For junior hockey fans in Canada — and select American markets — this is the most wonderful time of the year.
The playoffs in each league are either finished (QMJHL) or on the verge (OHL and WHL), with the Windsor Spitfires waiting in the wings for the start of the Memorial Cup in their home rink on May 19.
The QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs punched their ticket on Wednesday, beating the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada 5-1 to sweep the final round series 4-0. Mathieu Joseph of the Sea Dogs led all scorers with 32 points and defenceman Thomas Chabot was playoff MVP with 23 points.
In the OHL, the Erie Otters lead the Mississauga Steelheads 3-1 in their final round series. The Otters can wrap it up at home on Friday night. Fully six of the top 10 OHL playoff scorers are from Erie, led by Alex DeBrincat with 37 points in 21 games.
Out west, the WHL final is tied 2-2 between the Regina Pats and Seattle Thunderbirds. The series resumes Friday night in Seattle and heads back to Regina for game 6 on Sunday and game 7 on Monday, if required. Regina’s Sam Steel is the leader in playoff scoring with 29 points.
The Memorial Cup itself has seen many great performances over the years and we have 10 of them right here. Some went on to NHL stardom while others faded into anonymity.
10. Scott Niedermayer, D – Kamloops Blazers 1992
For the first time in their then short history, the Kamloops Blazers won the Memorial Cup, 5-4 against the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in Seattle, WA. It was a bittersweet victory, in that it erased the lousy memory of an 0-3 effort at the 1990 Memorial Cup but also the final appearance by all-star defenceman Scott Niedermayer. The future NHL Hall of Famer, who was also part of the disappointing 1990 Blazers, won the Stafford Smythe trophy in 1992 as the Memorial Cup MVP. Drafted third overall by New Jersey in 1991, the writing was on the wall that he probably wouldn’t be back to junior hockey. He did appear in four games with the Devils in the fall of 1991, as the big club wanted him to experience NHL hockey. But, they sent him back to Kamloops, where he was better than a point per game during the 1991-92 season and playoffs. He then potted seven points in five Mem Cup games to take home MVP honors.
9. Christian Dube, F – Hull Olympiques 1997
Dube was one of those guys who burned brightly on the junior hockey scene for a short time and then was gone. Drafted 39th overall by the New York Rangers in 1995, the high scoring Sherbrooke native actually split the 1996-97 season between the Rangers and the Hull Olympiques. He scored 37 points in 19 games for Hull and two points in 27 games with New York. In the QMJHL playoffs that year he scored 23 point in 14 games then lit up the likes of Lethbridge, Chicoutimi and Oshawa for 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in just four games. Claude Julien, who would later guide the Boston Bruins to a long awaited Stanley Cup, was coach of that Hull team that won the franchise’s lone Memorial Cup to date. Dube, for his part, took home the Stafford Smythe Trophy for MVP and the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as top scorer. After that memorable run, Dube played three playoff games for the Rangers, then six more regular season contests in 1998-99 and was gone from the NHL.
8. Frederic Deschenes, G – Granby Predateurs 1996
The hockey Gods must have been smiling on the Granby franchise in 1996 as the club won its only national championship, in its one and only visit to the Memorial Cup. To top it off, the Predateurs — previously known as the Bison — played just one more season before moving to Cape Breton in 1997. The Predateurs won the first Memorial Cup by a Quebec based team in 25 years that spring, backstopped by the brilliant goaltending of Frederic Deschenes, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick. The smallish (5’9″) Quebec City native recorded a Memorial Cup record two shutouts, whitewashing the Guelph Storm 8-0 in round robin play and then turning the trick against the host Peterborough Petes in the final, winning 4-0. He was awarded the Hap Emms trophy for outstanding goaltender. Deschenes never did play in the NHL, forging a lengthy minor league career in the AHL, ECHL and Quebec.
7. Sidney Crosby, F – Rimouski Oceanic 2005
Of all the trophies Sidney Crosby has won, there is one he doesn’t have his name on and that’s the Memorial Cup. Not that he and the Rimouski Oceanic didn’t give it a good go, however. Sid the Kid was a junior phenom with the Oceanic for two seasons and destined to be the no. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft in 2005. Before that, he scorched the “Q” for 303 points in 121 games over two seasons. In the 2005 QMJHL playoffs, the CHL player of the year scored 31 points in 13 games to help catapult the Oceanic back to the Memorial Cup for the second time in team history (they won in 2000). Playing in London, Crosby was dynamic, scoring a hat trick against Ottawa in the semi-final, part of his five goal, six assist output for the tournament. He didn’t end up scoring against the powerful host London Knights in the final, but was top scorer in the tournament.
6. Luc Robitaille, F – Hull Olympiques 1986
Only two players in the history of the Memorial Cup have ever scored eight goals in the tournament and Lucky Luc was one of them. In just five games at the 1986 event, the man who would go on to score 615 total NHL goals (playoffs and regular season) bent the twine eight times against opponents Guelph, Portland and Kamloops. Robitaille led the Pat Burns-coached Olympiques in scoring during the 1985-86 season, with 68 goals and 123 assists in 63 games. Robitaille added a thunderous 44 points in 15 playoff games before heading to Portland for the CHL championship. The Olympiques were a loaded team that year, but not even with high scoring Lucky Luc or a cast that included future longtime NHLers Benoit Brunet, Stephane Matteau, Cam Russell and even super agent Pat Brisson could they beat the Guelph Platers in the final.
5. Nathan MacKinnon, F – Halifax Mooseheads 2013
Like his homeboy Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon was another kid from Halifax looking to make his mark on the hockey world back in 2013. Already an elite scorer with Halifax, MacKinnon put himself at the front of the 2013 draft class by scoring 75 points in 44 regular season contests with the QMJHL’s Mooseheads. He then powered the Mooseheads to just their second Memorial Cup tournament (they hosted in 2000) by scoring 33 points in just 17 playoff games for the Q champion Mooseheads. This time around, the Mooseheads entered as a favorite (not as an automatic spot host) and were full value, beating WHL champion Portland in the final. MacKinnon, who was the tournament MVP, was tops in scoring with seven goals and six assists in just four games, including a hat trick in the final against the Winterhawks.
4. Danny Groulx, D – Victoriaville Tigres 2002
It’s not often that a defenceman is MVP at the Memorial Cup, but in 2002, Victoriaville’s Danny Groulx had quite a tournament and copped the honors. Groulx came by that honor honestly, too, having won the QMJHL MVP trophy in 2001-02 after scoring 112 points in 68 games. Never drafted, Groulx added a whopping 39 points in 22 playoff games for the champion Tigres. In the tournament, hosted by the Guelph Storm, the Tigres didn’t do all that well in the round robin, going 1-2 and tying host Guelph. They played a tie breaker and Victoriaville won 4-3 to go on and face OHL champion Erie. They then beat Erie 5-4 in overtime before facing Kootenay in the final. They lost 6-3 but their run was remarkable. Groulx did his level best on the backline, finishing second in tournament scoring with seven points, two behind teammate and top scorer Matthew Lombardi.
3. Mitch Marner, F – London Knights 2016
The London Knights, for the longest time, have been the class of the Ontario Hockey League and have represented the OHL at the Memorial Cup three times in the last five events. They were runners-up in 2012 to host Shawinigan, didn’t win as hosts in 2014, then won their first CHL title since 2005 last year in Red Deer. The star of the show for the Knights was 2015 first round draft pick (4th overall, Toronto), Mitch Marner. The wiry center from Markham had a heck of a season with the Knights, scoring 116 points in 57 games and then adding another 44 in just 18 playoff games. The Knights were a favorite entering the tourney and had plenty of firepower in fellow draftees Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk. London rolled through the preliminaries, with Marner scoring twice in three games and adding 11 assists. He added an assist in the final to bring his tournament leading tally to 14 points. He was named MVP and to the All-Star team for his efforts.
2. Dustin Tokarski, G – Spokane Chiefs 2008
Even more rare than a defenceman being named MVP of the Memorial Cup is for a goaltender to be so honored. Just four have won the Stafford Smythe Trophy, the last being Spokane’s Dustin Tokarski in 2008. The current Anaheim Ducks farmhand had a stellar season in the WHL with the Chiefs, winning 30 of 45 starts and recording six shutouts. He got Spokane to the tournament in Kitchener with a great playoffs, which featured three shutouts and a 1.38 goals against average in 21 games. Once at the Memorial Cup, Tokarski was brilliant, going 4-0 with a 1.72 GAA and .953 save percentage. In the final against the host Rangers, Tokarski was peppered with 54 shots, including 19 in the first period as Kitchener took a 1-0 lead. He bent, but didn’t break the rest of the game, making 35 stops over the last two periods — 25 in the third alone — as Spokane rallied to win it.
1. Jeff Larmer, F – Kitchener Rangers 1982
The Kitchener Rangers, one of the OHL’s older teams, has won two Memorial Cups, the first coming in 1982. It was just a year after they had lost to Cornwall as host in 1981 and the Rangers were looking to erase that bad taste in their mouths. Jeff Larmer, who had been through the heartache in ’81, was a leader on a very deep Kitchener team that also featured Brian Bellows, Al MacInnis and Scott Stevens. In the three-team tournament in Hull (no host teams were included pre-1983), the Rangers, Sherbrooke Castors and Portland Winter Hawks all played each other twice, everyone winning two and losing two. Kitchener and Sherbrooke met in the final, where the Rangers prevailed 7-4. Larmer was the top scorer with a Memorial Cup record 16 points (tied later by Guy Rouleau of the Hull Olympiques in 1986).