Cup will have memorial vibe

DAVID CAMERON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

We all want to see a sport played at its highest level, great talents playing their game close to perfection.

Does that mean it will be entertaining?

Jacques Lemaire-coached teams almost always played near-perfect, mistake-free hockey. More often than not, so have Ken Hitchcock's.

But who wants to watch that again? They'd have to pay me.

My point (other than I will always paint a target on Lemaire and Hitchcock for being the evil mentors of the Fine Art of Trapping) is that mistakes can make a game more entertaining. As long as the mistakes are surrounded by a high level of performance.

You'll see a fair number of mistakes in junior hockey. And a high level of performance. So the question is: Why don't we pay more attention to the Memorial Cup?

This is a hockey-mad nation, but the next generation gets mild buzz unless it's Christmas season and the players have red maple leaves on their sweaters. Unlike Americans, who are just as crazy about college hoops and gridiron as they are for the pro versions.

I'm guilty of it, too. But this year, that changes.

Game 6, the Kelowna Rockets capture the Western Hockey League crown over the higher-rated Calgary Hitmen: As exciting hockey I've seen all year. Including Capitals versus Penguins, Russia versus Canada.

There were back-to-back breakaways, goalposts, stone-cold saves and -- something you'll see as much in one junior game as a handful of NHL tilts -- bone-rattling thunderchecks.

Peter Loubardias thinks about the question "every day." And not just because he loves the gig calling the Memorial Cup on Sportsnet.

"It's hard for me because I grew up with it," said Loubardias, the born-and-raised Saskatoon native who beat the Prairie bushes for years covering junior hockey out of Estevan and Regina and Edmonton. "I love it. And I mean it when I say I'm privileged to do it."

The main argument is that the tournament annually is overshadowed by Stanley Cup fever. Valid, yes, but then we pay attention to the IIHF world championship, a relatively insignificant best-of-the-rest tourney that also occurs during Stanley's time.

"The timing does have a lot to do with it," Loubardias said. "Right in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"In this country, that's the No. 1 game in town."

Even if the teams aren't from your town. The other argument is just that: If it's not your town's team, so what? "The thing about trying to sell it from a national standpoint is it has always been difficult to have somebody in Regina care about what's going on in, say, Cape Breton. Or vice versa," Loubardias said.

"I think we just need to continue to build it. I know, on the first Memorial Cup that I did, we drew 235,000 (viewers), which was a single-day record at that point. That number has kind of gone from 250,000 to closer to 400,000 the past couple of years, depending on teams and market sizes."

Some suggest a shorter tournament. Some have suggested the NHL take the weekend off. "The lockout year in London, that was unbelievable because all the planets aligned," Loubardias said. "We had (Sidney) Crosby, that great London team, Kelowna was back for the third year in a row, Brian Kilrea was there with the Ottawa 67's -- our audience on Sportsnet peaked at over a million for the final. Me, I'd love to see that the norm rather than be the anomaly."

The Kelowna Rockets, Drummondville Voltigeurs, Windsor Spitfires and Rimouski Oceanic drop the puck starting tonight. The final is May 24. Check sportsnet.ca for the full schedule. Or check www.mastercardmemorialcup.com


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