Only four teams are left to vie for the biggest prize in the Canadian Hockey League when the Memorial Cup gets underway Friday afternoon in Halifax.
Each team has household names, draft eligible prospects and well-established coaches that should make this year’s competition one of the closest in recent memories.
Before I make some terrible predictions (good work on picking Lethbridge to win the WHL title kid), let’s look over the four teams.
Guelph Storm (OHL Champions)
Previous Memorial Cup Trips: Five (Lost in 2014 Final to Edmonton, Missed Playoffs in 2004, Lost Tiebreaker to Victoriaville in 2002, Lost in 1998 Final to Portland and Missed Playoffs in 1996)
Regular Season: 40-18-6-4 – 2nd in Midwest Division – 4th in Eastern Conference
Scoring Leader: Nate Schnaar with 102 points
Goaltending Leader: Anthony Popovich with a 30-13-7 record and a 3.29 GAA
Award Winners: Nick Suzuki (Most Sportsmanlike Player for the third straight year)
Playoffs: Swept Kitchener 4-0, Came back from 3-0 down to beat London, Erased a 3-1 deficit to defeat Saginaw, Was down 2-0 to Ottawa before winning their fourth league title and their first since 2014
Scoring Leader: Nick Suzuki with 42 points (Named OHL Playoff MVP)
Goaltending Leader: Anthony Popovich with a 16-8 record and a 3.12 goals against average
Why They Will Win: Nick Suzuki has gone beast mode over the last two months and the Storm have proven they come back from anything with their backs against the wall.
Why They Won’t Win: After so many win-or-go-home games, how much does Guelph have left in the tank.
Player to Watch: Anthony Popovich – With the worst numbers out of the four starting netminders, the third-year netminder could be viewed as the weak link on the roster. However, many people said that about Justin Nichols in 2014 and he got the Storm to within one win of a Memorial Cup title.
Halifax Mooseheads (Host Team/QMJHL Finalist)
Previous Memorial Cup Trips: Two (Won over Portland in 2013 and Lost in 2000 Semifinal to Barrie)
Regular Season: 49-15-2-2 – 1st in Maritimes Division – 1st in Eastern Conference
Scoring Leader: Samuel Asselin with 86 points
Goaltending Leader: Alexis Gravel with a 33-13-3 record and a 2.49 goals against average
Award Winners: Raphael Lavoie (Top Professional Prospect)
Playoffs: Trailed Quebec 3-2 before winning in seven games, Swept Moncton 4-0, Upset Drummondville 4-2, Lost 4-2 to Rouyn-Noranda in the final
Scoring Leader: Raphael Lavoie with 32 points
Goaltending Leader: Alexis Gravel with a 14-8 record and a 2.73 goals against average
Why They Will Win: They almost won the league title and they will have home ice advantage on their side. Out of the teams that have hosted recently, they seem to be the best of the bunch on paper.
Why They Won’t Win: Although they hung in there with Rouyn-Noranda, Guelph and Prince Albert are totally different sides. How well can they fair against three legit teams in order to make it to the title game.
Player to Watch: Raphael Lavoie – With an impressive 20 goals in 23 playoff games, Lavoie has solidified himself as the best QMJHL prospect in this year’s NHL draft. A strong Memorial Cup might move him into the top half of the first round.
Prince Albert Raiders (WHL Champion)
Previous Memorial Cup Trips: One (Won over Shawinigan in 1985)
Regular Season: 54-10-2-2 – 1st in East Division – 1st in Eastern Conference
Scoring Leader: Brett Leason with 89 points
Goaltending Leader: Ian Scott with a 38-8-3 record and a 1.83 goals against average
Award Winners: Marc Habscheid (coach of the year), Curtis Hunt (executive of the year) and Ian Scott (goalie of the year)
Playoffs: Swept Red Deer 4-0, Defeated Saskatoon 4-2, Beat Edmonton 4-2, Edged Vancouver 4-3 to win their second title and their first since 1985
Scoring Leader: Brett Leason with 25 points
Goaltending Leader: Ian Scott with a 16-7 record and a 1.96 goals against average (Named WHL Playoff MVP)
Why They Will Win: They have depth for days and arguably the best goalie in the tournament in Scott. It’s a veteran group and they know what it takes to get it done.
Why They Won’t Win: In addition to the long travel and having to bounce back from the emotional high of Monday’s Game 7 thriller, the Raiders have to overcome the struggles that WHL champions have faced in recent years. Since the Kelowna Rockets made the final in 2015, the last three Ed Chynoweth Cup winners (Brandon, Seattle and Swift Current) have a combined record of 0-9 in the round-robin.
Player to Watch: Parker Kelly – The Ottawa Senators prospect is coming off of an impressive run in the league final as he led all players in scoring with 10 points. Having just celebrated his 20th birthday on Tuesday, Kelly will look to finish out his junior career on the highest note possible.
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL Champions)
Previous Memorial Cup Trips: One (Lost in 2016 Final to London)
Regular Season: 59-8-0-1 – 1st in the West Division – 1st in the Western Conference
Scoring Leader: Peter Abbandonato with 111 points
Goaltending Leader: Samuel Harvey with a 35-8-0 record and a 2.08 goals against average
Award Winners: Peter Abbandonato (most sportsmanlike player), Samuel Harvey (goalie of the year for the second straight year) andMario Pouliot (coach of the year)
Playoffs: Beat Shawinigan 4-2, Swept Victoriaville and Rimouski 4-0, Defeated Halifax 4-2 to win their second title and their first since 2016
Scoring Leader: Joel Teasdale with 34 points
Goaltending Leader: Samuel Harvey with a 16-4 record and 1.97 goals against average
Why They Will Win: The top ranked team in the country ran roughshod over the QMJHL since Christmas have gotten even better with the additions of Joel Teasdale and Noah Dobson at the trade deadline. Plus, their head coach Mario Pouliot led the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to the title last year.
Why They Won’t Win: Due to a very weak Western Conference, the Huskies record might not be a true indicator of how good this team is. There’s nowhere to hide at a tournament like this.
Player to Watch: Noah Dobson – A member of last year’s Titan squad, Dobson is one of the best blueliners in the country. The New York Islanders prospect was named QMJHL Playoff MVP after putting up 29 points in 20 games.
- Guelph Storm
- Prince Albert Raiders
- Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
- Halifax Mooseheads
This is one of the toughest tournaments to predict in years. You can make a legit case for each side in the field to win it all and no one would give you a strange look for doing so.
While I think the Raiders and the Huskies are probably the strongest teams when it comes to their overall depth, the Storm has a team of destiny vibe about them with how they’ve been able to come back when their backs were against the wall. At this point, it’s hard to bet against them.