Sunday, 29 May 2016

Memorable Memorial Cup

The Mastercard Memorial Cup has finished up for another year, and it was another excellent finish to the tournament. The top team in most CHL rankings in the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies squared off against the best offensive team across this nation in the London Knights. The QMJHL's Huskies were known for their defence and goaltending while the OHL's Knights shredded their competition with an offence that always seemed to be hungry for more goals. London had earned the bye to the final through the round-robin play while Rouyn-Noranda's only loss came at the hands of the Knights through the preliminary round. The rematch was on Canadian junior hockey's largest stage as these two teams battled for hockey supremacy!

London certainly tried to impose their will through the first period, but the closing speed of the Huskies' players was impressive. Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk, and Christian Dvorak had been laying waste to every team they encountered through the OHL Playoffs and into the Memorial Cup tournament, but Rouyn-Noranda were up to the task in skating with the high-flying Knights. The game would remain scoreless through the opening period. It was the first time in the tournament that the Knights would be held off the scoresheet in the first period.

The second period saw the Marner-Tkachuk-Dvorak come alive. Marner floated a beautiful saucer pass across to Tkachuk who tapped it past Chase Marchand at 10:41 for the 1-0 London lead. There were cheers, but the Red Deer crowd certainly erupted 15 seconds later when Francis Perron converted a gorgeous feed from Timo Meier to beat Tyler Parsons, and this game was knotted up at 1-1. Despite seeing the Huskies beat the hometown Rebels in the semi-final, it was clear that the underdogs were the crowd favorites in this game.

Despite some chances at both ends in the first-half of the third period, it was Rouyn-Noranda who would take the lead. Julien Nantel took a pass from Alexandre Fortin and found room past Parsons to put the Huskies up 2-1 with ten minutes to play. It would be the first time in this Memorial Cup tournament that London would trail, but the Knights continued to push and were rewarded with 4:11 to play when Christian Dvorak took a backhanded pass from Aaron Berisha and snapped a shot past the blocker of Marchand to tie the game at 2-2. Both teams would finish the final four minutes with no additional goals, so we'd be off to overtime for the second-straight Memorial Cup Final!

7:49 into overtime, we'd see a Memorial Cup-winning goal scored!
Matthew Tkachuk scored his second goal of the game - or was at least credited with his second goal - just under eight minutes into the extra frame to give the London Knights their second Memorial Cup Championship in team history!

"It actually might have hit off (Christian Dvorak's) back, it changed directions a little bit, doesn't matter, we'll both take it," Tkachuk told reporters after the game. He also revealed that he's been playing on an ankle that he had sprained in the OHL Playoffs. All of that couldn't slow down Tkachuk who had himself an impressive spring tournament and cemented himself as a top-five NHL pick this summer.

London went 4-0 in the Memorial Cup following an impressive 13-game winning streak they put together in the OHL Playoffs. To see a team go 17-0 in the biggest games of their season is more than just remarkable, it's nearly unfathomable.

"To win so many games in a row through the playoffs and this tournament is a credit to these guys because we’re playing good teams," head coach Dale Hunter told reporters. "These are all the top-end teams. To go 17 in a row is unheard of. Likely never be repeated."

Mitch Marner was named as the Memorial Cup MVP after scoring 14 points in just four games. Tkachuk and Dvorak finished second and third in scoring in the tournament, so it gives you an idea of just how good that line was for London down the stretch. All told, 19 year-old Marner finished the regular season with 39 goals and 116 points in 57 games and was named as the OHL's regular season MVP, the OHL Playoff MVP, Canadian Hockey League MVP. He appears to be a solid pick, Leaf fans.

"It's been a great year," Marner said. "I've never had more fun with a group of guys. We were down 2-1 late in the third, the best thing about this team is we never give up and it showed again tonight."

Now that all is said and done, this Knights team should be compared to some of the best CHL teams that have won the Memorial Cup. They showed that they have the offence that can shift into a higher gear when needed, but also displayed an effective defensive game backed by Parsons in the blue paint. While they weren't supposed to rely on their defensive game, the Knights showed that they are three-dimensional by playing strong defence and showing off some solid goaltending. All three zones were danger zones when the Knights had the puck, and they struck with deadly accuracy while shutting down the opposition's stars. That's excellent two-way play.

Congratulations to the London Knights on their Memorial Cup victory! While Rouyn-Noranda, Red Deer, and Brandon fell short, you can bet those programs all learned a thing or two about themselves and how to play the game in their losses to the Knights!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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