It doesn’t happen as often as you would think. Just ask the good folks in Quebec City how different they think the event would have been like a year ago if Connor McDavid and his Erie Otters found a way to beat the eventual champion Oshawa Generals in the OHL final.
But this year is special. Red Deer, holding Alberta’s first Cup in 42 years, lucked out. The best player is here. London’s Mitch Marner, whose every move is dissected and discussed by obsessive Maple Leafs fans, is the top teen-aged junior player in the country.
Marner’s regular-season numbers the past two years have been amazing – 44 points in 18 playoff games this spring is something for the record books. He also happens to play on the best forward line in the junior game, alongside Arizona property Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk, a perfect blend of grit-and-skill.
But that’s not all. You won’t only get to witness the top skater and elite line at this moment. You will also get to see the best of what’s to come. Brandon’s Nolan Patrick is the kid every big-league scout will be lining up to watch next fall.
The 17-year-old from Winnipeg, with hockey blood in his veins, was the Western Hockey League playoff MVP in the Wheat Kings’ championship run. He also racked up over 100 points during the regular season. He’s not eligible for the NHL draft until next year.
It’s a reminder of what happened at the Cup in Rimouski in 2009. Many locals were a tad displeased that Windsor made history by roaring back from an 0-2 start to win it all, but they raved about Spitfires star forward Taylor Hall. Hall, the future Oiler, did return to the Cup a year later, this time in Brandon, and dominated again to become the only player in history to win back-to-back tourney MVPs.
But this time, it’s not simply about the players. Every team in Red Deer deserves to be here.
Quebec champ Rouyn-Noranda ended the season as the Canadian Hockey League’s top-ranked club and will make their first appearance at the Memorial Cup. The host Rebels were knocked out in the third round, but it was to the Wheat Kings, so they lost to the best in the West.
The Knights reeled off 13 straight playoff wins to earn the franchise’s fourth trip in five years. But the Cup can be cruel. They sent three good teams to the event from 2012-14 and came up empty. “You can’t look at anything you did before,” said Marner, the 19-year-old Knights co-captain. “Whatever your record was in the past, that’s gone now. You’re going into a tournament that has all the best teams in it.”
Here’s to an exciting weekend of hockey. There might be a lot of big names attending, but every player comes to play. There are 4 teams, and they all want to hoist the Memorial Cup. Personally, because there is no limit to the test of time when it comes to hometown loyalties, I’m hoping for Marner and the Knights to prevail. May the best team win!