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Friday, 22 May 2015

The Champs Are Here!!
Welcome to Quebec and the #MCMemorialCup

The Edmonton Oil Kings have just over one week remaining to call themselves Memorial Cup champions.  The current holders of the cup will relinquish the title next weekend when a new champion will be crowned.  As a huge Oil Kings fan living in Edmonton the past few seasons, including being a season ticket holder, I can say the excitement one gets watching these young guys win the Memorial Cup is a memory I will never forget.  I loved every moment of our championship run last season and will be a bit sad to see the cup shift to another city.  But like all good things, this too must come to an end so another can enjoy.  The 2014-15 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) season winds down starting tonight in Quebec City.  A season that began with 60 hopeful teams wanting to call themselves "Champions" has weeded it's way down to 4.

A few ice shavings to wet your whistle on the Memorial Cup tournament:

  • The host is determined a year in advance and rotates amongst the 3 leagues.  Next year's tournament will be held in the WHL, with Red Deer being named the host team earlier this season.  Expect to see #TwineTime in attendance :)
  • Since adoption of the Memorial Cup in 1983, the WHL has won a record 16 tournaments, followed by the OHL with 9 and the QMJHL with 7.  Interestingly enough though, the QMJHL has won 3 of the past 4 Memorial Cups (2011 - 2013).  The WHL (Edmonton) ended the Q domination last season in London.
  • The most successful team in Memorial Cup history (and happens to be the hometown of yours truly) are the Regina Pats.  The Pats have 15 championship appearances (the most) and 4 tournament wins (tied for the most with Oshawa).
  • There have been 9 host teams who have gone on to capture the cup, with the most recent being Shawinigan in 2012.  2015 contenders Kelowna Rockets were one of these teams, winning the Memorial Cup on home ice in 2004.
  • The Memorial Cup was first awarded in 1919 and, until 1928, was a two-game aggregate goals championship final between the champions of Eastern Canada and Western Canada.
  • 1983 marked many firsts.  The inaugural Memorial Cup tournament took place in Portland, Oregon, also marking the first year the tournament would be held outside of Canada.  Coincidentally enough, it also became the first year an American team would hoist the trophy, as the host Winterhawks defeated the Oshawa Generals in the final.  Portland was the first team to host the tournament and win without having won their league championship.
  • The Quebec Remparts could have history on their side.  The Remparts were the first team to win the Memorial Cup without actually winning their league championship and without being a host city.  In 2006, the Remparts lost the QMJHL final to the Moncton Wildcats.  Moncton was already the Memorial Cup hosts so both teams qualified.  Quebec would go on to win the Memorial Cup, extracting revenge by beating the Wildcats in the final.
  • The 2008 Memorial Cup Champion Spokane Chiefs will always be remembered not for their championship run but for their celebration on the ice after.  After receiving the replica trophy (given on ice to the championship team every year), the replica actually broke.  While being heckled by the host Belleville fans, the Chiefs didn't hide from it.  Oh no, like true champions, instead they broke off pieces of the cup and shared it will all members of the team.  You can find a video of this HERE. The video and reaction of the players is PRICELESS!
  • 2015 marks a unique collection of competing teams.  All 4 of the teams vying for the cup have won the Memorial Cup in the past.  Oshawa leads the way with 4 (1939, 1940, 1944, 1990).  Quebec has 2 (1971, 2006) while Kelowna (2004) and Rimouski (2000) have 1 title.
#TwineTime hit a snag in the championship round, suffering it's first loss in the OHL playoffs (what a time for that to happen too).  The QMJHL final came down to a Game 7, double OT goal (another miss for #TwineTime).  And the WHL final was a total snore fest of one-sided domination (at least I accurately called that one). 

So who made it to Quebec?  Who are the players to watch?  Who "should" come through at the end and be the last team standing?  #TwineTime offers up the 2015 Memorial Cup preview:

Western Hockey League (WHL) Champions:  Kelowna Rockets

If you have followed along with the #TwineTime posts all season, including the playoffs, you will know how high I am on the Rockets.  I have been pumping their tires all season and why not?  Call it West coast bias if you must but once you see these guys on the ice (especially live), how can you argue with me?  The Rockets steamrolled Brandon in the WHL final, sweeping the Wheaties and having little problem in doing so.  Having to travel the farthest distance to get to Quebec, the quick sweep was a nice chance to relax, heal and prepare for the upcoming week.  The key to success for Kelowna will be their blueline.  The Rockets will be led by Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey (both recent World Junior champions for Team Canada).  In fact, Kelowna seems to be a hot bed for top defensemen with alumni including Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Tyler Myers.  They have allowed for the least amount of goals in the WHL this season (183) and will be a tough team to score on.  But don't think this is just a team of defense.  The Rockets also score the second most goals in the WHL (305).  They can light the lamp as well, led by Edmonton Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl.  Draisaitl racked up 10 goals and 18 assists in 19 playoff games to be named the WHL Playoff MVP.  Expect these numbers to continue in Quebec.  But look out for contributions to scoring from Nick Merkley and up and coming 16 year old Dillon Dube as well.  Teams would be wise to not focus too hard on just one or two players on this Rockets team as they have extreme bench depth as well. 

MasterCard Memorial Cup History
Appearances: 5th
Last appearance: 2009
All-time record: 7 wins, 8 losses / 36 GF, 36 GA
Best result: 2004 Champions

Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Champions:  Oshawa Generals

Well Oshawa, #TwineTime owes you an apology.  I completely underestimated you in the OHL playoffs.  Yes, I was confident you would make it to the OHL Championship but I really did not give you a fair chance to be here.  Yet, here you are.  Teams should be very weary of the Generals.  This team did something in the OHL final no team has been able to do all season, stop the wonderkid Connor McDavid.  So how do you stop the best junior player on the planet you ask?  Well with physical brute and size of course.  This team is tough.  Not just regular hockey tough either....I mean get the f*ck out of their way if they come charging you.  They will inflict some black and blue marks on these teams over the week.  Remember Demolition from the WWF years?  Think of this team as them: 

"We're Demolition, walking disaster.
Pain and destruction are our middle names.
Search and destroy you, run and we'll find you,
there's no place to hide, the demos will get you
Were Demolition"
When you have matching players standing at 6'6 (Michael McCarron and Hunter Smith), pain and destruction is bound to find you.  These guys didn't just neutralize McDavid and his Erie Otters team, they owned them.  Oshawa made quick work of the Otters in 5 games and had McDavid and the Otters look like they were swimming upstream against an unbeatable current all series.  The key to the Generals success will also come from between the pipes.  Led by Ken Appleby, the Generals allowed a CHL-low 157 goals ALL SEASON!  Yikes!  If teams want to have any luck vs. Oshawa, they need to solve Appleby and solve him quick.  Don't give this team a lead on you either, with their size and strength, you do not want to spend your night playing catch up.  Oshawa will attempt to become the most successful team in Memorial Cup history this year, trying to become the first team to win 5 championships.
MasterCard Memorial Cup History
Appearances: 5th
Last appearance: 1997
All-time record: 12 wins, 7 losses / 77 GF, 72 GA
Best result: 4-time champions (1990, 1944, 1940, 1939)

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Champions:  Rimouski Oceanic

Rimouski, you are one stubborn team!  Your rival Remparts had you on the edge of defeat a few times in the Q final but you fought back and here you are...QMJHL Champions!  This team will be riding a huge wave of momentum and confidence heading into this tournament.  Having trailed Quebec 2-0 and 3-2 in the final series, they overcame both deficits and pulled out the victory.  Even more of a positive though is their play in Quebec.  They won all 3 games played in the Colisee Pepsi.  They may almost feel at home in games here.  The Q final was interesting with away teams winning the opening 6 games and Rimouski finally winning a home game in the pivotal game 7 (in double OT no less).  But let's not undersell this team either.  They were the top team in the Q all season and the favorites to be here.  While other teams may have size and strength, the Oceanic have speed.  Led by 44 goal scorer Anthony DeLuca, the 5'8 "little guy" has the speed to breeze right through any defensive pairing and find the back of the net.  He will be hard to catch...and hard to stop.  Watch out for Jan Kostalek as well.  The Winnipeg Jets prospect led the league in goals by a defenseman during the playoffs and has quite the shot from the point.  Interesting factoid about the Oceanic, they scored a CHL-leading 25 shorthanded goals this season.  That is what speed can do for you!  Even on a penalty kill, this team finds a way to score on you.  If they can keep that momentum going and land a few of those pivotal shorthanded goals, they could be a tough team to slow down.

MasterCard Memorial Cup History
Appearances: 4th
Last appearance: 2009
All-time record: 8 wins, 5 losses / 51 GF, 43 GA
Best result: 2000 Champions

2015 Memorial Cup Hosts:  Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Welcome home Remparts....or at least we hope it is a welcome.  It has been awhile since you have won at home, dating back to a Game 4 series clinching win on April 28 vs. Moncton.  The Q final was a tough loss for this team and they will need to put it behind them quickly.  They have to enter the Memorial Cup with some confidence knowing they really outplayed the Oceanic for almost the entire championship final.  And a double OT loss is a double OT loss....one bad luck bounce here, one lucky bounce there and Quebec could easily have been the champions.  This is a team you do not want to take penalties against, they will make you pay!  Adam Erne (30 points) and Anthony Duclair (26) led this team throughout the Q playoffs and will look to do the same on home ice this week.  But watch out for the youngster Dmytro Timashov.  Timashov led the TEAM in points this season (90 in 66 games played) and was named the QMJHL Rookie of the Year.  Another huge strength of the Remparts is in the goalie position.  World Junior gold medalist (Canada) Zach Fucale has been a key player in the success of the Remparts in their playoff run.  Owning a 14-3-3 record, 2.56 goals against and .913 save percentage in the playoffs, Fucale can steal a win on any given night even if the team is outplayed and outshot.  The Remparts will want to reclaim their winning ways at home early, opening the Memorial Cup Friday night vs. Kelowna.  The faster you get a win, the sooner you get the home town crowd really rallying behind you, the quicker you erase those 3 playoffs losses in the Q final from your head (and from the memories of your fans). 

MasterCard Memorial Cup History
Appearances: 5th
Last appearance: 2006
All-time record: 7 wins, 7 losses / 58 GF, 62 GA
Best result: 2-time Champions (2006, 1971)

#TwineTime Projected Round Robin Standings

1. Kelowna Rockets
2. Oshawa Generals
3. Rimouski Oceanic
4. Quebec Remparts

Tie-breaker:  Quebec def. Rimouski

Semi final:  Quebec def. Oshawa

2015 Memorial Cup Championship:  Kelowna Rockets def. Quebec Remparts

There you have it loyal readers.  I bring the CHL season to a close by proclaiming the Memorial Cup will remain out West for another season.  The WHL Champion Rockets are just too strong, too fast and have too much skill to be stopped this week.  I expect some classic games though and would encourage you to watch all the games on Sportsnet.  These players are the future of the NHL....get to see them now!  If you are in the Quebec City area, get down to a few games and take in the action.  And if you do, please send me some pics on twitter, I would love to see them and RT them.

Enjoy the Memorial Cup everyone.....