I’m very much so appreciate anyone who reads my stuff. Either you are a very good friend, or my parents pay you well and my parents have never read a word of this (although my uncle does, shoutout to uncle Al!) But today I have something different for you. Today I have something that is a little more….hell, a LOT more professional.
With the Memorial Cup starting up tonight in Saskatoon I wanted to do a preview. So here it is, but this time its not just my opinion like always. Nope, today I’ve not only got the expertise of someone involved in junior hockey, I have the man who a lot of people would describe as the encyclopedia of the CHL. Peter Loubardias has been kind enough to not call the cops on me for stalking him and discuss the upcoming tourny. The man whom Elliott Friedman once said “has forgot more about junior hockey in this country than most know” was kind enough to take time out of his day to help me out in anyalying the 4 teams, so without further adieu…
Host Saskatoon Blades – Most of us have been watching this team all season from a far. The reality show “On The Edge” was simply terrific and has a lot of the country pulling for the host team. But the hosts are in very tough. Swept by Medicine Hat in the 1st round of the WHL playoffs, they’ve had a long time to rest and prepare….”It’s pretty simple, the x-factor for the Blades is Andrey Makarov. He is more than capable of carrying this team, having been to back to back World Juniors, and if the Blades are to win this then Makarov has to win it” said Loubardias. He went onto say “the 18 wins in a row was no fluke. 18 in a row is still 18 in a row, I don’t care who it was against. This team has 3 good lines, but it will be tough to get up to speed after 50+ days away. The biggest thing for the Blades is they have to make believers of themselves”. Couldn’t have said it better myself…actually, I couldn’t have said it nearly that well, which is why I sought out someone to say it better and just happened to get the best source possible.
WHL Champion Portland Winterhawks – 3rd times a charm for the Winterhawks. After 2 missed opportunities in the WHL final in 2011 and 2012, the Winterhawks sealed the deal in 2013 with a 6 game win over the defending champion Edmonton Oil Kings. “This is the youngest group they’ve had in the last 3 years, but the leadership group is much improved. They have their skilled forwards playing a 2 way game which you didn’t see in the 2 previous seasons” Loubardias explained (like how instead of saying “said” I slipped in “explained”?) The strength of this team however is obviously along the blueline and Peter couldn’t have agreed more. “That top 4 is so great and I truely believe that all 4 of those kids will play in the show someday, they’re THAT good. And they make their transition game so amazing. The Pace they play with really is fun to watch. This team has as good of chance as anyone in this tournament”. Strong words and I don’t know how anyone who has watched this team could disagree with that. They’re just playing at a different level right now, that wasn’t a weak Oil Kings team they just knocked off. The Oil Kings had most of last year’s championship team back. Sure they were without Griffin Reinhart, but I’m not sure he would have made a difference.
OHL Champion London Knights – Welcome back, the only returnee this season are the Knights who of course were knocked off in OT of last year’s championship game. And they’re going to return most of this team again next season when they host the Mastercard Memorial Cup. Without a doubt they’ll be known as a dynasty in the CHL before all is said and done. Loubardias explained what the strength of this team was. “Top to bottom this might be the best team in the tournament. They’re not as top heavy as some of the teams, but better depth.” He also added about the Knights “They’re not great between the pipes. The coaching staff doesn’t have a lot of trust in either kid. Jake Patterson took over in the playoffs, but he didn’t practice today (Thursday). Only real question that I have about this team though is fatigue. Every year I have been at this tournament there is always 1 team that suffers a letdown”. Coming off an incredible and emotional 7 game series, coming back from 3-1 against Barrie, it’s a great point from Peter as it is going to be very difficult for them to get back up to that kind of intensity level.
QMJHL Champion Halifax Mooseheads – This might be the sexiest team in the tournament for the average fan anyway. Most scouts have Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin ranked 2nd and 3rd for the NHL entry draft in late June. They also have stud draft eligible goaltender Zachary Fucale between the pipes, and breezed through the playoffs unlike the other 3 teams. “For me this is the most intriguing team in the tourny. 1 thing people don’t give enough credit to is…yes, MacKinnon and Drouin drive this bus offensively. But kids like Martin Frk, Stefan Fournier, Darcy Ashley, Andrew Ryan, Brent Andrews, Stephen MacAulay, they don’t get enough credit for their contributions to this team. The Mooseheads can go toe to toe with Portland’s talent.” Peter has seen the Winterhawks more up close than the Mooseheads, so to say that is extremely high praise of their group of forwards, but it’s not all good about them. “3 concerns: 1) while they’re forwards are great, their D isn’t on the same level. 2) I wonder how they will handle the media circus. They’ve dealt with it a bit throughout the season, but it will be on another level at the Memorial Cup. 3) How battle tested are they?” There is so much high end draft eligible kids in this Memorial Cup (more than I can ever remember), and for that reason this could be the team most are excited to watch on the big stage.
So then the question becomes….who will walk out of Saskatoon with the Memorial Cup. I didn’t push Peter to give me 1 pick, he doesn’t like playing the prediction game. In fact his quote was “**** off you ******* son of a ***** or else I’m gonna *********** ******** ***** **** ********* ************ ******* and then do it again!!!”…..Ok, so that’s not anything along the lines of what he said, but I know that’s what you were hoping he said to me. The ACTUAL quote was “If I was a betting man….Portland vs London in the final, but I feel in saying that I’m not showing Halifax enough respect”. I agree with that and essentially what he is saying is that it’s a 3 horse race which going into this I don’t know how you can see it any other way.
However….Shawinigan wasn’t exactly a power house entering last year’s tourny and look how things went for them. They peaked at the right time and took home the title. As I said last year, that might not seem “fair” for a team to be bounced so early in the playoffs to then win the national title. But while that might be true, it’s also what makes this event not only unique, but intriguing. The Blades will have home ice and are well rested, those are 2 incredible advantages to have in such a short event. Can’t wait for the puck to drop tonight!!!
A TREMENDOUS thank you to my good friend Peter Loubardias to take time out of his busy schedule to help break things down!
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