL Champions)
The Ice have a mature roster, with 17 players at the age of 18 or older. Another team that is strong in all aspects, the Ice are particularly rich in goal scorers.
At the top of the list is Cody Eakin, a 2009 third round draft pick of the Washington Capitals. Eakin came to the Ice at the trade deadline from the Swift Current Broncos. Kootenay paid quite a price to get him – they traded away five roster players and three prospects in exchange for Eakin in the hopes that he would help them to a WHL Championship. Eakin stepped up to the challenge, scoring 44 points in his 26 regular season games with the Ice. He is a powerful skater, lightning-fast and strong on the puck.
Contributing on the back end is Brayden McNabb, who was signed to a contract by the Buffalo Sabres just this Wednesday. Another 2009 third round pick, McNabb is a big body at 6’4” and 218 lbs, but he can also produce offensively, racking up 72 points in the regular season. He’s not particularly fast, but makes up for it with toughness and scoring ability.
The Memorial Cup tournament begins its round-robin portion tonight at 7:00 PM EST. The first game is a matchup between the St. John Sea Dogs and the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.
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