One victory enough to launch your shot at Mem Cup title

Pedestrians walk past a sign on the sidewalk directing foot traffic to the Memorial Cup Fan Fest in...

Pedestrians walk past a sign on the sidewalk directing foot traffic to the Memorial Cup Fan Fest in Jubilee Square, between Budweiser Gardens and the Covent Garden Market. (CRAIG GLOVER/QMI Agency)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:17 PM ET

LONDON, ONT. - These days, the Memorial Cup is a crapshoot.

A roll of the dice. A spin of the roulette wheel.

It’s a plastic bag in the wind.

A knuckleball.

That’s the big change from the last time the tournament was in London nine years ago. Back then, nearly everyone outside of Ottawa and Kelowna figured the Knights and Rimouski would face each other in the final.

And they did.

That was fairy tale stuff.

This is something a bit more grey.

The Cup is unpredictable. Just ask one of the eight Knights here for the third year in a row.

From the addition of a fourth club in 1983 (the host entry) until 2011, there had never been a time where every team had a win and a loss after their first two games.

That’s 29 straight Cups. Math people would call that a trend.

The last two seasons, the opposite happened.

Every team started 1-1.

Last year the Knights beat host Saskatoon twice but were hammered 9-2 by Halifax. A lot of people were ticked off at the Blades, who were swept in the first round of their playoffs. The familiar refrain was they didn’t belong.

But who was the only team to beat the eventual champion Mooseheads in a Cup game? The Saskatoon Blades, of course.

Two years ago in Shawinigan, the Knights finished first in the round-robin and went straight to the championship game. The host Cataractes, who were questioned for a month whether or not they belonged in the tourney, won their storybook Cup in overtime.

The key to the whole thing isn’t first place, the free pass to the final or an extra day of rest.

It’s simply getting that one win in your first three games. The only absolute is you can’t go 0-3 and feel good about it.

If you get one victory — and the earlier, the better to shed some jitters — you have as good a chance as anyone else.

You can win the whole thing now from the tiebreaker game. You can end up in a parade even if you sat out since the second round of your playoffs.

These aren’t seven-game series with ebbs and flow.

It’s a bunch of one-off coin flips.

Your fate could hinge on a break here or a bounce there. Bad ice, maybe. A missed call by the ref. A suspension handed out. Goaltending, more times than not.

The Quebec league was a punch line for years because of their lack of Cup success. They were considered inferior to the Ontario and Western leagues.

Right now, they’re on a three-Cup winning streak. They want to keep that run rolling.

The Knights are under a different pressure.

No one wants to wear the “three-time participant” ribbon. They want the ring.

Bo Horvat, Max Domi and the Rupert twins are proven winners. You would be crazy to suggest anything else after what they’ve done in their junior days.

But this tournament still gnaws at them. They haven’t cracked the championship code, if one even exists at this point.

Still, they’re getting one more shot because the city in which they play is a sure thing.

While some grumble about “London again?” there’s no arguing the comfort the Canadian Hockey League’s selection committee felt in going back on the merry-go-round. No one was worried about the Knights’ quality of team when the choice came down last spring. There was little concern about ticket sales, atmosphere, rink, legacy and risk (assumed by the Hunters this time).

This should be a Cup to remember again.

But it’s probably a bad time in history to consult a crystal ball.

The Knights could be first team out or last one standing again.

That’s what makes this third straight Cup appearance — and fourth in nine years — feel so new.

The excitement isn’t strictly in winning.

It’s the anticipation of what happens next.

Twitter.com/RyanatLFPress

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TV

All games broadcast live on Rogers Sportsnet

AWAY FROM THE ICE

A selected guide to musical entertainment May 16-25 in the Budweiser Beer Garden tent at the downtown London arena’s south parking lot. $5, unless otherwise indicated. No re-entry on any night. Post-game show start times depend on length of game. 19-and-up. For details on performers, visit mastercardmemorialcup.ca or call 519-681-0800, ext. 1.

Opening night: Canadian rockers The Trews sing Highway of Heroes at Game 1 of the junior hockey championship on Friday. The Trews then play the beer garden at 9:30 p.m. Also DJ Zoltan, 4:30 p.m., Metro4, 6 p.m. $10.

Brett Kissel: VIP concert by Juno-winner and Alberta country singer Brett Kissel. London’s Genevieve Fisher also on bill. May 24, doors open at 7 p.m. $25, plus applicable charges.

Gala: The fest’s opening gala goes Thursday night at the London Convention Centre, 300 York St., at 5:30 p.m.

FanFest: The Downtown London FanFest, till May 25 at Covent Garden Market Square and a closed stretch of Talbot St. from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily. It’s free.

- JAMES REANEY, QMI Agency


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