Stars are shining at Memorial Cup

Portland opens tournament against Halifax

By Paul Danzer, Columbian Soccer, hockey and Community Sports Reporter

Published:

 

Teams/format: The champions of the three Canadian Hockey League junior leagues -- Portland, Halifax Mooseheads and London Knights -- are joined by the host Saskatoon Blades. Each team plays the other three in a round-robin phase. The team with the best record advances to the championship game, with the next two best teams playing a semifinal.

History: Donated to the Ontario Hockey Association in 1919 in memory of Canadian soldiers who died in World War I, the Memorial Cup will be awarded for the 95th time to the champion of top-flight junior hockey in Canada. In 2010, the cup was re-dedicated in memory of all fallen Canadian military personnel.

Portland and the Cup: In 1983, Portland was the first city outside of Canada to host the tournament, and the first non-Canadian club to win the trophy. This is the Winterhawks fifth appearance in the tournament -- three as WHL champions and two as host team. Portland won the tournament in its most recent appearance, in 1998 when Spokane was the host.

Hometown Hawk: Portland's Taylor Leier is a Saskatoon native. "Not the home cooking part, but just playing at home in the Memorial Cup. That just made me want to win (the WHL championship) that much more," Leier said.

How to watch: Comcast SportsNet NW (cable channel 37/737) will carry all Winterhawks games live. There are viewing parties during each Portland game at several locations. All-ages venues in and near Vancouver are: The Rock Pizza and Spirits in the Grand Central shopping center, 2420 Columbia House Boulevard; and Kenton Station, 8303 N. Denver Ave., in Portland. The NHL Network is airing next-day replays of all Memorial Cup games and will carry the May 26 championship game live.

Teams/format: The champions of the three Canadian Hockey League junior leagues — Portland, Halifax Mooseheads and London Knights — are joined by the host Saskatoon Blades. Each team plays the other three in a round-robin phase. The team with the best record advances to the championship game, with the next two best teams playing a semifinal.

History: Donated to the Ontario Hockey Association in 1919 in memory of Canadian soldiers who died in World War I, the Memorial Cup will be awarded for the 95th time to the champion of top-flight junior hockey in Canada. In 2010, the cup was re-dedicated in memory of all fallen Canadian military personnel.

Portland and the Cup: In 1983, Portland was the first city outside of Canada to host the tournament, and the first non-Canadian club to win the trophy. This is the Winterhawks fifth appearance in the tournament — three as WHL champions and two as host team. Portland won the tournament in its most recent appearance, in 1998 when Spokane was the host.

Hometown Hawk: Portland’s Taylor Leier is a Saskatoon native. “Not the home cooking part, but just playing at home in the Memorial Cup. That just made me want to win (the WHL championship) that much more,” Leier said.

How to watch: Comcast SportsNet NW (cable channel 37/737) will carry all Winterhawks games live. There are viewing parties during each Portland game at several locations. All-ages venues in and near Vancouver are: The Rock Pizza and Spirits in the Grand Central shopping center, 2420 Columbia House Boulevard; and Kenton Station, 8303 N. Denver Ave., in Portland. The NHL Network is airing next-day replays of all Memorial Cup games and will carry the May 26 championship game live.

With the projected top three picks in June’s National Hockey League draft on the ice, the Portland Winterhawks’ first game at the Memorial Cup tournament won’t lack for star power.

Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones, and Halifax Mooseheads forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin and were rated 1-2-3 in the final NHL Central Scouting report of the season.

“It’s a little bit bigger than just us three,” Jones said. “But it’s awesome to play against the top players in the world at this age group, to see what they have and to show them what you have and to compete against each other is obviously pretty cool.”

Saturday’s 4 p.m. game will be the first for both clubs at the tournament in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The host Blades took on the London Knights on Friday to begin the 10-day run to determine the champion major junior hockey in North America.

The Portland Winterhawks put up plenty of impressive numbers on the way to the Western Hockey League regular-season and playoff championships.

But the Mooseheads, the top-rated team in the final Canadian Hockey League rankings, were even more dominant on their way to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title.

In the playoffs, the Mooseheads were 16-1 and outscored their opponents 90-36. That followed a regular season where they won 58 of 68 games.

“I think they play a lot like us,” acting Winterhawks coach Travis Green said. “They have a lot of speed, they’ve got some really high-end talent up front, they’ll make a lot of plays off the rush and they’re committed to their team game.”

Drouin, a left winger, had 12 goals and 23 assists in 17 playoff games. MacKinnon, a center, had 11 goals and 22 assists. Czech 19-year-old right winger Martin Frk, a second-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings last summer, added 13 goals and 20 assists.

“They’re great players,” said Jones, who played against all three this winter at the World Juniors, where he helped the United States to the championship. “They’re definitely tough to contain. They’re all quick, shifty, can make plays. You’ve definitely got to take away time and space as much as you can.”

The Memorial Cup dates to 1919, but for Jones — who one year ago chose to play for the Winterhawks instead of playing college hockey — this is new territory.

“I knew that it’s a tough tournament to get to. I didn’t know much about it before I came (to Portland),” Jones said. “It’s a very special thing. A lot of great players have played in the tournament.”

Winterhawks forward Ty Rattie, who owns the Western Hockey League career record for playoff goals with 50 after scoring 20 in 21 playoff games this season, said the Memorial Cup tournament has always been prominent in his life.

“It was a big deal, especially in my home town,” the Airdrie, Alberta native said. “Mem Cup, it was a far-off dream and now I’m getting to play in it.”

Now, the focus is on winning it.

“It’s high paced, it’s exciting hockey,” 20-year-old Winterhawk Taylor Peters said. “It’s intense because everybody knows that each shift means even more now than they did in playoffs.

“These are probably the best junior teams in  the entire world, and you’ve got to play the best hockey you’ve played in your entire career.”

The round-robin format is similar to international tournaments such as the World Juniors. Each team plays the other three once to sort out the semifinalists and qualify one team directly for the May 26 championship game.

“There are a lot of similarities,” Rattie said. “The best of the best are going to be there, and if you take a game off you might not be in it anymore. So we’re going there for four solid games. We’re going to give every period our best, and hopefully it all works out and we’ll be back (in Portland) with another big trophy.”

Note

• Nikita Zadorov scored on a power play with 5:45 remaining as the London Knights won the Memorial Cup opener over the host Saskatoon Blades 3-2 on Friday.