Who will head to the Memorial Cup final?

The Sea Dogs are working towards a Memorial Cup parade for the second consecutive season. (Andrew Reynolds2009/Flickr)

Jeff Blay: While late March marks the final and (for some teams) often desperate stretch of games in the National Hockey League, it also marks the beginning of the post-season for Canadian Hockey League. The OHL, WHL and QMJHL have already begun playoff competition, although it’s still a long road ahead for those teams legitimately competing for a ticket to the 2012 Memorial Cup (which occurs from May 18-27 in Shawinigan, Quebec.)

While there have been many successful teams throughout the three leagues this season, only three can make it to the Mem Cup as Shawinigan automatically gets a spot as the host team. Moreover, the margin of error in the CHL playoffs is very slim and there surely will be a host of close battles throughout the leagues over the next month. In this segment of Two For Roughing, we’re going to do our best to narrow down teams in each of the three leagues that will compete in their respective league finals and ultimately, for a ticket to the Mem Cup . Let’s start with the far-east and the Quebec league, which harvested last year’s Mem Cup champions also currently ranked first in the latest BMO CHL Mastercar Top 10 Rankings – the Saint John Sea Dogs. Led by Florida Panthers first rounder Johnathan Huberdeau, the 47-15-0-3 Sea Dogs will surely be knocking on the door of another title this year. They have a 2-0 series lead over Cape Breton and have the depth and firepower to mosey on through to the QMJHL finals. Do you think Saint John has what it takes for a repeat?

Tim Kolupanowich: If their first game of the playoffs is any indication, the Sea Dogs will be a very difficult team to knock off once again. In their 13-4 drubbing of the Cape Breten Screaming Eagles, the Sea Dogs set three team playoff records: most goals in a game, most goals in a period (eight, which also tied a QMJHL record) and most points in a game by Charlie Coyle, a first round pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2010 (now property of the Minnesota Wild), had three goals and six points. Yes, the Screaming Eagles finished as the sixteenth seed, an amazing 54 points behind the Sea Dogs, but that game wasn’t even a contest. Coyle netted another hat-trick in the second game of the series as well. This should be an easy series leaving the Sea Dogs well rested as they get into the later rounds and face more quality opponents. I can definitely see them back in the Memorial Cup final.
In the Ontario League, the Niagara Ice Dogs look pretty good right now. They have a 2-1 series lead over the Oshawa Generals and had the OHL’s stingiest defense in the regular season, allowing only 169 goals against in 68 games. Only two other teams allowed fewer than 200. Last season’s Memorial Cup finalists, the Owen Sound Attack and host Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors have taken a step backwards this season, opening a spot few a new team to make the final tournament and the IceDogs, who were eliminated in the third round last season, will want to improve on their finish. Who else do you think has a shot at making the Memorial Cup?

JB: The IceDogs certainly look hot and although they suffered their first loss of the post-season Sunday, they should have no trouble cursing through the rest of the series and definitely have the talent-lined roster to make a splash in the league finals and Mem Cup. Another team coming out of the OHL that is looking as dangerous as ever is the London Knights, who after missing the playoffs for a rare time last year, have a plethora of ripe young talent that can certainly assault the score sheet. The Knights took a 2-0 series lead over the Windsor Spitfires on Sunday after rallying back from a 2-0 deficit. Seth Griffith, who was outstanding for London during the regular season finishing with 45 goals and 40 assists, scored two on the power play to tie the game Sunday while veteran Austin Watson scored the game winner. The Knights have one of the best power plays in the league and the organization, built by the infamous Hunter brothers (Dale is now coaching with the Washington Capitals, though) is geared towards success and has had no shortage of premiere NHL talent coming through the system. They now lead the series 3-0. Watch for London to emerge out of the OHL’s Western Conference.

The Western Hockey League also has several teams that could be knocking on the door of the Mem Cup. The Tri-City Americans and Portland Winterhawks (ranked three and four in the latest BMO CHL Mastercard Top Ten Rankings) both have a 2-0 series lead to start the playoffs and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Don Hay’s Vancouver Giants have also taken a 2-0 series lead over the Spokane Chiefs, and although they finished fourth in the West in the regular season, this has been the team that has surprised me most come playoffs. Jordan Martinook leads the WHL in playoff scoring with three goals and five assists, while teammates Brandon Gallagher, Cain Franson and Marek Tvrdon currently sit third, fifth and sixth respectively. Under Hay’s guidance, the Giants could very well be one of the more quiet but dangerous teams to be aware of in the post-season.Any teams that catch your eye from the WHL, Tim?

TK: The Americans and Winterhawks, as you pointed out, are two interesting teams to watch. No American team has won the Ed Chynoweth Cup as WHL champion since the 2007-08 Spokane Chiefs, though both have been runners-up in the past two seasons. They finished first and second in the U.S. Division, separated by only two points and a meeting between the two teams would provide some fierce competition. Right now Ty Rattie and Sven Bartschi of the Winterhawks lead the WHL playoffs in goals and assists respectively and both their starting goalies, Portland’s Mac Carruth and Tri-City’s Ty Rimmer, are tied for the lead in goals-against average.

Having a top offense like the Giants have right now is always a plus, but teams needs goaltending to win championships. If you’re not sure about that, just ask the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. In that regard, you have to like the Edmonton Oil Kings. The second stingiest team in the regular season has only given up three goals in the first two games and goaltender Laurent Brossoit, a 2011 draft pick of the Calgary Flames, is leading the WHL with a .944 save percentage. Coach Derek Laxdal guided the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL to a championship in 2006-07 and helped the Oil Kings to a 38-point improvement over last season. They currently hold a 2-0 lead over the Kootenay Ice.

That does it for this edition of Two For Roughing. The race to the Memorial Cup is sure to be as exciting as ever this year, be sure to check out Coincidental Minros for more coverage.


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