Friday, May 16, 2008

Memorial Cup

The Canadian Hockey League championships get underway today. This is the Memorial Cup, which is played by juniors, the best of whom are the NHLers of tomorrow. Generally, the Memorial Cup tournament consists of four teams. The champions from the Quebec Major Junior League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League and a host team, which is a good team chosen in advance of the tournament. This season, the tournament will take place in Kitchener, Ontario. That makes the Kitchener Rangers the host entrant. Kitchener is also the OHL champion, so the OHL entrant will be the league's runner up the Belleville Bulls. Here is a quick look at the four entrants:

Gatineau Olympiques This team is the surprise QMJHL champion. They finished third in their division in the regular season, but won the playoffs. The team is led by Claude Giroux, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, who was the second highest scorer in the league. Matthew Pistilli, who is undrafted, is also a significant source of offence. Their goaltending from Ryan Mior, also undrafted, is seen as a potential weakness.

Belleville Bulls Belleville might be seen as a darkhorse because they did not win their league. They are in because host Kitchener won the OHL. They were led offensively by Matt Beleskey an Anaheim draftee and Shawn Matthias, who played four games this year for the Florida Panthers. Their goaltending will be provided by undrafted Mike Murphy.

Spokane Chiefs Spokane won a hard fought victory in the WHL. Though they lack a dominant scorer, they are led by Drayson Bowman a Carolina Hurricane draftee and Mitch Wahl who is eligible for the 2008 draft. Another 2008 draft eligible player Dustin Tokarski is their goalie.

Kitchener Rangers The host team and OHL champions. This team is probably the favorite. Undrafted (because he is small) Justin Azevedo is the league's most outstanding player and top scorer in both the regular season and playoffs (an NHL team really should take a flyer on him). Azevedo is the offensive star of the Rangers. Montreal Canadien draftee Yannick Weber leads their defence. Steve Mason, a Columbus Blue Jacket draftee is their number one goalie and the most famous junior goalie today. He was injured in the OHL playoffs. Though he may be able to return in this tournament, Chicago Blackhawk draftee Josh Unice is a more than capable backup.

The round robin portion of the Memorial Cup tournament will be played this week with the playoffs played next weekend.

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