With the opening ceremony now a thing of the past, it’s time to make way for hockey. The 99th edition of the prestigious 2017 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament will begin with a first game tonight at the WFCU Center, in Windsor, Ontario. The first encounter will be between the hosts, the Windsor Spitfires and the QMJHL representatives, the Saint John Sea Dogs. Fate chose to present us the two most rested teams to break the ice of this long-awaited tournament.
Windsor Spitfires (41-19-5-3) – 5th Western Conference (OHL) | 15th CHL
After 44 days of “rest”, the Windsor Spitfires will finally hit the ice, patiently waiting since April 4th after their elimination in the first round of the OHL Series.
The first-round knockout was hard to swallow for head coach Rocky Thompson and his team, who had a 3-1 series stronghold against defending champions, the London Knights. The Spits’ won game 1 in extra time, courtesy of Jeremiah Addison, a Montreal Canadiens prospect. After the Knights tied the series 1-1, the series turned to Windsor for Game 3 and 4, both won by the Spitfires, including a second one in overtime. The game-winning goal courtesy of Graham Knott (Chicago Blackhawks). Known as one of the most distinguished franchises in the history of the OHL, the Knights did not give up and climbed up the slope one game at a time, forcing game 6 and 7, eventually win the last one.
The Spitfires worked very hard this season, as they had to battle in a very solid Western Conference where five teams were in the CHL Top 10 Weekly Rankings. They finished the year with a 41-19-5-3 record, a total of 90 points.
The Spitfires have a team with a lot of depth. After counting, there are exactly nine players affiliated with an NHL team: Mikhail Sergachev (Montreal Canadiens), Jalen Chatfield (Vancouver Canucks), Sean Day (New York Rangers), Logan Stanley (Winnipeg Jets), Logan Brown (Ottawa Senators), Jeremy Bracco (Toronto Maple Leafs), Jeremiah Addison (Montreal Canadiens), Graham Knott (Chicago Blackhawks) and Julius Nattinen (Anaheim Ducks).
For his part, NHL Draft prospect, Gabriel Vilardi, will certainly turn heads as he concludes a 61 point-season, including 29 goals in only 49 games. Goaltender Michael DiPietro will be the starter, finishing his second season in the OHL, compiling a record of 30-12-4-2 in 51 games.
Saint John Sea Dogs (48-14-5-1) – 1st Overall standings (QMJHL) | 3rd CHL
In another extraordinary regular season finish, the Sea Dogs will take it to the ice exactly nine days after sweeping the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the 2017 Rogers President Cup final. Saint John was unstoppable, finishing the playoffs with a 16-2 record, winning their third President Cup. The Sea Dogs had to wait a lot between rounds 1 and 3, sweeping the first two teams they faced.
First of all, Danny Flynn’s team opened the postseason hosting the Rimouski Oceanic, former club of Montreal native, Simon Bourque, traded at the deadline. Four games were enough to dispose of the 16th overall. In the round two, Saint John clashed against the Val-d’Or Foreurs this time, former team of winger Julien Gauthier, also acquired during the holiday season. Despite the brilliance of starting goalie Étienne Montpetit, nothing could be done before the powerful machine that are the Sea Dogs. Saint John eliminates the Foreurs in four games as well.
In the semi-finals, the Sea Dogs squared off against the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, a team that also went for a few changes on the trade deadline. After four games, the two teams were tied, the series requiring at least two more matchups. In the sixth and final encounter of the series, the Sea Dogs filled a two-goal deficit twice, defeating Chicoutimi 6-5, thus reaching the grand final.
An unexpected duel between the Sea Dogs and the Armada was on the menu during the 2017 Rogers President Cup. The Armada causing a surprise in the second semifinal, eliminating the powerful Charlottetown Islanders in only five games. Again, the Dogs’ would cruise by in four small matches, allowing only four goals to their opponents, setting a new team record.
Let’s note the presence of 11 NHL affiliated players, the most among the 60 teams in the CHL: Callum Booth (Carolina Hurricanes), Thomas Chabot (Ottawa Senators), Jakub Zboril (Boston Bruins), Simon Bourque (Montreal Canadiens), Nathan Noel (Chicago Blackhawks), Julien Gauthier (Carolina Hurricanes), Matthew Highmore (Chicago Blackhawks), Samuel Dove-McFalls (Philadelphia Flyers), Spencer Smallman (Carolina Hurricanes), Mathieu Joseph (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Bokondji Imama (Tampa Bay Lightning).
Not to mention the presence of the “exceptional” status forward in Joe Veleno. The 17-year-old took part in his second campaign in the QMJHL, finishing the season with 13 goals and 27 assists for 40 points in 45 games.
The Sea Dogs are crowning a fourth 100+ points-season since 2005. They concluded the recent campaign with a 48-14-5-1 record, amassing 102 points, six more than their closest pursuer, their division rivals, the Charlottetown Islanders. The last time the Sea Dogs participated in the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament was in 2012. They raised the precious trophy one year earlier in 2011.
Game 1 will be presented at 7:00 pm ET on TVA Sports 2 and Sportsnet.
A text by Frédéric Damiani