London, Rimouski marquee opener

The Ottawa 67s and London Knights begin play in the Memorial Cup this Saturday, along with the...

The Ottawa 67s and London Knights begin play in the Memorial Cup this Saturday, along with the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL and the WHL's Kelowna Rockets. (London Free Press File Photo/Morris Lamont)

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

What began in September with 56 teams, is now whittled down to four.

The London Knights, Ottawa 67's, Rimouski Oceanic and Kelowna Rockets will continue their chase for Canadian major junior hockey's holy grail at the John Labatt Centre.

The Memorial Cup begins Saturday, with the OHL champion Knights -- yes, it's true, after 40 years -- playing Quebec league champion Rimouski and superstar Sidney Crosby.

Ottawa, the OHL's other rep, plays Western league champion and defending Memorial Cup winner Kelowna on Sunday.

The opening games are important. A loss and a team faces a must-win every night from then on.

"There's really no room for mistakes," said Knights defenceman Marc Methot.

"We've got to play really disciplined. There's really no margin of error there."

This will be a Memorial Cup like no other. With no NHL season and Stanley Cup playoffs, the eyes of the national sports media will be on London.

Crosby's presence raises the tournament's profile another level and the circus will take centre ring under the big top with his arrival Thursday.

"Rimouski is going to be a big matchup and it's been talked about," said Knights forward Rob Schremp.

"Everyone wanted to see Crosby versus the London Knights. It's the most pressure game right off the bat and then we can concentrate on the next two."

Schremp is excited to see the matchup between teammate Corey Perry and Crosby, linemates at the world junior championship.

"Pears (Perry) is such a smart player, he always finds a way to get two or three points," Schremp said.

Crosby, who doesn't turn 18 until August, won the Canadian Hockey League scoring title for the second straight year with 66 goals and 168 points in 62 games.

Perry finished second in the CHL with 130 points in 60 games but topped everyone in the playoffs with 38 points, including 11 goals, in 18 games.

The Knights continued celebrating their OHL title yesterday, and with good reason. They ended the longest drought in OHL history.

They also needed to prove they deserved to be ranked No. 1 in the CHL all season.

"To be champions, that's what we needed, especially being ranked first the entire year," said captain Danny Syvret.

"If we fell short, it would be a disappointing time heading into the Memorial Cup."

The Knights are back on the ice today to start Cup preparations and coach Dale Hunter is looking forward to another challenge.

"We've got good leaders in the dressing room," Hunter said.

"They're focused. We lost a game in Peterborough 6-2, then we went on to win 12 in a row. It's one of those things, they keep focused and they know where their responsibilities are.

"It should be a really enjoyable Memorial Cup. We're got four very good hockey teams. All the games are important, but the first game is huge."

The 67's will come in on a downer. They beat the Knights in Game 2 at the JLC to tie the final series 1-1 but the Knights went into Ottawa and swept the next two, setting the stage for Saturday's Game 5 party.

But the 67's get a second life and it'll be interesting to see how they respond after coach Brian Kilrea said his team "lost its jam."

"I'm proud of what they've done but just not proud of the way we played in the last three games," Kilrea said.

"We've got to find some guys and get them to play when the tournament starts -- the way they did before, not the way they played now," Kilrea said.

Kelowna is the unknown, at least in these parts, but this will be the Rockets' third straight appearance in the Cup. They won last year, as host team.

Captain Brett Palin has hoisted the WHL trophy twice and the Memorial Cup once in the past three seasons.

"There's nothing like winning. It's a drug. Once you start winning, you want it all the time," Palin said after the Rockets eliminated Brandon in the final to become the first WHL team to appear in three consecutive Memorial Cups since New Westminster began a three-year run in 1976.


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