The finale of the 2017-18 major junior season kicks off on Friday with the beginning of the Memorial Cup tournament. Each year, the champions of the three CHL leagues—the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL—and a rotating host team face off in a round-robin tournament with the championship being held on Sunday, May 27. This year’s tourney takes place in Regina, Saskatchewan and features the host Regina Pats of the WHL, the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs, the QMJHL champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan, and the WHL champion Swift Current Broncos. Below is a summary of each of the contending squads to help prepare for the upcoming games:
Regina Pats (40-25-7)
The host Pats are not quite on the level of the other three teams, as per usual, but that doesn’t mean they can’t string together enough wins to steal the Memorial Cup away. The Pats finished third in the WHL’s East Division, although their 87 point were good enough for seventh in the league. The team is well acquainted with another Memorial Cup competitor, the Swift Current Broncos, as they finished just behind the eventual champs in the division and fell to them in the first round of the WHL playoffs in seven games. If not for that match-up, Regina had the talent to advance further in the postseason.
The team finished fifth in the league in goals against behind a stout defense featuring three highly regarded NHL prospects: Libor Hajek (NYR), Cale Fleury (MTL), and Josh Mahura (ANA). The offense is led by another standout Ducks prospect, first-rounder Sam Steel (ANA), and has scoring depth in the form of Jake Leschyshyn (VGK), Matthew Bradley (MTL), and draft-eligible Emil Oskanen. The hosts will be far from a pushover in this tournament.
Swift Current Broncos (48-17-7)
The Broncos have the benefit of staying nearby in Saskatchewan and facing a team that they handled all year long in Regina. The team is also on a bit of a hot streak having beaten two division champs, the Moose Jaw Warriors and the Everett Silvertips, en route to their WHL title. Swift Current is a well-rounded squad who finished second in goals against and third in goals for this season. Star center Glen Gawdin (CGY) contributed to both of those marks with both an outstanding 125 points and checking game that earned him over 100 penalty minutes and a +61 rating. Gawdin and partner-in-crime Aleksi Heponiemi (FLA) finished second and third respectively in WHL scoring and form a formidable duo on the team’s top line.
Offensive defenseman Colby Sissons (NJD) and his under-rated pair mate Artyom Minulin are a force themselves on the blue line. However, the key to the Broncos success in the tournament will lie with goaltender Stuart Skinner (EDM). Skinner’s play was incredible in the postseason, as he posted a .932 save percentage and 2.20 GAA in 26 starts. If that level of play continues, Swift Current will be hard to beat.
Hamilton Bulldogs (43-18-7)
The OHL champs were also East Division regular season champs and held the third-best record in the league. They were also third-best in goals against and fifth-best in goals for. Hamilton took their game to the next level in the playoffs though, dropping just five games in four series, including taking down arguably the best team in junior hockey this year, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, in a six-game final series.
The Bulldogs are led by a forward corps that is unrivaled in depth in this tournament: Robert Thomas (STL), Matthew Strome (PHI), Will Bitten (MTL), MacKenzie Entwhistle (ARI), and overage phenom Brandon Saigeon. The only question is whether or not Hamilton has the difference-makers elsewhere in their lineup to keep up in the tournament.
Acadie-Bathurst Titan (43-15-10)
The Titan finished with the second best record and goal differential in the QMJHL and with the Maritimes Division title, but were clearly the best team in the league come playoff time, when they completed two sweeps and lost only four games on their way to a relatively easy championship. Keeper Evan Fitzpatrick (STL) was the star of the show in the postseason, continuing his strong play from the regular season. Forward Antoine Morand (ANA) and potential top-ten pick defenseman Noah Dobson led their respective units, but watch out for Flyers first-rounder German Rubtsov (PHI) to be the key to the Titan’s success in the tournament.