Stars align for a memorable Memorial

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 5:03 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- Finding a hotel room in London in the next week might be as tough as finding a Belinda Stronach supporter in the Conservative party.

Call it the culmination of the perfect hockey storm, perhaps, but the excitement and hype in the days leading up to the 2005 Memorial Cup is at a high. And not only because a bunch of hockey people and those who cover the National Hockey League have nothing better to do now.

The presence of Sidney Crosby alone would have been enough to make the decision to go to London for the annual major junior hockey championship in Canada an easy one. But because each team brings such star power - the host London Knights and their dream season, the defending Cup champion Kelowna Rockets, Hall of Fame coach Brian Kilrea and the Ottawa 67's and Crosby with his Quebec league champion Rimouski Oceanic - the interest in the tournament is unprecedented. Of course, it helps that the NHL is in lockout mode.

A year ago, when the Rockets won the Cup on home ice, the tournament accommodated approximately 150 media accreditation requests, which was a record. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Canadian Hockey League was sitting on 298 applications from Canada and the U.S., including ESPN. Of those, CHL director of information Aaron Bell figured 70 are for print media.

"If you had asked for this (Cup lineup), you probably would have felt guilty for asking for too much," Ontario Hockey League commissioner and CHL president David Branch said. "We always feel the Memorial Cup is going to be the best ever and here we find ourselves with this one. It's an interesting script."

The lead role will be played by Crosby, 17, who is all but assured of playing his last junior game in the coming days. He will be the first pick in the next NHL draft, and if the lockout continues into the fall, the speculation as to where he will play next season is rampant.

The American Hockey League? Canada's national team? Sweden? Russia? Crosby and his agent, Pat Brisson, have said the decision won't be made until next month at the earliest.

One would assume they're jumping for joy at Sportsnet, which will televise the tournament in high definition. The record for viewership for one junior game on Sportsnet is 287,000 .

"We expect to break that (tomorrow at 5 p.m. MDT, when the Knights and Oceanic meet in the Cup curtain-raiser)," Sportsnet spokesman Dave Rashford said.


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