Motivation driving all players at Memorial Cup
MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
|Top prospects Max Domi and Bo Horvat. (QMI Agency)
SASKATOON - It has the fixings to be one of the most competitive and enthralling Memorial Cups in recent memory.
The fixins’ — high profile and talented players, stacked teams, several of whom have extra motivation to win, a home team that’s the wildest of wild cards and will be driven by a crowd of more than 15,000, most of whom will be cheering for the home team — all point to a classic.
The London Knights are Ontario Hockey League champions two years in a row. Many of these Knights were on the team that lost the Memorial Cup in overtime last year to Shawinigan.
Top prospects Max Domi and Bo Horvat have had to listen all year about how great the other prospects are, who are here. Now the comparison can be made under a microscope as they all compete in an intense and pressure-packed tournament.
Now there’s motivation for you.
The hosts Saskatoon Blades haven’t played in more than 50 days. Their motivation is simple enough. They struggled at times but finished with a solid record of 44-22-2-4. Then they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Last year they were eliminated in four straight in the first round.
The Blades have had to listen for months about how embarrassing a host they will be.
They’ve just about reached their boiling point and would like nothing better than to shove everyone’s comments right down their collective throats.
The Portland Winterhawks are the Knights of the Western Hockey League. They are a highly successful franchise but feel the disdain of many of the teams in their league because of that success. The Winterhawks have been called an evil empire.
The Winterhawks aren’t going to be looking for any more motivation. They have plenty.
They were hit with severe sanctions by the WHL this year for “player benefit violations.”
The WHL stripped Portland of its first five bantam picks in this year’s draft, plus their first-round picks from 2014 to 2017. It fined the team $200,000 and suspended coach and general manager Mike Johnston for the remainder of the season, including playoffs.
Portland would just love to stick it to the WHL and everyone else in its way.
Oh yeah, they also have defenceman Seth Jones, the potential No. 1 pick in this summer’s NHL draft.
The Halifax Mooseheads had it all this season and would love to cap it off with a national title. They went 16-1 in the playoffs, were the No. 1 team in the country for most of the year and without question will hear the names of several of their players announced early in the NHL draft.
The NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau ranked forward Nathan MacKinnon at No. 2 behind Jones, just ahead of teammate Jonathan Drouin.
Mooseheads’ Zach Fucale is the number one goaltending prospect in the draft.
It’s one of the reasons this Memorial Cup is going to attract a horde of scouts and NHL team management and coaches.
Like everyone else at this tournament, they expect there will be a lot to see.
“There’s going to be a lot of good hockey players here,” Horvat said. “They are all going to be wanting to win a Memorial Cup and try to raise their stock.
“There is always competition. But I played on teams with them before so we are all good friends. I’m sure it’s friendly competition.”
Not . . .
This is a tournament in which the Memorial Cup is at stake, but there’s also the probability of a jump up the draft board for whichever players show well. This isn’t restricted to just the top draft picks.
This really is a Memorial Cup that’s wide open, where anything can happen. The picture may clear up after Friday’s opener when the Knights play the Blades and everyone will get a better idea of just how ready, or not, the Blades are.
Ready or not, here comes everybody else. They are ready.
Doesn’t it all just whet your appetite?
It should because by the end of this thing, it will be a Memorial Cup to remember.
And the London Knights will be smack in the middle of it all.