The Finer Points: Breaking down the CHL’s Memorial Cup

Niagara IceDogs’ Myles Doan lays a hit on a Mississauga Majors opponent during 2011 OHL playoff action. Mississauga was the Memorial Cup host team. Photo Courtesy Joel Smith Photography/www.icedogsphotos.comTim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor

By: Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor

April is just around the corner and that means hockey fans across the United States are gearing up for the NHL playoffs. While they are patiently awaiting the post-season, Canadian fans are already occupied in a playoff run of their own.

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) playoffs are firmly underway as all three leagues, the Ontario League (OHL), Western League (WHL) and Quebec League (QMJHL) vie for the top prize in major junior hockey.

I always knew the Memorial Cup was somewhat of a holy grail of its own, but I didn’t know just how big it really was until my internship with The Hockey News at this time last year. Based in Toronto, I was in close proximity to several OHL teams including last year’s ‘Mem Cup’ (as Canadian fans call it) hosts, the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors. The games leading up to the Mem Cup are incredible, fast-paced, hard-hitting and impassioned affairs – it truly is a shame there’s a lack of coverage of the tournament in the States.

These young athletes are the future of the NHL and they are playing the biggest games of their lives – the ones that will show just what they are capable at the next level. Having a total of 59 teams across three leagues ultimately competing for the Memorial Cup with just a five-year range for each player to win it due to age restriction (16-20, with some exceptions at age 15 if you’re granted ‘exceptional player status’ like John Tavares) makes for very competitive post-season hockey.

So for the American fans who may read the occasional piece in The Hockey News or and find themselves curious, (there certainly isn’t going to be anything on ESPN, they barely cover the NHL) here is what the Memorial Cup playoffs is all about.

As mentioned, the CHL is comprised of three separate leagues, the WHL, OHL and QMJHL. Each league has its own playoffs, very similar to that of the NHL. In the WHL and OHL, there are four rounds, each with seven games, but the QMJHL is set up a little differently. Whereas the WHL and OHL both have Eastern and Western Conferences where the teams are seeded one through eight, the QMJHL has three divisions, but lumps all 16 playoff teams together so that in the first round, one plays 16, two plays 15 and so on.

The winner of the WHL wins the Ed Chynoweth Cup, the OHL champion receives the J. Ross Robertson Cup and the QMJHL winner gets the Presidents’ Cup. Those three teams, along with the team from the host city, then participate in a round robin to determine the Memorial Cup champion, which is also champion of the entire CHL.

The host city is determined by a bid, similar to the Olympics locations, and this year the winner was Shawinigan, Quebec which means the Shawinigan Cataractes are guaranteed a spot in the final regardless of their finish.

Last season the host team was the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, so they were in the tournament despite the loss in the OHL championship to the Owen Sound Attack. If the host city ends up winning its respective league’s championship, the runner-up will also head to the Memorial Cup final.

The Memorial Cup final will begin on May 18 this year at the Centre Bionest. Each team plays the other once from the 18th to the 23rd, with the winner of the round robin automatically advancing to the championship game. A tie-breaker will be played on the 24th if necessary and the semi final will take place the day after that. The final will be played on May 27.

Canadian hockey fans will be lucky enough to catch the majority of the action on TSN and CBC, but we Americans will have to settle for the odd game on the NHL Network. Luckily, we’re privy to the NCAA’s Frozen Four. Check out the NHL Network’s CHL schedule here.

*Editor’s Note: Hockey is a very fast-paced game and the large number of sometimes-complicated rules can make it hard to follow for a casual/new viewer. The Finer Points is a weekly column that will explain the subtleties and complexities of hockey in an easy-to-understand manner so fans can spend more time enjoying the game and less time trying to figure out what is going on.  

Is there a facet of the game that has you scratching your head? Send an email to to get a clearer picture of what is happening on the ice.


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