The 2005 Memorial Cup finished the same way it began, with the London Knights defeating the Rimouski Oceanic. The tournament was very competitive, but the Knights kept finding ways to win. The Oceanic could not protect the lead, the Ottawa 67s could not put together a consistent 60 minutes and the Kelowna Rockets could not buy a break. With the NHL locked out this tournament had unprecedented coverage and the four teams put on a good show. The Cup set TV ratings records all week across Canada and with 250 media credentials, all angles of the event were covered. Sidney Crosby of the Oceanic was the marquee name in the tournament and the most talked about junior player in a decade delivered, leading the tournament in scoring with six goals and five assists in five games giving the fans a firsthand look at why he will be the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
There were a total of 29 drafted players playing in the tournament and of those 29, there were four first round picks and six second round picks, so there was no shortage of quality players on hand. Edmonton and Tampa Bay led the way with four prospects each in the tournament. In addition to Crosby, there were at least four players who will be taken in the 2005 draft and forward Jamie McGinn of the 67s showed why he is a good candidate to be a first round pick in the 2006 draft. Arron Alphonso of the 67s is not eligible until the 2007 draft and the rookie will be one of the tougher players in the OHL by that time.
Opening night saw the hometown Knights jump into an early lead when >Marc Methot (CLB) picked off the first of many weak clearing attempts by the Rimouski defense and he ripped a bad angle goal by Cedrick Desjardins. The Oceanic roared back to score three goals on only five shots on Adam Dennis and the Oceanic headed to the dressing room after one period with a two-goal lead despite being thoroughly outplayed. The Knights kept Dennis in net to start the second and he would not allow another goal that night . The Knights kept chipping away and tied the game in the third period and won in overtime on another goal by Methot who jumped into the rush to score the game winner on a two-on-one break. The Knights went 0 for 7 on the power play while the Oceanic were 2 for 4. When asked about the Knights struggles with the power play of late Captain Danny Syvret said, “I think we have to get the ugly goals; we are always looking for the pretty ones that are going to be the highlight of the night all the time, especially on this stage. Obviously the teams that come here have special teams as well. I think we just have to crash and bang the net and throw pucks at it and try to get some ugly ones.”
The goal of the night saw Crosby dance down the right wing boards and fight off two attempts by Methot to knock him off the puck. He swept towards the back of the net another Knight came in to hit him but Crosby whipped a pass on his backhand out into the high slot where a wide open Marc-Antoine Pouliot (EDM) was there and he made no mistake in firing a shot high into the top of the net.
Game 2 saw the JLC much quieter than it was for the opener as the Ottawa 67s faced the defending champions the Kelowna Rockets. It was a rough first period but the Rockets got onto the scoreboard first when an unmarked Troy Bodie (EDM) banged home a goal from the top of the crease on the power play. The second period saw the Rockets dominate the 67s but they only managed to carry a 2-1 lead to the dressing room as goalie Danny Battochio was amazed. He made a show-stopping glove save on Blake Comeau (NYI).
In the third period the 67s drew a lucky break when one of the Rockets kicked the puck into their own net in a goalmouth scramble and for the second day in a row it was on to overtime. This one would go into double overtime and the 67s had a chance to put it away when they had a rare five-on-three advantage in the second overtime but they failed to capitalize. Shortly after the Rockets killed that off, Comeau was caught for a high sticking infraction and Staubitz made up for some of his earlier mistakes and blasted home the winner from the high slot, ending the longest game in Memorial Cup history. The Rockets were one for seven on the power play, while the 67s were one for eight and the Rockets outshot the winners 64 to 47, a game in which the Rockets should have easily won if not for the stellar goaltending of Battochio.
A dejected Bodie was asked after the game about all the chances that slipped away, especially in the second period and he replied, “Yeah absolutely, that is a big thing for us burying our chances and we didn’t do that. He is a smallish goalie and we had to get it up on him and it seemed like we shot it along the ice every time we had a chance. We just got to bury our chances and we should be successful.”
Game 3 saw a tired and dejected Rockets team get off to a great start against the Knights and for the second time in the tournament Bodie scored the opening goal, blowing by Knights defenseman Bryan Rodney to tuck in a goal. At one point in the first period the shots were 8-0 in favor of the Rockets, but from that point on the Knights depth and fresh legs took over and they rode two goal performances by Corey Perry (ANA) and Drew Larman to a 4-2 victory and put the defending champs behind the 8-ball who were now 0 and 2 and on the verge of going home early. The Knights power play sputtered yet again, going 1 for 7 and they gave up a short handed goal on a miscue by Rodney, while the Rockets were 0 for 4.
Game 4 saw the Rimouski Oceanic defeat the Ottawa 67s 4-3. The Oceanic almost blew a two-goal lead in the third period and this time it was the play of Desjardins who kept them in the game in that period. Rimouski tends to go with units of five, similar to the Russian style of hockey, and their big unit scored all the goals again on this night. Diminutive defenseman Patrick Coulombe picked up three assists in this game and paired with Mario Scalzo Jr. the two offensive minded defensemen created some magic with the Crosby, Pouliot, Dany Roussin (FLA) line.
Game 5 had all kinds of mathematical possibilities for tiebreakers in the standings if the Rockets were to win. They had to win or go home. For the first time in the tournament someone not on the big five scored a goal for the Oceanic when Zbynek Hrdel (TB) banged home a rebound on a four on four situation. The Rockets tied it up early in the second before Crosby scored making a great play on a two-on-two rush. Roussin drove wide and all-star defenseman Shea Weber (NAS) was with Crosby. Crosby knew Weber was focused right on him and waited until the last second to twist his body to grab the feed and create some distance between his stick and Weber’s and he fired home the puck to put the Oceanic up 2-1.
Later that period, the Rockets were all over the Oceanic on a power play, when a clearing attempt bounced off the skate of a Rockets forward right to Jean-Sebastien Cote who went up on a one-on-one play until Scalzo Jr. jumped into the play blowing by a number of Rockets who were watching the play and he got the puck from Cote and scored a shorthanded goal. A few minutes later Jean-Michel Bolduc (MIN) fired home a power play goal that appeared to salt the game away. But the defending champions came out in the third period and showed their stuff and a pair of quick goals by Comeau put the game very much in doubt. Moments after making it 4-3, Comeau had a clear cut breakaway but when he went to shoot the puck, it rolled on him and he ended up chipping it high and wide of the net. Desjardins would shut the door from that point on and made a number of great saves as his defense crumbled in front of him and the Rockets came on with desperation but came up short and went home early with an 0 and 3 record. The Rockets hit a crossbar and goal post in the Rimouski game and toss in the bad breaks on the Comeau breakaway and the Scalzo short handed goal, it seemed that nothing went the way of the Rockets this year, as they could have very easily had two wins in the round robin if they just had a break here or there.
Day 6 was the end of the round robin and the Ottawa 67s had the opportunity to gain a bye directly to the final if they could beat the Knights by two goals. Gerald Coleman had his first start in the Knights net, as he was the goalie who had won the last three games against the 67s in the league final. Once again the Knights got off to a slow start and the 67s scored the first goal when a rebound hit CHL defenseman of the year Syvret in the leg and bounced into the Knights net. The Knights tied it up shortly after on a wrist shot by Daniel Girardi that Battochio probably should have had. London banged home three goals in the second period and the teams exchanged third period goals as London won 5-2 and advanced directly to the final. For the Knights another big positive from the win was their power play, which went three for six and showed some of the puck movement that made it so dreaded for most of the year. The goal of the night saw Syvret and Dave Bolland (CHI) whip the puck back and forth across the ice before Bolland unleashed a hard shot that Battochio couldn’t control and Danny Fritsche (CLB) was there to bang in an easy rebound behind a very confused 67s defense.
The semi-final game saw Crosby break out for a hat trick and he added two assists as the Oceanic rolled to a 7-4 win. The game was tight at times and the 67s had just made it 4-3 in the third and had some momentum when they were handed a penalty on a play that appeared that they were going to go on the power play, or at worst, play four-on-four, but the Oceanic wasted no time scoring a power play goal to end the comeback. The big five had 18 of the 20 points that night for the Oceanic and their power play was 3 for 5.
The final game lacked the drama of the opening match between the Knights and the Oceanic as the Knights scored an early goal on a two-man advantage on a bad angle shot by Fritsche. It was another bad goal let in by Desjardins who had been brilliant at times earlier in the week. Rodney would score later in the period on a fat rebound off of a Rob Schremp (EDM) shot after a great flip pass by Syvret gave Fritsche an opportunity to beat a slow Bolduc to the puck and Fritsche took the hit and fed Schremp. Bolland scored a power play goal early in the second and the Knights would score once more in the third when Schremp blew one by Desjardins who was yanked after that. Crosby couldn’t get going as he faced relentless checking from Dylan Hunter (BUF), Brandon Prust (CAL) and Trevor Kell (CHI) and usually Methot and Girardi on defense. With the Oceanic’s big line stalled, the other two lines couldn’t chip in with any offense and the Knights capped their impressive season in style with a 4-0 victory in the Memorial Cup final.
Perry was named the MVP of the tournament finishing with seven points in four games and was +4. Crosby and Fritsche who had six points and played a gutsy and physical tournament joined him on the all-star team. Syvret had five points and was +6 was named to the team on defense, just one more accomplishment for the brilliant defender in a dream season. Scalzo with nine points and +8 joined him, while Dennis was named the top goalie and was on the all-star team in net.
The Knights finished the season with 79 wins, 9 losses and 2 ties for an amazing winning percentage of .889. Factor in that two of the losses occurred when Perry, Syvret and Schremp were away at the World Junior tournament (two more occurred in the last two games of the regular season when the Knight rested many of their key players on a mini road trip), this team was all but invincible with a full lineup.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.