Memorial Cup creates heroes

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

It’s hockey’s version of Before They Were Stars.

The crown jewel of the Canadian Hockey League slate, the Memorial Cup tournament shines a spotlight on the next generation of celebrities on skates and often serves as a springboard to the next level.

Long before he could grow a playoff beard in less than an hour and added four Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals and a world championship to his resume, smooth-skating Scott Niedermayer led the Kamloops Blazers to a Memorial Cup crown in 1992.

Five springs back, Corey Perry and the London Knights silenced Sidney Crosby’s Rimouski Oceanic in the winner-take-all final game.

Current standouts such as Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, and Roberto Luongo also skated in the prestigious four-team tourney, while Hockey Hall-of-Famers like Dale Hawerchuk and Luc Robitaille are on the alumni list, too.

Since-retired stalwarts Doug Gilmour, Cam Neely and Trevor Linden were each credited with Memorial Cup-winning goals.

All continued on a path to superstardom. Question is, who’s next?

Windsor Spitfires sharpshooter Taylor Hall is already a household name in the hockey world, thanks in large part to his MVP performance at last year’s Memorial Cup and his status as a top prospect for next month’s NHL Entry Draft.

But there’s no shortage of candidates to steal his thunder this week at Westman Place, where the defending champion Spitfires, Calgary Hitmen, Moncton Wildcats and host Brandon Wheat Kings will battle for major-junior supremacy.

Sure, Wheaties snipers Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie are already bigshots in Brandon.

Spitfires teammates Adam Henrique and Ryan Ellis are fan favourites in Windsor, while Hitmen marksmen Brandon Kozun and goalie Martin Jones are hot commodities in Calgary and Wildcats catalysts Kelsey Tessier and Gabriel Bourque are newsmakers in Moncton.

This week, though, they’ll get a chance to glimmer on a more grandiose stage.

Of course, not every Memorial Cup competitor becomes an NHL hotshot.

There’s accountants, carpenters and engineers across the country who count a trip to the season-ending tournament as the pinnacle of their hockey careers — and there’s certainly no shame in that.

The Hitmen, Spitfires and Wildcats battled through four rounds of gruelling best-of-seven series to book a ticket to Brandon, each capturing a league championship banner along the way.

The Wheaties, meanwhile, have been loading up on talent in hopes of hoisting the prized hardware on home ice.

They represent the best of the best, four of the top teams in the ultra-competitive CHL.

Between them, they’ve scored 1,534 goals and celebrated 257 wins over the past eight months.

Nobody, though, is satisfied just yet.

You don’t need to be a ratings analyst or a marketing guru to figure out Canadians love their do-or-die hockey games.

Perhaps that’s what makes every Memorial Cup clash a must-see event.

With the top team in the round-robin earning a bye to next Sunday’s championship finale, even preliminary games are biggies.

The emotion and intensity will get ratcheted up another notch in the semifinal, then hit a whole new level in the championship showdown.

As history has shown us time and time again, that’s often when the biggest stars shine the brightest.

Who will it be this time?


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