Monthly Archives: May 2014

Stray Thoughts on the Memorial Cup Final

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Back in March, Rachel Homan and the rest of her team from Ottawa were basically handed their first Women’s World Curling Championship before they even played the championship game, which they ended up losing to Switzerland’s Binia Feltscher.

That scenario played out yet again in the 2014 Memorial Cup championship game in London on Sunday, as the heavily favoured Guelph Storm were upset by the Edmonton Oil Kings by a score of 6-3, which brought a unfortunate end to the best season in franchise history.

Like what happened to Team Homan in Saint John, the Storm played their worst game at the wrong time. Okay, it wasn’t a horrible performance or anything like that, but an okay showing in the title contest wasn’t going to cut it, especially in comparison to how they played in the round-robin.

Since the game ended, I’ve been trying to figure out when the last time a stunner like this happened in the final. Okay, Shawinigan’s win in 2012 was probably the last shocker, but that was more along the lines of crazy their run was. When it comes to a team losing after getting a bye to the finals with a perfect round-robin record, the last team to have that happen to them was the 1992 Soo Greyhounds, when they lost 5-4 to the Kamloops Blazers on Zac Boyer’s game-winning goal with 14 seconds left.

(I may have just thrown my computer across the room after typing that sentence, but that’s another story for another day. I mean, I was only four when that game happened. Thank goodness the hometown team won it all a year later in the Memorial Gardens.)

As I mentioned earlier though, while the ending sucked, this was an incredible ride for Guelph this year. They had the top team in the regular season, easily shoved London and Erie aside in the playoffs, won its first league title in over a decade, and were one win away from going down as one of the best squads in OHL history.

The loss on Sunday’s going to sting for awhile for Storm fans, but I think as the summer rolls on, they can hold their heads up high after a magical last few months.

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Meanwhile, the Edmonton Oil Kings completed a wild season of their own with the franchise’s first Memorial Cup, and the first for the city of Edmonton since the original Oil Kings team (who are now the Portland Winterhawks) won it all in 1966.

Sunday’s performance was easily the best of the tournament for the WHL champions, as all of the top offensive weapons came out to play. The most impressive showing though came from forward Henrik Samuelsson, who had two goals and three assists to match Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin’s five-point outings in last year’s championship game.

The Memorial Cup triumph wraps up an impressive three-year run for the Oil Kings, which saw them reach three league finals and win the WHL championship on two occasions. With guys like Samuelsson, Mitch Moroz, Reid Petryk, Cody Corbett, and Griffin Reinhart all moving on after this season, this was probably the last chance to win it all before their championship window was slammed shut.

With the memory of former teammate Kristians Pelss (who tragically drowned last summer) spurring them on all year long, the Oil Kings worked through a number of obstacles on its way to the top of the mountain. Whether it was their fight for the Eastern Conference title with the Calgary Hitmen, the seven-game battle in the WHL finals with the Winterhawks, or it’s triple-overtime contest with Val-d’Or in the Memorial Cup semi, this team took on every challenge head-on and earned the Memorial Cup trophy.

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I can’t finish up talking about the Oil Kings without mention this year’s tournament MVP, Latvia’s own Edgars Kulda. The younger brother of Arturs had a coming out party during the tournament, as he had seven points in five games and was the best player for Edmonton all week long. He should hopefully be rewarded for his efforts by being selected in June’s NHL Draft, which will no doubt be Kulda Approved.

And with that, another crazy year of junior hockey is in the record books. From the chaos in Lethbridge, the tragic passing of Saginaw’s Terry Trafford, and the wild Game 7 in the QMJHL Finals, the amount of emotions that everyone felt during the 2013/14 season was something I won’t forget, and will hopefully not have to go through ever again.

When it comes down to it, junior hockey has always been a way of escape and a ton of fun for me, so I truly wish that the biggest talking points next season will be what happens on the ice and with the games that are taking place. It’s going to be a long hot summer until everything gets rolling once again, and I can’t wait until everyone gets back on the ice for the 2014/15 campaign.

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Stray Thoughts on the Memorial Cup Semi-Final

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It’s a shame that the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Val-d’Or Foreurs will not have any more contests against each other at the 2014 Memorial Cup in London, because this was a matchup that was worthy of a third and deciding game.

After Val-d’Or won in double overtime on Tuesday in the round-robin, the two sides outdid themselves in the semi-finals on Friday, as their 4-3 triple overtime battle was the longest game in Memorial Cup history.

When I finally got to watch the game later that night (apparently I have to cover sports involving teams in Airdrie in order to make a living or something), I was amazed about how similar the second meeting between the two teams were when compared to the first one.

Just like on Tuesday, Edmonton had a two-goal lead and dominated Val-d’Or in the second period, only to see the Foreurs come back and score a late goal. In fact, Nicolas Aube-Kubel could have ended the game in double overtime, but it was a great tip-in by Curtis Lazar in third extra frame to give the win to the WHL champions.

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That brought an end to Val-d’Or’s time at the Memorial Cup, which quite frankly, went a lot better than I expected. This was more than likely a case of not seeing a ton of QMJHL games during the course of the season, but I truly thought that this team wouldn’t make the playoffs when compared to what Guelph, London, and Edmonton had to offer.

Other than their blowout loss to Guelph, Val-d’Or was solid all week long. Goaltender Antoine Bibeau kept his team in the fight on a number of occasions with his timely saves, defender Guillaume Gelinas tied up the semi-final while playing on one leg after a knee-on-knee hit with Chad Baumann of the Storm earlier in the week, and numerous forwards stepped up to the plate when star sniper Anthony Mantha was unable to find the net after opening the tournament with a goal against London.

The QMJHL has been often derided in the past as being the weak sister in the CHL, but with Val-d’Or’s showing this year, along with the fact that the last three champions (Saint John, Shawinigan, and Halifax) all come from the league, the viewpoint of many about the Q should hopefully have changed for good.

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As for Edmonton, they are off to their first Memorial Cup title game since the franchise was formed in 2007. This isn’t the first time that an Oil Kings team has played in the championship contest though, as the original franchise (which moved to Portland and became the Winterhawks in 1976) won it all in 1963 and 1966 and were the runner-up team on multiple occasions.

The biggest question mark about their game with Guelph on Sunday might be just how much everyone has recovered from the triple overtime game, especially since they just played a double overtime affair a few days earlier. However, given the fact that Edmonton had a seven-game war with Portland just to get to the Memorial Cup, that shouldn’t be an issue.

With that said, Guelph has looked like an unstoppable force all tournament, and should be heavily favoured in this contest. However, as my Dad reminded me when I talked to him earlier this weekend, those dominant teams end up dropping the ball when you least expect it, so perhaps we shouldn’t be super surprised if Edmonton ends up becoming your 2014 Memorial Cup champions.


Stray Thoughts on London vs. Guelph

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The majority of this blog post will be spent talking about the end of the season for the London Knights, so let’s get the saluting of the Guelph Storm out of the way first, as they finished the round-robin with a perfect 3-0 record following its 7-2 triumph over the 2014 Memorial Cup hosts on Wednesday night.

Just like they did against Edmonton and Val-d’Or earlier this week, Guelph ran London out of their own building, despite how much the Knights pressed early on, and even with losing forward Zack Mitchell after he was ejected for kneeing Dakota Mermis.

Other than Marc Stevens’ goal late, the big damage was done by the heavy hitters. Scott Kosmachuk had a hat-trick in what could have been a five-goal evening, while Tyler Bertuzzi was booed out of the building after recovering from a knee-on-knee hit with Nikita Zadorov and had a two goal night in the process. Plus, guys like Jason Dickinson and Robby Fabbri were also making magic on offence.

With the way they have played all week, it’s getting to the point now where if the Storm don’t win their first Memorial Cup in franchise history, it will go down as one of the most shocking upsets in recent memory.

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Now we turn our attention to the Knights, who became the second host team to finish 0-3 for the week in the tournament’s history, a dubious honour they share with the 2003 Quebec Remparts.

At the start of the year, I had London winning not only their third straight OHL championship, but the Memorial Cup as well. It’s safe to say that didn’t go to plan, so where was I and many others wrong in our predictions?

In looking at my notes on the Knights from the start of this season, the amount of players that graduated or were traded away wasn’t as large as it had been after they won in 2012. Okay, Scott Harrington wasn’t around anymore on the backend, and losing Seth Griffth didn’t help matters up front, but this was still a loaded team on paper.

When I wrote my preseason preview on the Knights, the two issues I had with the team was the lack of defensive depth (which became a bigger issue once Olli Maatta stayed in Pittsburgh), and the debate over who would start in goal between Anthony Stolarz and Jake Patterson. Stolarz became the starter, and they did strength things on defence with overagers Zach Bell, Alex Basso, and Brady Austin, in addition to getting Zadorov back from Buffalo midway through the year. Nevertheless, things still went pear shaped.

When it comes down to it though, I think the biggest factor did that Knights in was how much Guelph and Erie improved in the Midwest Division. The Storm were expected to be a good team, with the one question mark being in goal until they got Justin Nichols, but they were not predicted to be a juggernaut. Meanwhile, the Otters were expected to improve as well, but no one had them contending for a league title. Those tougher tests on a regular basis made things a lot harder for London to win it all again.

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So what lies ahead for the Knights? Obviously it’s a bit early to say right now, but the franchise that was favoured to be league champions during the last three campaigns might not be in that role for a fourth straight year, as the 2014/15 season might be one of change.

Now since it’s May, I can’t give you an honest answer as to where the Knights will stack up in the grand  scheme of things, so I will instead leave you with how things look in all three aspects of the Knights roster and let you judge things for yourself.

Forwards: Josh Anderson, Gemel Smith, Chris Tierney, and Ryan Rupert may all graduate to the pro ranks, and both Bo Horvat and Max Domi could both leave the OHL a year early to play for the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes respectively.

Mitchell Marner will probably become the offensive leader if that’s the case, with guys like Michael McCarron, and Christian Dvorak also being expected to contribute more, though you could make that case for everyone in the lineup.

Thunder Bay native Zach Grzelewski and 2014 first round draft pick Max Jones might be two rookies to keep an eye on, while Anthony Louis of the Miami Redhawks and future Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Matthew Tkachuk will both more than likely be courted.

Defencemen: With Brady Austin, Alex Basso, and Zach Bell all leaving as overagers, and Nikita Zadorov more than likely sticking with Buffalo, the Knights would only have three guys (Dakota Mermis, Tim Bender, and Aiden Jamieson) potentially coming back.

There are a few draft picks who may fill those roles, but the biggest new face that could help the Knights out is 2013 second round pick Zack Werenski. He played with the US NTDP last season, and he was considered a top five talent in his OHL draft year, but Werenski’s apparently considering playing for the Michigan Wolverines instead of coming into the OHL. What happens with him may be one of the biggest storylines of the off-season.

Goalies: Anthony Stolarz is headed off to the Philadelphia Flyers organization, but Jake Patterson might be one of the team’s overage players (with Mermis, Matt Rupert, and Brett Welychka all in that mix), and may finally have a chance to start for the Knights.

London drafted Emanuel Vella in the third round this year, so at this point he would be the backup netminder, unless the Knights made a trade with a team with multiple netminders on their depth chart. In that scenario, Belleville (depending on what happens with 2013 draft pick Connor Hicks) and Kitchener (especially if Michigan recruit Hayden Lavigne shows up there) spring quickly to mind.

I would of expected the Knights to grab a netminder in the CHL Import  Draft in the summer, but that’s not going to happen any time soon thanks to the European Goalie Ban. Thanks a lot David Branch.


Stray Thoughts on Edmonton vs. Val-d’Or

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A couple of hours after I finished watching Tuesday’s Memorial Cup double-overtime affair between the Edmonton Oil Kings and Val-d’Or Foreurs, I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that the WHL Champions didn’t win the game and ended up losing by a score of 4-3.

Edmonton out-shot Val-d’Or by a healthy margin, they had a 2-0 lead just nine minutes into the first period, and had way more quality scoring chances throughout regulation. In fact, even my mother was surprised after the game when I told her that the Foreurs had won in overtime.

The Oil Kings, in my opinion, had a similar performance to what they turned in against London on Sunday. The top forwards were pretty much clicking right from the word go, with Curtis Lazar more or less taking over the game right from the opening face-off, and everyone else following suit.

However, they didn’t capitalize on their scoring chances, most notably when Reid Petryk’s shot in overtime smashed off of the cross-bar just 30 seconds into the extra frame. Now Edmonton finds themselves sitting in third place and possibly heading to a tiebreaker game against the London Knights, who have to beat the Guelph Storm on Wednesday just to stay alive.

It may be deja vu for the Oil Kings if that happens, as they were knocked out of the 2012 tournament by the host Shawinigan Cataractes in a tiebreaker contest.

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I have to give a ton of credit to Val-d’Or on their victory over the Oil Kings, especially after they were blown out by Guelph on Monday and looked to be heading down that same path early on in Tuesday’s contest.

Goaltender Antoine Bibeau returned to form, and the Foreurs offence capitalized on mistakes by the Oil Kings to get their goals, especially on the game winner by Anthony Richard when he capitalized on a botched pass by Henrik Samuelsson and blew by Griffin Reinhart.

All of this was done without the QMJHL defenceman of the year Guillaume Gelinas, who tried to skate in the pre-game warm up after suffering a knee injury against Guelph on Monday but immediately returned to the locker room.

With a berth in the semis now in hand, the Foreurs will give the overage blueliner a chance to heal up, which may prove to be a big factor in their favour if he is able to go in the playoff round. However, if he will be even close to full-strength remains to be seen.

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The big thing to take away from Tuesday’s double-overtime affair was that we actually had our first really good game of the tournament, and the first truly memorable one since the championship contest in 2012 between London and Shawinigan. I suppose you could make a case that the last exciting thriller at a Memorial Cup was last year’s semi-final between Portland and London, but my memories of that contest are somewhat fleeting.

In looking up some other Memorial Cup tournaments the other day, it seems like for the last couple of years there has only been one super awesome game that stands out from the bunch at each tournament, with 2011’s crazy contest being the round-robin game between Owen Sound and Saint John.

I’m hoping that we haven’t reached our quota of classic confrontations yet, as we still have a number of games to go. However, Guelph may need to have their performances drop off a little bit for that to happen.


Stray Thoughts on Guelph vs. Val-d’Or

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With another impressive performance on Monday night at the Budweiser Gardens, and a guaranteed spot into the 2014 Memorial Cup championship game in London on Sunday night, it’s getting harder to see how the Guelph Storm will be topped in this year’s tournament.

After romping the Edmonton Oil Kings 5-2 on Saturday, the OHL champions topped themselves with a convincing 6-3 performance over the Val-d’Or Foreurs, which was pretty much over after the Storm scored three goals in the opening seven minutes of action.

The top line of Kerby Rychel, Zack Mitchell, and Robby Fabbri did the most damage for the Storm, but when you have guys like Jason Dickinson, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Pius Suter also contributing to the scoresheet, they are hard to stop.

Heading into this tournament, I thought the Edmonton Oil Kings were the team to beat, While I still think they are a good squad, the way that the Storm have dominated their last two opponents has moved them into the top spot for me.

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With the win, the Storm have advanced to its first Memorial Cup final since 1998 in Spokane, when they lost to the Portland Winterhawks in overtime on a game-winning goal from Bobby Russell. I may have only brought this up just to use that Bobby Russell photo, but I digress.

While it’s still to early to hand the Storm their first national title, a victory by Guelph would be the first Memorial Cup triumph for an OHL squad since the Windsor Spitfires won in 2010, which is a squad that this Guelph reminds me of a lot.

Now to be fair, that Spitfires team did have a lot more star power with Taylor Hall, Zack Kassian, Adam Henrique, Phillipp Grubauer, Cam Fowler, and Ryan Ellis all in the lineup, but this Storm has a vibe at the moment that comes across like no one is going to beat them, which is pretty scary.

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At the conclusion of Monday’s game, Sportsnet colour commentator Sam Cosentino wondered (and I’m paraphrasing here as I can’t remember the exact words off of the top of my head) what kind of effort the Storm would bring in their final round-robin game on Wednesday against the London Knights.

While I get Sam’s point, I’m pretty sure the Storm will be just as amped for this game as they were for their other two round-robin contests for one reason. They will have a chance to knock out the Knights from the Memorial Cup on their division rivals home ice.

Given the fact that they had won two straight league titles prior to this season, London has returned to being the team that the fans of every other franchise in the OHL loves to hate. Personally, if I was a player and I knew I had the chance to knock the kings of the league off of their perch in their home rink at the Memorial Cup, I would love to have that opportunity.

The one risk though could be any injuries or suspensions, as I’m sure Storm Head Coach Scott Walker wouldn’t be pleased if one of his star players was unable to suit up in the biggest game the franchise has had in nearly two decades.

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I’ve talked a lot about the Storm, so I better touch on the Foreurs, who sit at 1-1 heading into Tuesday’s game against the Oil Kings.

Overall, I thought Val-d’Or played pretty well in the second period, especially when they cut a 4-0 deficit down to a two-goal margin with a pair of goals in less than a minute. But when you fall behind by three goals in the opening seven minutes, it’s hard to recover.

Despite the one-sided loss to Guelph, I think that the Foreurs will play better against Edmonton, especially with a berth in the semi-final on the line. However, it will be interesting to see if 92-point defender Guillaume Gelinas will be at full capacity, after he left the game on Monday following a knee-on-knee hit with Guelph forward Chadd Bauman in the third period.


Stray Thoughts on London vs. Edmonton

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You don’t want to say that a team like the London Knights are out of the running after just three days of the Memorial Cup, but their third straight visit to the tournament isn’t going to plan at all.

After being shutout by the Val-d’Or Foreurs on Friday, their second game of the 2014 event in its home rink wasn’t a whole lot better, as they lost 5-2 to the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Now granted, London did score twice this time around, and they again put a ton of pressure on the Oil Kings during the start and the end of the game, but it was again a case of too little too late, as they were down by three goals with just over 14 minutes left to go in regulation.

There are things that I’m liking from the Knights, and they were much better than they were against Val-d’Or, but if the odds are looking strong that they might go 0-3 as the tournament hosts. That would be the worst showing by a home team in the Memorial Cup since the Quebec Remparts went 0-3 in 2003, and a result like that for London will lead to a ton of questions.

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When it comes to its final round-robin game against the Guelph Storm on Wednesday night, one talking point might end up becoming who gets the start in goal for the Knights. Anthony Stolarz was pulled following the second period after giving up three goals on 30, in favour of backup netminder Jake Patterson.

In his relief role, I thought Patterson did a pretty good job. Okay, he did give up two goals to Luke Bertolucci, but he did turn aside two other chances Bertolucci had and another one from Henrik Samuelsson. If it wasn’t for him, the final score could have been something like 7-1.

Personally, I would let the Sault Ste. Marie native start over the Philadelphia Flyers prospect against Guelph, and that’s not just the hometown bias talking. With the season on the line, I’m a little bit more confident in Patterson’s play (albeit, a small sample size) at the moment than Stolarz’s. Plus, this wouldn’t be the first time Patterson has become the starter in a back against the wall scenario, as he took over that role from Stolarz during the Knights comeback against Barrie in last year’s OHL finals.

However, I doubt Knights Head Coach Dale Hunter will take the starting role away from a player who was out for almost all of the second half with a leg injury, so I suspect this issue will be a moot point come Wednesday night.

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One of the things that impressed me the most about the Oil Kings on Sunday was how the impact players weren’t the guys that you might of expected.

I’m sure going into the tournament that many expected Curtis Lazar, Mitch Moroz, and Samuelsson to be the lynchpins on offence, but instead it’s guys like the aforementioned Bertolucci and Edgars Kulda who were the dominant forces, which gives me an excuse to post this.

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All in all, it was a nice bounce-back showing from the Oil Kings, who look to be back in the form that many expected them to be in when they entered the tournament as the WHL champions.


Stray Thoughts On Guelph vs. Edmonton

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After two fairly even periods on Saturday, the Guelph Storm pretty much ran the Edmonton Oil Kings out of the Budweiser Gardens during the second game of the Memorial Cup, with Tyler Bertuzzi putting on a show in the third period.

Bertuzzi, a Detroit Red Wings prospect who returned to the team for their OHL Western Conference final win over the Erie Otters after being out with a head and neck injury since December, pretty much took over the game in the final frame. He sniped two goals past Oil Kings netminder Tristan Jarry, almost scored another goal after being hip-checked by Dysin Mayo, and had a great feed to set up a scoring chance for Pius Suter.

There were other players who did damage for Guelph during the game, as Kerby Rychel potted home two goals, Justin Nichols made a number of big saves, and Nick Ebert made a great drop-back pass to set up a fantastic top corner snipe by Brock McGinn. However, Bertuzzi’s play really showed the depth that the Storm has this season, and why they are considered a strong favourite to win the national championship.

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As for Edmonton, I didn’t think they played horribly in the first and second periods, as the game was fairly tight until Guelph took things over. In fact, they scored two goals in nearly 30 seconds to take a 2-1 lead early in the second period, and they almost had a 3-1 lead if an Edgars Kulda power-play chance didn’t smash off of the cross bar.

I think the Oil Kings will bounce back though, especially since I picked them to win the entire tournament. Sunday night’s game against London will be a major test though, especially with the Knights also looking to rebound from its loss to Val-d’Or in the opening game on Friday.

It might be super early to call this game the biggest of the week, but neither team will be wanting to lose, as an 0-2 record heading into the final round-robin contest of the tournament will be akin to being pushed to an edge of a cliff.