We are mere hours away from the puck dropping on the 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup and the City of London is gearing up to welcome one of the most competitive fields in recent years.
Returning for their third straight Memorial Cup appearance are the tournament hosts, London Knights, after the injury-riddled squad was bounced in the second round of the OHL playoffs by the eventual OHL Champions, Guelph Storm. Joining the Guelph Storm and London Knights are the Champs of the WHL in the Edmonton Oil Kings, and QMJHL victors, Val d’Or Foreurs, both freshly off game seven wins that punched their ticket to the illustrious major junior competition.
The past three Memorial Cups have been hoisted by the QMJHL representatives after Saint John Sea Dogs (2011), Shawinigan Cataractes (2012) and Halifax Mooseheads (2013) each tasted victory.
The Edmonton Oil Kings are looking for their first Memorial Cup Championship since 1966 when they captured it as members of the Central Alberta Hockey League.
Quebec’s Val d’Or Foreurs have participated in the Memorial Cup twice (1998 and 2001) but have yet to walk away victors, coming close in 2001 when the Foreurs lost to the Red Deer Rebels in the finals.
The Knights will be participating in their fourth Memorial Cup event and the team is hoping for similar results as when they last hosted in 2005, the year the Knights skated away as Memorial Cup Champions.
With four previous attempts at winning the Memorial Cup, the Guelph Storm are rolling into their fifth tournament red hot looking to take home the 95-year-old hardware.
Regardless of which team skates off Budweiser Gardens’ ice as Champions, the 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup is loaded with talented major junior players looking to take the next step in their development. As the electric atmosphere takes over London, Ontario, here are several players to watch throughout the tournament.
Edmonton Oil Kings
Curtis Lazar (Senators – 2013, 17th overall) Arguably the best leader in major junior, Lazar will eat up a ton of minutes, taking important faceoffs and seeing top line offensive minutes along the way.
Tristan Jarry (Penguins – 2013, 44th overall) Jarry’s 2.19 GAA and .925 save percentage are impressive stat lines but his ability to make the clutch save behind a strong defense core allows the Oil Kings the opportunity to play a stifling defensive game.
Griffin Reinhart (NY Islanders – 2012, 4th overall) He’s got great draft pedigree and has slowly progressed with each passing game to become a suffocating shutdown defenseman, utilizing his large wingspan and strength against top WHLers.
Henrik Samuelsson(Coyotes – 2012, 27th overall) Playing a gritty-in-your-face style of puck that would make his father Ulf proud, Henrik has balanced his aggressive attack and skilled offensive bursts well. Led the Oil Kings in playoff scoring with 23 points over 21 games.
Mitch Moroz (Oilers – 2012, 32nd overall) Not the prettiest skater or the most refined skilled player, Mitch Moroz’ offers a nice blend of size and soft touch around the net to create room and offensive chances. His size could prove to be an asset against some larger Guelph Storm players when the two teams face off Saturday afternoon.
Brett Pollock(2014 NHL Draft) Industrious and versatile, Brett Pollock forced his way up a veteran laden Oil Kings’ depth chart to find a home in the top six, posting near point-per-game numbers during Edmonton’s WHL Championship run.
Dysin Mayo (2014 NHL Draft) An emerging offensive defenseman, Dysin Mayo has earned the trust of Head Coach Derek Laxdal and his game-changing rushes are only improving his draft stock.
Aaron Irving (2014 NHL Draft) Edmonton’s 9th overall 2011 selection, Aaron Irving is one of the defensive pillars on the Oil Kings’ blue line who has made life hell for intruding forwards with his physicality and nastiness.
Cody Corbett (Signed by Avalanche, 2014) The third year defenseman played his way to a contract with Colorado after posting 61 points in 65 games from the blueline.
Mads Eller and Ashton Sautner (Re-entries for 2014 NHL Draft) – Two mobile skaters, forward Mads Eller (younger brother of Canadiens’ Lars Eller) and defenseman Ashton Sautner use their speed and edge work to force opponents into uncomfortable positions.
Val d’Or Foreurs
Anthony Mantha (Red Wings – 2013, 20th overall) Big time sniper brings his 81 combined regular season and playoff goals, the most by any CHLer, to Bud Gardens for all to witness. He will be the focus of defences as the tournament’s most natural goal scorer. It is hard to believe that Detroit traded down to acquire this stud prospect.
Ryan Graves (NY Rangers – 2013, 110th overall) Brought over from Charlottetown in trade to boost their blue line, Graves has provided a stabilizing presence using his size and strength to contain opposing team’s top forwards.
Antoine Bibeau (Maple Leafs – 2013, 172nd overall) Selected in his second attempt at the NHL Draft, it appears the selection of Antoine Bibeau has been a shrewd move after the big goaltender earned QMJHL Playoff MVP honours.
Nicolas Aubé-Kubel (2014 NHL Draft) Taken 7th overall by Val d’Or in 2012, Aubé-Kubel’s offensive emergence has provided the team with secondary scoring and this skilled responsible forward looks to use the Memorial Cup as one final showing before heading to Philadelphia for the draft.
Louick Marcotte(Re-entry for 2014 NHL Draft) Fourth year forward, Marcotte, nearly doubled his production playing on the Foreurs’ top line and his 42 goals and 100 points may be enough to draw interest at the draft.
Guillaume Gélinas (Undrafted) Undersized overager who dominated every offensive category by a defenseman in both regular season (67GP-23G-92P) and playoffs (24GP-11G-34P) is also playing for a professional contract.
Anthony Richard (2015 NHL Draft) Diminutive speedy centerman with a case of danglitis experienced a breakout sophomore campaign after being selected 16th overall at the 2012 QMJHL Draft.
Julien Gauthier (2016 NHL Draft) Selected 6th overall, rookie Julien Gauthier is a budding power forward to watch heading towards the 2016 NHL Draft as he learns how to use his size and strong shot to take over the offensive zone.
Kerby Rychel (Blue Jackets – 2013, 19th overall) Windsor GM Warren Rychel traded his own son, along with LA Kings’ prospect Nick Ebert, at the deadline to Guelph. The Storm may be forever in debt with Windsor after Kerby buried the tying goal and game winner to clinch the OHL Championship.
Zack Mitchell (Signed by Wild, 2014) The Guelph Storm journeyman has bled maroon and grey in his five years of service and after being rewarded with an NHL contract back in March, Mitchell is keen on capping off his OHL career with a Memorial Cup Championship.
Scott Kosmachuk(Jets – 2012, 70th overall) Among the OHL playoff scoring leaders, Kosmachuk was one of only three players to clear the century mark in points during the regular season and is called upon when the team needs a goal or a big hit.
Brock McGinn (Hurricanes – 2012, 47th overall) After returning from an eight game suspension, Brock McGinn scored points in all but two playoff games while playing his usual irritating brand of hockey.
Jason Dickinson (Stars – 2013, 29th overall) Drafted in the opening round in 2013 as a unfinished lanky prospect, the third year Dickinson has really came into his own learning how to use his size as a skilled power forward. Dickinson is one of five Storm players who recorded over a point-per-game in the post-season.
Matt Finn (Maple Leafs – 2012, 35th overall) Awarded the Mickey Renaud Trophy as the league’s most dedicated and passionate captain on and off the ice, Matt Finn is a true leader and a stabilizing presence on the blue line.
Tyler Bertuzzi (Red Wings – 2013, 58th overall) Ironically, the Red Wings traded down at the 2013 draft to select Anthony Mantha and received the 58th pick as a result. That pick was used to select agitating forward Tyler Bertuzzi. Now, Foreurs’ Mantha and Storm’s Bertuzzi will be competing, at all costs, to take home the Memorial Cup. Mark it, Bertuzzi will be a thorn in the side of opposing defenses.
Nick Ebert (Kings – 2012, 211th overall) Nick Ebert wasn’t the centrepiece of the trade that brought Kerby Rychel to Guelph but he’s been, arguably, the most crucial piece. Leading the team in playoff scoring from the backend, Ebert elevated his game as a member of the Storm.
Zac Leslie (Kings – 2013, 178th overall) Drafted into the Ontario league in the middle rounds from the Ottawa Jr. 67’s, Leslie has improved on his production with each passing season giving the Storm depth on the blueline and a dangerous powerplay option.
Ben Harpur (Senators – 2013, 108th overall) The towering 6-foot-6 blue liner will wreak havoc on attacking forwards as he wields his active stick and staples trespassers to the boards.
Robby Fabbri (2014 NHL Draft) No player has experienced a larger potential draft rise than Robby Fabbri, who is coming off OHL Playoff MVP Honours. The undersized yet competitive and skilled forward refuses to lose and his draft rise is reminiscent of former Kitchener Rangers’ forward Jeff Skinner after his 2010 standout playoff performance.
Phil Baltisberger (2014 NHL Draft) Another player exceeding expectations in his draft year, Swiss import Phil Baltisberger displays a strong two-way game with an ability to push the pace with his smooth skating stride. Eats up big minutes on the blue line.
Justin Nichols (Undrafted)and Matt Mancini (2014 NHL Draft) Acquired from Sault Ste Marie prior to the season, Justin Nichols’ game hasn’t been perfect every night but this undersized goaltender has had some of the most electrifying performances in the league. He’s getting noticed just as his understudy, Matt Mancini, is. Mancini is a highly touted young goaltender who continues to learn the intricacies of the game
Max Domi (Coyotes – 2013, 12th overall) Coming off a disappointing post-draft season, albeit by Domi’s standards, the Knights’ leading scorer was medically cleared to play after injuring his shoulder in the post-season. Look for the refreshed Domi to put on an offensive clinic as London attempts to prove their team is deserving of the Memorial Cup host spot.
Bo Horvat (Canucks – 2013, 9th overall) The astute two-way forward with underrated offensive skills may be playing in his final OHL season and would love to add the elusive Memorial Cup title to his resume. With a history of scoring big goals, Horvat will be leaned upon in every possible situation.
Chris Tierney(Sharks – 2012, 55th overall) Living up to his 2nd round NHL Draft status after many questioned San Jose’s thought process, Chris Tierney went on an absolute tear during the playoffs ringing off 17 points in just nine games attempting to single-handedly advance the Knights.
Josh Anderson (Blue Jackets – 2012, 95th overall) Anderson is a big bodied winger who won’t always fill up the game sheet but his heavy, physical approach and strong cycle game could tire out opposing defenses in a long intense tournament.
Ryan Rupert (Maple Leafs – 2012, 157th overall) A skilled agitator in every sense of the word, Ryan Rupert, along with twin brother Matt (Undrafted), provide the Knights with outstanding depth as they make an impact by crawling under opponents’ skin or by crashing the net for a goal. The home fans will enjoy them but the road teams certainly will not.
Gemel Smith (Stars – 2012, 104th overall) A true sniper who relies on his shot and blazing speed, Gemel Smith has had an okay transition to the Knights after coming aboard mid-season but he’s eager to pick up where he left off after a better OHL playoffs (12 points in nine games).
Michael McCarron (Canadiens – 2013, 25th overall) The big power forward experienced a rather slow transition to OHL life but Michael McCarron has stepped up his game over the final few months showing the skill set that gave Montreal reason to draft him in the first round.
Mitch Marner (2015 NHL Draft) In a similar mold as Guelph’s Robby Fabbri, Marner is a sneaky player who makes an impact on every shift. No player does more with limited playing minutes as Marner and his ability to dance around defenders and find open teammates is only one reason he’s considered a top 2015 NHL Draft prospect. He’s been London’s best player, as a rookie, on most nights.
Christian Dvorak(2014 NHL Draft) One of several Knights returning from the infirmary, Dvorak is hoping to suit up for the first time since December 14th when he injured his knee. His draft season viewings were limited but positive before being sidelined.
Nikita Zadorov (Sabres – 2013, 16th overall) The only NHL drafted player on the Knights with NHL experience (seven games), Nikita Zadorov is undoubtedly the most crucial defender on their blueline. His offensive game has progressed to new heights and he’s still capable of intimidating with his bone-crushing open-ice hits.
Brady Austin (Sabres – 2012, 193rd overall) Cleared to play after battling mononucleosis, overage defenseman Brady Austin is a huge returnee to what was a spotty blue line. After dealing with his illness and the passing of his father, Austin and his teammates will be playing inspired hockey.
Zach Bell (Undrafted) Bell is a bruising defenseman that has his own feel-good story after quickly recovering from a broken leg and his presence will be felt defensively.
Brett Welychka (Undrafted) It wouldn’t be a stretch to consider Welychka one of the most versatile players in the league, after the forward logged big minutes on the blue line when injury struck the Knights’ backend. Look for Welychka to return to the front lines adding to London’s incredible offensive depth.
Anthony Stolarz (Flyers – 2012, 45th overall) Flying under the radar somewhat is the fact that Anthony Stolarz’ eight-game suspension for his slashing incident was reduced to six, after the Knights were knocked out of the playoffs early. Whether right or wrong, London’s biggest returnee for the Memorial Cup is between the pipes in Stolarz because he is capable of stealing games.
The 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup action begins Friday evening with the London Knights taking on Val d’Or Foreurs.