Thursday, May 18, 2006

The (Other) Final Four

With all of the hoopla that's going on about the NHL Conference Finals, there is one Final Four which will get going this weekend. I'm talking about the Canadian Hockey League's Memorial Cup, the best of the best in the Major Junior ranks go head-to-head for the most coveted title in Junior Hockey. The Memorial Cup takes the three champions from the CHL leagues (Western, Ontario, and Quebec leagues), as well as the host city for a round-robin tournament for the first three games, then into the elimination rounds.

This year is the second straight year that the host of the tournament was also the champions of their league with the Moncton Wildcats taking the QMJHL crown. The Wildcats were piloted this year by former Jack Adams Award winning coach, Ted Nolan. Upfront, the Wildcats were led by Philippe Dupuis (4th Round; Columbus) and Stephane Goulet (7th Round; Edmonton). Backstopping the Wildcats has been Josh Tordjman, who has turned it on since being traded from Victoriaville in late December.

Because the host won, the Quebec Remparts were able to get into the Memorial Cup for getting to the finals. Head Coach Patrick Roy took the club from outhouse at the early going to penthouse at the end. They were led by Alexander Radulov (1st Round; Nashville), who lead the entire CHL with 152 points in 62 games. Rookie wunderkind Angelo Esposito (eligible 2007) lived up to the hype by putting up 39 goals and 98 points in his first season. After going to the Mem Cup last year with Rimouski, Cedrick Desjardins is back there again after an impressive display with Quebec.

Out of the Ontario League, the Peterborough Petes beat out the defending champion London Knights in a sweep. Dan Ryder (3rd Round; Calgary) lead the way for the Petes, while highly touted prospect, Jordon Staal (eligible 2006) put on a strong display, that raised his Draft stock. Florida Panthers' prospect David Shantz played a key role in their championship season, posting a 31-14-3 record in the regular season, while putting up a 16-3 record in the playoffs.

Out West, the Vancouver Giants swept the Moose Jaw Warriors, clearly showing their dominance in the WHL. After being returned from Columbus and an injury, Gilbert Brule put up 38 points in 27 games in the regular season, while posting 30 points in 18 playoff games. Mitch Bartley lead the team with 67 points in the season. In net, Dustin Slade was second behind Justin Pogge in goalie stats in the regular season, while collecting six shutouts in the playoffs.

If you have a chance to catch any of the games, please do so. It is hockey at it's truest form and carries a lot of intensity for plenty of kids who may or may not have a shot at the big time in the future. Going to so many WHL games this year, I have had the chance to catch great hockey and seeing some of the future stars of the game. This is where the big showcase all boils down to. Game on, boys.

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