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Photo Credit: @BulldogsOHL / Twitter

Previewing the 2022 Memorial Cup

The 2022 Memorial Cup kicks off on Monday! Overlapping with the Stanley Cup Finals this year, it’s easy to see how you could overlook or miss the tournament entirely, but this is not one to be slept on.

The Memorial Cup is consistently one of the most electric tournaments on the hockey calendar. Returning for the first time since 2019 and boasting numerous top prospects, including one from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, this is going to be a tournament you don’t want to miss out on.

Let’s introduce you to the four teams competing for what may just be the hardest trophy in hockey to win.

Edmonton Oil Kings

The WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings boast quite the array of high NHL draft picks. An impressive four of the eight NHL-affiliated prospects on their roster were drafted in the first round.

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As such, it’s not much of a surprise to see that the Oil Kings steamrolled their way to the WHL Finals. Entering the postseason as the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference, they swept Lethbridge and Red Deer in the first two rounds before facing off against the regular-season champs in the Winnipeg Ice.

It was a one-sided affair, as Edmonton brushed aside Winnipeg in just five games to enter the WHL Finals with a 12-1 postseason record.

Matching up against the Western Conference’s #4 seeded Seattle Thunderbirds in the finals, Edmonton was given their toughest test of the playoffs, being pushed to six games. Still, the Oil Kings prevailed and booked their ticket to the Memorial Cup for the first time since 2014, when they won the tournament.

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Players to Watch

  • G, Sebastian Cossa – Selected 15th overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 2021, Cossa is one of the top goaltending prospects in hockey. His .919 postseason save percentage may not be the same high marks posted by the likes of Taylor Gauthier or Dylan Garand, but Cossa finished off the WHL playoffs in style, shutting out Seattle to win Game 6. He’s a potential game stealer for the Oil Kings.
  • RW, Dylan Guenther – It remains to be seen whether Guenther will even play in the Memorial Cup, but if he does, watch out. He missed the end of the WHL Finals due to injury and would be a huge absence for the Oil Kings. Guenther, a 9th overall pick by Arizona, led Edmonton in scoring with 13 goals and 21 points despite being limited to 16 games after missing three games.
  • LD, Kaiden Guhle – Guhle’s hard-hitting style has Montreal Canadiens fans fawning over the 2020 16th overall pick. A midseason acquisition by Edmonton, Guhle has fit seamlessly on their blueline. His 16 points during the playoffs were tied for third in the WHL.
  • RD, Luke Prokop – The other half of the Oil Kings’ top pairing was also an in-season acquisition in Nashville prospect, Luke Prokop. He was stellar in the postseason, also scoring 16 points as he led the WHL playoffs in plus/minus with a +23 rating. You may recognize his name from last summer when Prokop became the first player signed to an NHL contract to come out as gay.

Hamilton Bulldogs

The Hamilton Bulldogs saw the Edmonton Oil Kings’ 12-1 record heading into their championship round and decided to do them one better.

The Bulldogs demolished the OHL’s Eastern Conference, sweeping Peterborough, Mississauga, and North Bay en route to the OHL Finals. It was an unbelievable stretch of hockey for the Bulldogs, but awaiting them in the finals for a trip to the Memorial Cup was the top seed out of the Western Conference in the Windsor Spitfires.

Unlike Hamilton, the Spitfires had been tested entering the finals. They survived a bit of a scare against #8 seed Sarnia in the first round when they were pushed to six games, before easily dealing with #7 seed Kitchener. In the Conference Finals, however, Windsor was pushed to the brink against the #3 seeded Flint Firebirds, taking a Game 7 victory on home ice.

That momentum carried over into the OHL Finals, where they handed Hamilton their first loss of the postseason in an overtime Game 1. The series would go back and forth through the first four games until the Bulldogs took Game 5 at home, only for Windsor to come back and also defend home ice in Game 6 to force a Game 7.

Hamilton came out swinging for Game 7, defeating Windsor 6-1 with a couple of late empty netters to drive home the result. With a blend of dynamic young talent in addition to some of the top overage players in Ontario, Hamilton will be a force to be reckoned with in the Memorial Cup.

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The Bulldogs will be looking for the franchise’s first Memorial Cup. They finished third at the 2018 edition of the tournament, the only appearance at the Memorial Cup prior to this year for Hamilton since the franchise relocated in 2015.

Players to Watch

  • RW, Avery Hayes – Undrafted winger Avery Hayes torched the OHL this year to the tune of 41 goals and 79 points in 66 games. Apparently, that wasn’t good enough, as Hayes somehow increased his scoring rate in the postseason. His 14 goals and 34 points in 16 playoff games are simply hilarious totals. His 2.13 points-per-game rate ranks top 20 in all-time single-season OHL playoff scoring among players with at least 15 games played. With this run, it’s easy to imagine a team taking a shot on him this time around at the NHL draft.
  • C, Mason McTavish – While Hayes went undrafted in 2021, Anaheim Ducks prospect Mason McTavish didn’t have to wait long at all to hear his name called. Taken 3rd overall last year, McTavish has played games for four different club teams and at two international tournaments in 2021-22. He finally settled in with Hamilton and has not looked back, finishing second in OHL playoff goals with 16. He will be the highest drafted player at the 2022 Memorial Cup.
  • C, Logan Morrison – Avery Hayes’ running mate on the Bulldogs’ top line, Morrison was one of six OHLers to hit the 100-point mark this season. While Hayes was undrafted once, Morrison has been passed over twice and enters the NHL draft in 2022 for the final time. He has quite the resume this time around, however, with not only the 100-point regular season under his belt but 17 goals and 39 points in just 19 games during the postseason as well, second only to Dallas prospect Wyatt Johnston.
  • LD, Arber Xhekaj – Signed out of training camp by Montreal, Xhekaj made good on the potential he showed low in the lineup with Kitchener back in 2019-20 this season. Acquired midseason by Hamilton, Xhekaj has anchored Hamilton’s top pairing and led the OHL playoffs in scoring among defencemen.

Saint John Sea Dogs

Despite being a guaranteed participant in the Memorial Cup as hosts, the Saint John Sea Dogs, just like any host, were hoping for a long playoff run to help prepare them for the stakes and pressure of the Memorial Cup.

Instead…they lost in the opening round.

What ensued makes the Sea Dogs one of the ultimate wild card teams in recent Memorial Cup history. Saint John shockingly fired their head coach Gordie Dwyer following their first-round exit, replacing him with University of New Brunswick head coach Gardiner MacDougall.

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With no games and a month to work with the team prior to the Memorial Cup, MacDougall’s impact on the Sea Dogs remains to be seen. What we do know is that Saint John already boasted some of the top offensive pieces in the CHL and with a new coach at the helm, it’s easy to see a scenario where they catch fire at home and give the champions out of the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL a lot of trouble. Only the Winnipeg Ice scored more goals across the entire CHL in 2021-22. Don’t sleep on the Sea Dogs just because they were eliminated early in the QMHL playoffs.

The Sea Dogs return to the Memorial Cup for the first time since 2017, looking for their second-ever title having won back in 2011.

Players to Watch

  • RW, William Dufour – No player at the 2022 Memorial Cup scored more points during the regular season than New York Islanders prospect, William Dufour. His 56-goal, 116-point season earned him QMJHL Most Valuable Player honours this year, and he’ll need to be even better than he was in the regular season at the Memorial Cup if the Sea Dogs are to go all the way.
  • C, Josh Lawrence – Centering Dufour this year was Josh Lawrence, the twice undrafted prospect out of Fredericton. After a disappointing DY+1 season, Lawrence saw a return to form this year alongside Dufour, recording 70 assists and 101 points. The duo of Lawrence and Dufour will need to be dynamite at the Memorial Cup for Saint John to make an impact.
  • LD, @Jeremie Poirier – If there’s one thing to love about the Sea Dogs, it’s that they are a helluva lot of fun to watch. One of the major reasons for that is Calgary prospect Jeremie Poirier, a dynamic offensive defenceman who is…questionable…in his own zone. He didn’t reach quite the offensive highs that he has in the past for the Sea Dogs, but remains a potent threat. If the Sea Dogs find themselves in a barnburner, a style they may have to play to break through against these top teams, Poirier will have to be a major part of it.
  • RD, William Villeneuve – The lone Toronto Maple Leafs prospect at the Memorial Cup this season, Villeneuve has been seen in a similar light to Poirier for quite a while. While the two have posted similar numbers over their time in Saint John, Villeneuve, drafted in the fourth round by Toronto in 2020, has consistently produced better on-ice results. After a dip in offensive production in 2020-21, Villeneuve rounded into form once again in 2021-22 as one of the top offensive defencemen in the QMJHL. While Poirier has the goals and the powerplay minutes, Villeneuve has been just as productive at even strength while also slowly improving on the defensive side. Already under contract with the Maple Leafs, he’ll turn pro and join either the Toronto Marlies or Newfoundland Growlers in 2022-23.

Shawinigan Cataractes

After sweeping Rouyn-Noranda and Gatineau in the first two rounds of the QMJHL playoffs, the Shawinigan Cataractes had quite the task ahead of them entering the semi-finals. Standing in their path to the Memorial Cup were the regular-season champion Quebec Remparts and the runner-ups out of Charlottetown, a daunting task for the #7 seed.

In the semi-finals against Quebec, Shawinigan came back from a 3-1 third-period deficit in the pivotal Game 5 to take the series when it seemed as though the Remparts had it all wrapped up.

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Then, despite being the #7 seed out of the QMJHL compared to Edmonton’s #2 ranking and Hamilton’s regular-season championship, Shawinigan defeated Charlottetown in the shortest of the three CHL championship series. That’s not to say the series wasn’t incredibly close, as Shawinigan won three games in overtime to take the QMJHL championship.

It was a fascinating postseason for the Cataractes, one that saw them go 7-0 in overtime games. This path sees them enter the Memorial Cup as more of an underdog compared to the champions out of the OHL and WHL, but if anything is to be learned from their run, do not let them force OT.

Shawinigan heads to the Memorial Cup for just the second time, having won the tournament in 2012 as hosts.

Players to Watch

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  • RW, Xavier Bourgault – Edmonton first-round pick Xavier Bourgault formed half of one of the most dangerous offensive duos in the QMJHL playoffs. His 12 goals ranked second while his 22 points ranked fourth in league scoring during the postseason. A career member of the Cataractes, Bourgault’s feistiness along with his offensive punch will be a key aspect of Shawinigan’s game if they are to knock off the top teams out of Ontario and the West.
  • C, Mavrik Bourque – The other half of that dangerous offensive duo is Dallas first-rounder, Mavrik Bourque. His 25 points in the playoffs led Shawinigan and were second among all players in the QMJHL. It’s always cool to see a team make it to the Memorial Cup built around two stars that they drafted and developed, and that’s exactly the case for Shawinigan with Bourgault and Bourque. Just like Dufour and Lawrence for Saint John, the Bourque-Bourgault duo will need to be firing on all cylinders for the Cataractes to have a shot at maintaining the franchise’s perfect Memorial Cup record.
  • G, Antoine Coulombe – The top goaltender in the QMJHL playoffs, undrafted Antoine Coulombe will need to be on his game at the Memorial Cup once again. His .921 SV% was by far the best among the three goaltenders who played over 10 games in the QMJHL postseason and is the top postseason mark among starters at the Memorial Cup.
  • RW, Pierrick Dube – Overage player Pierrick Dube began the season in the ECHL before returning to the QMJHL in January. Acquired by Shawinigan in a swap of overage players along with a third-round pick, the French international provided a much-needed boost to the Cataractes depth scoring. Not only were his 12 goals in the postseason tied with Xavier Bourgault for the team lead, but Dube also scored the tying goal and the overtime game-winning goal during Game 5 against Charlottetown to win the QMJHL championship. Not bad for a midseason addition.

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