In the crucial TV ratings game, the 2005 Memorial Cup already has entered the winner's circle.
The London Knights joust with the defending Cup champion Kelowna Rockets set a Rogers Sportsnet record for junior hockey broadcasts, drawing 595,000 Monday night viewers, topping the 593,000 for the London-Rimouski Oceanic game that opened this tournament last Saturday.
Both figures dwarf the previous record of 238,000 viewers who tuned in to last year's Cup final between Kelowna and the Gatineau Olympiques. This year's event has also featured high-quality, exciting games, though that streak was halted by Thursday's entry, London's relatively easy 5-2 victory over the tired and outclassed Ottawa 67's.
Welcome entertainment has been supplied by Hockey Central panelists Nick Kypreos and John Garrett, who offer interesting commentary during their funny, mock debate routines.
Unfortunately, their effective chemistry is lacking in the broadcast duo covering the game action.
Verbose play-by-play announcer Peter Loubardias authors curious phrases ("The puck goes somewhat dangerously wide") and his goal calls, a nasally, piercing shriek that sounds like "Skew-ers", is annoying. His sidekick, John Druce, tries hard, but has yet to realize that a solid colour analyst delivers intriguing insights and occasionally dares to say something provocative.
Meanwhile, Hockey Central panel host Darren Dreger sent along an e-mail, denying that he claimed London star Corey Perry is a superior pro hockey prospect to Oceanic phenom Sidney Crosby, as reported here in Monday's Free Press.
Dreger sent along a transcript of his on-air comment: "In my opinion, with all due respect to Sidney Crosby, I mean he might be a great player down the road by National Hockey League standards, but if I was going to pick a player outside of Sidney Crosby five years down the road, a player making an impact in the NHL, I think I'd look at Corey Perry."
Forecasting how promising youngsters will fare in the "big league" is a risky, pointless proposition, especially when the observation can't be tested until 2010. To borrow the words of the late, great Montreal Canadiens' coach Toe Blake: "Predictions are for gypsies."
On Wednesday night, Bob McKenzie, the excellent hockey analyst on Sportsnet rival TSN, wisely chose to stay with current issues. He opined that goaltender Cedrick (The Entertainer) Desjardins has been more valuable to the Oceanic's Cup quest than his more highly touted teammate Crosby.
As for Perry, in a post-game TV interview Thursday, the London star said he hoped tonight's semifinalists would go to triple overtime, leaving the victors exhausted and easier pickings when they face the Knights tomorrow afternoon.
That possibility must worry tournament organizers, though they have only themselves to blame. At best, the survivor of today's contest will have about an 19-hour break before confronting an already favoured London squad that has the added advantage of nearly three days' rest.
The result might be an unworthy finale for what's been a memorable Memorial Cup.