2005 Memorial Cup preview

By Jason Ahrens

The 2005 Memorial Cup kicks off in London, Ontario on May 21 and ends on May 29. The four-team tournament is hosted by the OHL champions, the London Knights, led by the OHL scoring champ, player of the year and playoff MVP Corey Perry (ANA). Also representing the OHL are the finalists from the OHL playoffs, the Ottawa 67s led by power forward Mark Mancari (BUF). The Rimouski Oceanic represent the QMJHL, lead by top ranked prospect for the 2005 NHL draft, Sidney Crosby. The defending Memorial Cup champions and 2005 WHL champions, the Kelowna Rockets are back for their third straight appearance and feature hard-hitting defenseman Shea Weber (NAS).

It promises to be one of the most watched Memorial Cups in the history of the event as hockey fans across Canada will tune into watch in record numbers as they have been deprived of NHL hockey all year. Crosby has been the most talked about NHL prospect in years and fans all want to see him in what most people feel will be the end of his junior career. The Oceanic have lost only one game in 2005, a 5-0 defeat in game four of the semi-finals in the playoffs, a loss that broke their 35-game undefeated streak that consisted of regular season and playoff games. Their offense has been all but unstoppable in league play, but they will probably find it a lot tougher to run and gun against a Knights team that shattered its own record for fewest goals against in the regular season and a stingy Rockets team that will make life very difficult for opposing teams.

The Knights set many OHL records and CHL records this season including an undefeated streak of 31 games to start the season in which they won 29 games and tied two. The first game that they lost occurred when they had three players away at the World Junior Championships.

The Kelowna Rockets enter the tournament with very little fanfare despite their impressive resume. They don’t have the guns that the other teams have, but their defense is among the best and they have loads of experience in this tournament, with eight players playing in their third tournament and six more back for their second.

The Ottawa 67s went 13-8 in the OHL playoffs and gave London a scare at the start of the OHL final. They throw three balanced lines at a team and spot their fourth line depending on the flow of the game. This is a team that scored the third most goals in the OHL regular season, so their offense is potent.

London and Rimouski square off on opening night on May 21. This game is the talk of the town and many people think that it could be a preview of the tournament final. The line matching will be interesting — will the two best offensive players in the CHL play head to head or will they face a checking line? Both teams have a potent power play so the special teams battle will be an important component in the game. Psychologically, the loser will be caught in a game of scoreboard watching until they play again. In this short round robin tournament, finishing first is critical, as the first place finisher gets a bye to the final, and historically, that team usually wins the tournament.

Ottawa and Kelowna square off on Sunday afternoon and these two teams will go on with their business without the hype surrounding the other two teams. It will be an opportunity for one of the teams to move into a first place tie with whoever wins the night before, and for the loser, it might be a tough crawl out of the basement the rest of the way.

Monday night sees Kelowna get their crack at London, and this game features two of the best team defenses in the CHL. That should make for a low-scoring game and it will be interesting to see two former teammates on Team Canada battle it out in Weber and Perry, as the Rockets will undoubtedly have Weber on the ice whenever Perry is out there.

Tuesday sees Rimouski face Ottawa and this could shape up into the highest scoring games of the tournament. Ottawa doesn’t have a traditional checking line and their defense can be suspect at times, so there is potential for fireworks if the Crosby line can freewheel.

Wednesday has Rimouski back on the ice again to face Kelowna in the last game of the round robin for both teams and one that will likely have a lot at stake as far as position jockeying goes. It will be an interesting battle between the high flying Oceanic and the grind it out Rockets.

Thursday is the final day of the round robin, and London faces Ottawa for the first time since defeating them in five games in the OHL final.

Friday is an off day unless there is a tie for third place, in which case, the two teams with the lowest records will battle it out in a one-game showdown to see who moves on to the semi-final.

Saturday night features the semi-final game between the second and third place teams. The winner will move on to the final on Sunday afternoon with the first place finisher.

The Oceanic have the most explosive line in the CHL led by Crosby who had 168 points in the regular season and 31 in 13 playoff games. Crosby has two great wingers in Marc-Antoine Pouliot (EDM) who had 114 regular season points and 19 in the playoffs and Dany Roussin (FLA) who had 116 regular season points and 20 more in the playoffs. As a unit, those three are virtually unstoppable with the man advantage. However, they can be exposed at even strength because of their offense-first demeanor. If the opposition can stay out of the box, this line can be neutralized or victimized in 5-on-5 situations. Pouliot provides a physical presence on the line as well as chip in offensively while Roussin takes most of the key faceoffs.

Crosby is a hard competitor who wants the puck and wants to win. He is one of the best skaters in the league and can carry the puck at full speed and when that is combined with his great on ice vision and superior passing abilities, Pouliot and Roussin just have to find some seams in order to create some good scoring chances. This line is used usually between 25-35 minutes a game. This line will see a lot of the top tandems on the other teams and look for them to try to play as physical as possible with this unit in the hopes of getting them off their game.

The second line features Mark Tobin (TB), Danny Stewart (MTL) and Zbynek Hrdel (TB). They had 50, 52, and 58 regular season points respectively and 9, 14, and 15 playoff points. Tobin has been described as a wrecking ball, hitting everything in sight and hitting them hard. He is a tireless worker and a big catalyst for Rimouski success. Standing in at 6’3 and 211 pounds he will give opposing defensemen a lot to worry about and with the top defenders likely matched up against the first line, it will be the job of the second line to create some momentum and chip in with some key goals. Hrdel at 6’4 and 197 pounds also brings size to this line.

Eric Neilson (LA) is the only drafted player on the third line and the 6’2 209-pound winger will play a physical game and act as a policeman for the offensive players on the team. Neilson led the team in regular season penalty minutes with 157. Francis Charette and Jean-Sebastien Cote round out the third line. The fourth line of the Oceanic will not be used much if at all in this tournament.

Defensively, overager Mario Scalzo Jr leads the Oceanic. Scalzo controls the power play, knows exactly when to pinch, and makes some huge defensive plays. He was a big addition to the team when they acquired him from Victoriaville and had 21 points in the playoffs and could have been named the MVP of the team in the playoffs based on his strong play.

Michal Sersen (PGH) is a physical defender at 6’2 and 190 pounds. Jean-Michel Bolduc (MIN) is another big defender at 6’4 and 203 pounds. Diminutive Patrick Coulombe rounds out the top four and with 19 playoff points, his offensive abilities have made up for his lack of size as he is only 5’9 and 163 pounds.

Cedrick Desjardins is the No. 1 goalie for the Oceanic and isn’t over flashy, but is steady and does a good job of corralling his rebounds. He is the only goalie entering the tournament without any controversy surrounding him. The Knights have played musical goalies all season and still have not decided on who will play for them. Danny Battochio had a great postseason run for Ottawa but was victimized for 15 goals in his last three games against London. These games were the only ones that he played without an overdrive blade on his skate that gave him extra mobility when in the butterfly position. The league ordered him to remove it after a complaint by the Knights. The Rockets are forced to go with rookie Kristofer Westblom who was thrust into action when No. 1 goalie Derek Yeomans was injured in the first game of the WHL final.

As a team, the Oceanic play an up-tempo offensive style of game and their run and gun style has gotten them here, but it will be interesting to see how successful they are with it as the tournament progresses. They gave up some big leads during the playoffs and they will have to be tighter defensively over the next week. They are not very good at face-offs and that could hurt them against London or Kelowna. Their power play is fantastic, but they are up against three teams that can kill penalties very well. Ottawa held London to a 16 percent success rate in the league finals, a far cry from London’s usual success rate, around the 30 percent mark.

Rimouski playing London in the first game of the tournament is the hottest ticket of the round robin and features two teams that dominated their respective leagues. If the Oceanic lose, they have to sit and watch two more games before they get back on the ice and play Ottawa on Tuesday and Kelowna on Wednesday.

The Oceanic were the worst team in the QMJHL two seasons ago, that distinction enabled them to get Crosby and they have surrounded him with a veteran cast. With most of their key players graduating, the time is now for them. It is highly unlikely that Crosby will return next year, he has already torn up the league and he has made it no secret that he will be pursuing other options instead of returning to junior hockey.

The Kelowna Rockets enter this tournament with a big question mark in net, rookie goalie Kristofer Westblom has been thrust into the spotlight when starting goalie Derek Yeomans was injured in the first game of the WHL final. It is doubtful that Yeomans will be able to play in the tournament and the Rockets have received approval to use Mike Wall of the Everitt Silvertips as an emergency injury replacement only backup for Westblom. So if he has a shaky night, he will be left in the net, as Wall will not be able to come in for him. The key for Westblom will be to stop the first shot and control his rebounds as the Rockets give up few chances on the rush and even fewer second shots. He won three games in the WHL final against a pretty strong Brandon team that lead the WHL in scoring so the Rockets may not miss a beat in the tournament.

The Rockets went 16 and 8 in the playoffs after posting 104 points in the regular season and allowing the second fewest goals in the league. They knocked the Vancouver Giants and Gilbert Brule in the first round. Brule could be one of the top five picks in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

Shea Weber (NAS) is the cornerstone of the Rockets defense corps and he is one of the best defensemen in his own end in the WHL and has a Scott Stevens type edge to his game. He is a very gritty player with good size at 6’3 and 208 pounds and is quick on his skates and will make it very tough for opposing forwards to get to the quality scoring areas on the ice. Weber picked up 17 points in the 18 playoff games that he played so he can hurt you on the offensive end of the ice as well. Weber spent a month with Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry (ANA) on Team Canada at the World Junior tournament and it will be his job to contain the two best forwards in the CHL. Weber has already knocked off the WHL player of the year, Eric Fehr (WAS) in the WHL finals, holding the big forward from Brandon to only four points in five games. Now the question is can he do the same against the OHL and QMJHL players of the year.

Mike Card (BUF) is another very important defenseman for the Rockets, given the abilities of the other three teams to throw multiple scoring threats on the ice, someone has to spell off Weber and shut the other lines down and Card will be anchoring the second set of defenseman.

Offensively, this team lives and dies on the shoulders of second-year forward Justin Keller (TB). Keller led the team in post season scoring with 12 goals and 22 points in 23 games and he led the team in goals in the regular season with 31. Keller is 5’11 and 185 pounds and is very creative offensively.

Blake Comeau (NYI) had 24 regular season goals to tie for second on the team and he had 18 playoff points.

The Rockets will rely on their defense to win games for them and they will try to play a conservative dump and chase game while trying to frustrate their highflying opponents. They have two scoring lines, albeit without the gunners that the other three teams bring.

The Ottawa 67s enter this tournament as definite underdogs but teams should pay close attention to them at game time. While the most mentioned 67 is Hall of Fame member head coach Brian Kilrea, they have a number of good pro prospects up front in Lukas Kaspar (SJ), Mark Mancari (BUF), Bryan Bickell (CHI), and Jakub Petruzalek (NYR). Overage free agents Brad Bonello and Jeremy Akeson chip in with some offense as do 19-year-old free agents Julian Talbot and Chris Hulit. Rookie Jamie McGinn (2006 draft eligible) was playing on the top two lines before he was injured in the second game of the OHL final, and if he isn’t able to go Jamie VanderVeeken will replace him. This is a team that had seven different 20 goal scorers in the regular season led by Mancari with 36. Mancari had 14 playoff goals and tended to score in bunches, so if he gets a goal early, watch for more.

Mancari and Bickell give the team two big forwards with good shots and skating ability who can hurt you on the right and left sides respectively. On the power play, these two can be found in front of the net creating havoc and screens and with their good hands; they can cash in their share of rebounds that are left around.

Petruzalek is probably the fastest skater on the team and if the defense is caught napping he will be by them in a flash. He and Kaspar have good chemistry on the ice, especially on the power play when Kaspar drops back to the left point and loves to move the puck around. Akeson rounds out this line that was victimized by London in the later stages of the OHL final as they were a bit lax on their defensive coverage.

Brad Staubitz is the key defender for the 67s. He will need to see his minutes increased if they are to be successful as long as his play doesn’t drop off because of the extra time. He will be the one asked to shut down the big guns of the opposing teams and he has the ability to make life difficult for them. He is also on the first power play unit and does a good job at getting his shot through to the net on a simple but effective Ottawa power play. They get the puck back to the defensemen; the forwards crash the net and look for tips and rebounds. Staubitz is usually paired with the feisty Elgin Reid who loves to get under the skin of opposing forwards and plays with an edge.

Will Colbert (OTT) and Derek Joslin form the second pair of defense and will be looking to rebound from a poor OHL final. The third pair will consist of Nick Van Herpt and either Brodie Beard or David Jarram.

Danny Battochio will be getting the call in net and the hero of the post-season run of the 67s is a butterfly goalie who is capable of making some big saves. He doesn’t get of his net very well on hard dump ins, but on soft ones he loves to come out and move the puck up the weak side of the ice if the opposing team is changing.

The 67s are a team that has three balanced lines that can hurt you, very good special teams, and a top end defender in Staubitz. On the negative side they are not very good on faceoffs, their defense coughs up the puck a lot under pressure, and some of their forwards mailed in the OHL final in the later stages of the series. If Battochio can regain some of his luster from his earlier playoff success, if Staubitz can play over 30 minutes of effective hockey a night, and if Mancari can keep lighting it up, this is a team that could be a surprise.

The London Knights are looking to cap off a dream season by winning the Memorial Cup on home ice. All year the team talked about going through the front door to the cup by being the OHL champions instead of just being the host and they delivered. This is a team that narrowly missed out on going to the 2004 Memorial Cup as they were defeated in the seventh game of the OHL Conference Finals to the Guelph Storm, who then went on to win the OHL final in a four-game sweep. This season the Knights led the OHL in goals and in goals against. They have the OHL coach of the year in Dale Hunter, the player of the year and scoring champion in Corey Perry (ANA) and the defenseman of the year in Danny Syvret. Dylan Hunter (BUF) finished second in scoring and joined Syvret and Perry as first team all stars. Gerald Coleman (TB) lost only two games in the regular season and led the league in goals against average and was named a third team all-star. Dave Bolland (CHI) and Rob Schremp (EDM) put up all-star caliber numbers but the two 18-year-olds were overlooked.

Dan Fritsche (CLB) was added at the trade deadline and if hadn’t missed the first half of the season with injuries and the World Junior tournament, he would have received a lot of consideration for the all-star teams. Toss in speedy and gritty checkers Brandon Prust (CAL) and Trevor Kell (CHI) and this is a team that has plenty of firepower, grit and defensive savvy up front. The Knights have a trio of forwards eligible for the 2005 NHL Draft in speedy Rob Drummond, feisty Jordan Foreman and one of the future OHL heavyweights Josh Beaulieu. Free agent defensive specialist Drew Larman and tough guy Kelly Thomson round out their top 12 forwards.

Coach Hunter likes to tinker with his lines but some of his main combinations are Perry, Hunter, and Beaulieu, an all-American line of Schremp, Larman and Fritsche, a checking line of Bolland, Prust, and Kell, and the energy line of Drummond, Thomson, and Foreman. London may well have the strongest fourth line in the tournament and some of the other teams may not use their fourth lines as much as London will and if teams are in a three-line mode, Hunter will probably use his fourth line to sub in for different guys on the top three lines.

Prust will likely draw the assignment of covering Crosby when the Knights face Rimouski, and he will make Crosby work hard to find open ice. The key will be for Prust to toe the line of harassing him without drawing penalties.

The defense corps relies heavily on four members, Syvret, Marc Methot (CLB), and overagers Bryan Rodney and Daniel Girardi. These four guys do not make many mistakes and are very good at making the safe play and chipping the puck off the glass or icing it when they are in trouble. Rodney is a bit of a gambler and will occasionally get burned, but he can also create a lot of offensive chances. Rookie Steve Ferry fills in for a few shifts in the fifth spot and the 16-year-old has drawn a lot of comparisons to Syvret. Frank Rediker (BOS) has been working very hard to be able to return for this tournament after suffering a knee injury back in the autumn, but the Knights are keeping pretty tight lipped on whether he will be able to dress and after being out of action so long, he will be used sparingly even if he did return.

The Knights have the unique situation of two No. 1 goalies and both Coleman and free agent Adam Dennis could see action in this tournament. It appeared that Dennis had the starting job after a stellar performance against Kitchener in the third round, but he faltered a bit against Ottawa in the second and third game of the OHL final and may be nursing a tweaked groin. Coleman finished off the series against Ottawa but that doesn’t mean that he will be the starter. Dennis played for Guelph in the tournament last year, but went 0-3.

The Knights have home ice advantage, a deep team that is able to adapt to many styles of play, and very good special teams. Their power play has tossed a few goose eggs during the playoffs and has given up way too many shorthanded goals and chances, they have been burned a lot when they use four forwards, but in a short tournament like this, their special teams could get very hot and lead them to victory.

Aaron Vickers and Phil Laugher contributed to this article. Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.