May 30, 2011
Cup didn't live up to Majors' expectations
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
It’s difficult right now to believe the Memorial Cup is, as it’s often labeled, a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Not after watching Saint John goalie Jacob DeSerres’ redemption for last year’s nine-goal final mess, listening to Mississauga forward Justin Shugg describe falling short of a third straight Cup crown and hearing the returning Sea Dogs discuss possibly matching the Spitfires’ back-to-back titles of 2009 and ’10.
It’s not always one-and-done for players and their teams.
But it is almost certainly that way for the host city Mississauga and its Hershey Centre rink.
The Cup rolled in for a week-and-a-half and then it disappeared, perhaps forever and almost certainly for at least a generation.
The calculated Mississauga bid of 2011 plopped junior hockey’s biggest showcase onto Toronto’s doorstep for the first time in nearly 40 years under a tournament-style format.
Over that span, Canada held three different Olympics, illustrating how rare Cup hosting duties pop up.
Worthy Windsor had been bent about Mississauga, fueled by Eugene Melnyk’s millions, cutting to the front of the Cup line the same way Saint John is miffed the 2012 tourney is heading to Shawinigan instead of Harbour Station.
But this entire season for Canadian Hockey League president David Branch and Co. had been about re-establishing a presence in the GTA.
Nearby Buffalo held the world juniors, the Air Canada Centre housed the Top Prospects Game even though Leafs GM Brian Burke failed to deliver on his vow to fill the building, and Mississauga ran the Cup, where the Majors have struggled to increase their fan base.
No one disputes the major junior game would survive without the Mississaugas and the Bramptons, but if they end up packing for North Bay or Cornwall someday, it sure limits Branch when he’s hitting up a Bay Street suit for some more league-wide sponsorship money.
Will Mississauga’s Cup add up to the big intended boost for the Majors franchise? No one’s holding their breath and it’s not encouraging to hear Melnyk talk about having to “grind it out” and sell two tickets at a time to make it work — and that was at the end of the week.
Staging the Cup was supposed to be the marketing equivalent of signing a 60-goal scorer.
Heck, the Cup might have even hurt the cause with ticket prices perceived as exorbitant, the first Saint John-Majors game decided on a missed offside and one future NHLer Joey Hishon of Owen Sound erased from the tournament in his opening contest by a dirty elbow.
There wasn’t a Sidney Crosby, John Tavares or even a Nazem Kadri to single out as the starry face of this event, even though it’s clear Saint John’s Jonathan Huberdeau has carved a quick path to a higher-end of prospect and Mississauga’s Devante Smith-Pelly has a real crack at doing something special with Anaheim.
The Majors could’ve built more momentum if they won the whole ball of wax, but there’s an inherent Shakespearean tint to Majors coach Dave Cameron and captain Casey Cizikas’ Buffalo Bill-like string of second-place finishes all in one season.
A bright side, besides much-needed energy in the building, was an increase in Cup viewership on Rogers Sportsnet.
With tiny Owen Sound, Cranbrook, B.C.-based Kootenay and a team from New Brunswick coming to a non-traditional Mississauga market, not even Branch could predict where the ratings needle would land.
But the network mustered up its biggest-name puck talent and allotted extra time to sell its property — easy to do with a backyard Cup.
And with the microscope on the GTA, a historic first Maritime champ emerged.
The junior game will grow from it. Now, the wait begins to see if it takes root where it was intended.
FIVE PLAYERS WHOSE STOCK ROSE AT THE MEMORIAL CUP
1. Jonathan Huberdeau, forward, Saint John. Tough to unseat Red Deer’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as No. 1 pick in NHL draft, but he’s clutch, he’s a winner and a Cup MVP. Just like Taylor Hall, Edmonton’s top choice last year.
2. Jordan Binnington, goalie, Owen Sound. Forget he was named the Cup’s top puckstopper. That should’ve gone to Saint John’s Jacob DeSerres. But the 17-year-old was solid all the way and deserved to start against Kootenay in the tiebreaker.
3. Stuart Percy, defence, Mississauga. Even with older blue-liners around him, Percy saw ice in big moments. He’s one of the reasons the Majors didn’t spend a ton of time in their own end at the tournament.
4. Andrew Shaw, forward, Owen Sound. One of the best Cup stories this year. Led the tournament in scoring and stepped up when Joey Hishon and captain Garrett Wilson were hurt.
5. Zack Phillips, forward, Saint John. Goal and assist in the biggest game of his life. He plays on a strong line but he’s still a guy who makes you sit up and take notice.