Mem. Cup quest kicks off

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:41 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- The motto in town is 'We're up for the Cup'.

Yesterday, however, the four coaches looked as though they were up for anything but talking about the cup.

Willie Desjardins, Don Hay, Clement Jodoin and Michael Vellucci were paraded out on the eve of the Memorial Cup to talk about their teams' chances.

With the exception of perhaps Jodoin, none of them had much in particular to say.

"Last year at the Memorial Cup all the teams were pretty similar," said Hay, the Vancouver Giants head coach. "They all competed hard, they were all very well prepared and there wasn't too much of a difference in the way we all played. I don't think there's too much difference this year.

"I think being a champion of your league says a lot and they were all very good hockey teams."

NO OLD HAT HERE

Hay and Desjardins, the Medicine Hat Tigers head coach, have been at this tournament before. Hay won it all twice as coach of the Kamloops Blazers in the early '90s and last year made it to the tournament semifinal in Moncton with the Giants.

Desjardins led the Tigers to the Memorial Cup the last time it was in B.C., losing in the semifinal in Kelowna three years ago.

"You learn something about the Cup each time you go to it," Hay said. "You want to have your focus on the tournament but you also want your players to enjoy it."

Tonight the tournament opens with the host Giants taking on the Ontario Hockey League champion Plymouth Whalers (7 p.m., Sportsnet).

The Whalers are making their first appearance at the event and are one of two U.S.-based teams competing for the CHL championship.

"Obviously it's going to be a tough test for us, they'll have home-ice advantage and 16,000 people cheering them on," said Vellucci, the Whalers head coach. "I think the first five minutes will be the most difficult part for us."

The Lewiston Maineiacs - who became the first U.S. team to win the QMJHL championship - take on the Tigers tomorrow.

The Maineiacs are the hottest team entering the event. They haven't lost since April 11 and have won 26 of their last 27 games.

"The way our team played this year, I was more impressed than you guys," said Jodoin, the personable head coach of the Maineiacs. "But we never talk about winning. The most important thing for us is always the next game. What we did in the past doesn't count, it belongs in history. The most important game we have to play is on Saturday. The first thing we did when we won the championship was to focus on the next game."

The Maineiacs went 16-1 in the playoffs after finishing the regular season on a 10-game winning streak.

"I told our players that they had a big responsibility here," Jodoin said. "We are representing our league and representing our region. There are 17 other teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League that would like to be here."

THRILLING WHL FINAL

Desjardins' team, meanwhile, is fresh off their victory over the Giants in the WHL final. The Game 7 double-overtime thriller is still the talk around junior hockey circles leading up to the tournament. And it's expected those two teams will meet in the final.

"We learned a lot from that series," Desjardins said.

"Vancouver pushed us in a lot of ways that we hadn't been pushed this year. We had to do a lot of adjustments inside that series.

"Somebody asked me what the turning point was in the series and I said it was when we scored the overtime winner in Game 7. That series had about eight different turning points. That's the way the series was."

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THE TEAMS

2007 Memorial Cup participants

MEDICINE HAT TIGERS

Road to Memorial Cup: WHL Champions

Overview: The Tigers claimed their second league title in four years when Brennan Bosch scored the double OT winner to beat the Giants 3-2. In 2004, the Tigers, led by Ryan Hollweg - now with the New York Rangers - and Cam Barker, now a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, lost in the Memorial Cup semifinal. There are three players back this year from that team, including this season's league MVP Kris Russell.

Regular season record: 52-17-3-0

Head coach: Willie Desjardins

Key players: Kris Russell, Matt Keetley, Darren Helm, Derek Dorsett, David Schlemko, Chris Stevens.

VANCOUVER GIANTS

Road to Memorial Cup: They're the hosts.

Overview: As hosts, the Giants have a free berth into the tournament. However, heading into this season, the goal for the Giants was to defend their WHL title.

They came close but lost in double-overtime to the Medicine Hat Tigers in Game 7 of the league final.

The Giants open the tournament tonight against the OHL champion Plymouth Whalers.

Regular season record: 45-17-3-7

Head coach: Don Hay

Key players: Wacey Rabbit, Kenndal McArdle, Michal Repik, Spencer Machacek, Milan Lucic, Cody Franson.

PLYMOUTH WHALERS

Road to the Memorial Cup: OHL Champions

Overview: Making it two U.S.-based clubs at the tournament, the Whalers were the OHL's top defensive team, giving up just over 2.5 goals per game during the regular season. They are owned by Peter Karmanos, who owned the Hartford Whalers before moving them to Carolina. The Whalers upset the London Knights in the league semifinals before needing a pair of overtime winners to get past the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL final.

Regular season record: 49-14-2-3

Head coach: Michael Vellucci

Key players: James Neal, Evan Brophey, Dan Collins, Tom Sestito, Daniel Ryder, Michal Neuvirth.

LEWISTON MAINEIACS

Road to Memorial Cup: QMJHL Champions

Overview: The Maineiacs became the first U.S.-based team to win the Quebec League championship. The franchise relocated from Sherbrooke, Que., four years ago to Lewiston, Maine - hence the name - and rolled over their opponents in the playoffs. The Maineiacs posted an impressive 16-1 playoff record on their way to the league title.

Regular season record: 50-14-2-4

Head coach: Clement Jodoin

Key players: Jonathan Bernier, Marc-Andre Cliche, David Perron, Luc-Pierre Faubert, Chad Denny, Eric Castonguay.


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