OK. The field is set, and next week the eyes of junior hockey followers will be on Saint John, N.B., site of the 2022 Memorial Cup tournament. Thanks to COVID-19, this will be the first time the four-team championship has been held since 2019.
(NOTE: If you’re travelling that way, remember that Saint John is in New Brunswick, while St. John’s is in Newfoundland.)
The OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs became the last team to qualify when they beat the visiting Windsor Spitfires, 6-1, on Wednesday night, to win the best-of-seven championship series and the J. Ross Robertson Cup, 4-3. The Bulldogs, who scored the game’s first four goals, got three scores from F Avery Hayes.
The game drew an announced attendance of 11,779. In their seven seasons in Hamilton, the Bulldogs now have won two titles.
This was the first time the OHL had gotten through its playoffs since 2019 when the Guelph Storm won the championship.
The Bulldogs join the host Saint John Sea Dogs, who play in the QMJHL, the QMJHL-champion Shawinigan Cataractes, and the Edmonton Oil Kings, who won the WHL title on Monday by taking out the Seattle Thunderbirds in six games.
The Oil Kings last played in the Memorial Cup in 2014 when they beat the OHL’s Guelph Storm, 6-3, in the tournament final in London, Ont. That was the first time a WHL team had won the trophy since 2008 when the Spokane Chiefs beat the host Kitchener Rangers, 4-1, in the final.
Since 2014, the WHL has been represented by the Kelowna Rockets (Quebec City, 2015), Brandon Wheat Kings and Red Deer Rebels (host team, 2016), Seattle (Windsor, 2017), Swift Current Broncos and Regina (host team, 2018), and Prince Albert Raiders (Halifax, 2019).
How did those WHL teams do? Well, the Rockets lost in the 2015 final, 2-1 in OT to the Oshawa Generals. The Rebels went 2-1 in 2016 before losing a semifinal, 3-1 to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, while the Wheat Kings went 0-3. In 2017, the Thunderbirds were 0-3. In 2018, Regina went 2-1, then beat Hamilton, 4-2, in a semifinal, before losing 3-0 in the final to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. The Broncos, meanwhile, went 0-3.
In 2019, the last time the tournament was held, the Raiders finished 0-3.
What all of this shows us is that the WHL champs haven’t fared well of late; in fact, they have combined to lose their last 13 games. The last time the WHL champion won a Memorial Cup game was on May 29, 2015, when Kelowna beat the Quebec Remparts, 9-3, in a semifinal game.
And every time the WHL champion strikes out the question — Why don’t WHL champions do better at the Memorial Cup? — gets slapped around social media like a Wiffle ball.
Bob Green, a longtime WHL executive who now is the Edmonton Oilers’ chief scout, tried to explain it to columnist Terry Jones:
“The Memorial Cup is a bit of a mystery to everybody. It’s a hard tournament to figure out. I don’t know if you ever do figure it out. You just go there and try to play and see what happens. It’s completely different than the rest of the playoffs. But I believe this Oil Kings team has the best chance of all the clubs of this Edmonton era to do it.”
One other thing about competing in the Memorial Cup — if you get off to a poor start, your tournament is over almost before you know what hit you.
The 2022 Memorial Cup opens Monday in Saint John with Hamilton meeting the host Sea Dogs. On Tuesday, it’ll be Shawinigan facing Edmonton.
Terry Jones wasn’t expecting the phone call that he received on Wednesday. A sports columnist with Edmonton newspapers since 1967, he tweeted: “My last scoop. At 1 p.m. today, after beginning my career at The Edmonton Journal in 1967 I received a phone call from Toronto informing me my position had been eliminated by Post Media. Thank you all so much for reading. Hardly the way I hoped it would end.”
Later, he tweeted that he was “just gutted.”
What turns out to possibly be the last column of his newspaper career dealt with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings and their upcoming appearance at the Memorial Cup. That piece is right here.
Then-owner Ron Dixon moved the WHL’s New Westminster Bruins to Kennewick, Wash., in 1988, and the Tri-City Americans have made the Toyota Center their home. All that time, the team’s fans have spent their game-watching evenings in orange seats. But those days are over. The removal of the old seats began this week and now people are wondering what colour the new seats will be.
Here’s what radio station KFLD discovered: “Apparently, it’s a surprise. We searched, looked, and even asked officials. Several told us we will find out soon enough . . . the suspense builds!”
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