It's a tournament format, with the three CHL leagues' respective champions (The Western Hockey League's Edmonton Oil Kings, The Ontario Hockey League's London Knights, and The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's St. John Sea Dogs) earning their way to the tournament along with a host team (QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes) to round it out at four. Each team plays each other in a three game round-robin, then the first place team moves on with a bye into the finals, and the second and third place teams play a semi-final to see who plays for the Memorial Cup. This year has been a little more interesting than usual- and by that I mean something happened that is a first since it became a four team tournament in 1983. We'll get to that after a quick recap of the four games so far.
Edmonton Oil Kings vs Shawinigan Cataractes, May 18th 2012
Having taken the long route to win the WHL Championship in seven games against the Portland Winterhawks on May 13th, the Edmonton Oil Kings are by far the least rested team in this year's tournament. Coincidentally, their first game of the tournament came against the team with the longest off-period, the host Shawinigan Cataractes who were taken out in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs back on April 17th. The WHL Champs managed to pull this one out after a controversial goal review (Sportsnet has a tap on the phonecall between the video review judge and the referee- lets just say it wasn't exactly kosher) allowed Shawinigan back into the game, and to subsequently tie it after a giveaway by Keegan Lowe (Kevin's kid) with about 7 minutes to play. Luckily for the Oil Kings, it only took 23 seconds for Henrik Samuelsson (Ulf's kid) to take back the lead. They hung on for the 4-3 win.St. John Sea Dogs vs London Knights, May 19th 2012
A bit of a shocker in this one as the OHL Champion London Knights exposed this year's QMJHL Champion and defending Memorial Cup champion St. John Sea Dogs, widely considered the favourite in the tournament. The 3rd overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft and one of if not the best player remaining in Major Junior Johnathan Huberdeau along with the rest of St. John's top 6 were ineffective and frustrated the whole game, taking bad penalties and created very little offense. Huberdeau evaded suspension for a flying elbow to the head, but took 6 minutes in penalties in the 5-3 loss. Seth Griffith had three points in the game- he went undrafted in 2011, but after leading the Knights in scoring in both the regular season and playoffs he will surely be taken in June after his second year of eligibility.
Shawinigan Cataractes vs London Knights, May 20th 2012
This one was the biggest shocker of the tournament so far with the host Cataractes dominating the OHL Champions. Might have been that the Knights were on the second of a back-to-back after a very physical game against the Sea Dogs, or the Cataractes' home-ice advantage, or unlucky bounces from the brutal ice conditions that have marred the tournament so far (towards the end of the game there was even fog on the ice and condensation on the glass), but it seemed that the Cataractes really just out-played the Knights. OHL Goaltender AND Player of the Year Michael Houser looked extremely pedestrian in this one, and didn't get a tonne of support from his team. The Cataractes were largely carried by 2012 World Juniors First-Team All-Star and Best Defenseman Brandon Gormley who had 3 points and was a +3 on the night.
St. John Sea Dogs vs Edmonton Oil Kings, May 21st 2012
This one was a lot closer than it looks, with the Oil Kings staying within one until the Sea Dogs pulled away with less than two minutes to play with Zack Phillips' second of the night to make it 4-2. They added an empty netter with a few seconds left to win it and redeem themselves from their opening game loss to the Knights. A couple strange goals by the Sea Dogs put the Oil Kings away, with their first goal going in from a harmless looking shot from a bad angle, and the winning goal bouncing off EDM defenseman Martin Gernat and again off the stick of SNB's Danick Gautier. Oil Kings Goaltender and Playoff MVP Laurent Broissoit seemed to have trouble tracking the puck for a good portion of the game, and much like the Knight's Houser, their best player looked merely mortal.
So, back to that situation I mentioned. If you've been following along, you'll notice that each team is currently tied in the standings with a 1-1 record, with each team holding a tie-breaker over another. Four teams have NEVER been tied in the Memorial Cup standings after two games since the addition of a fourth team in 1983. So, I struggled a little bit with the tie-breaker format, but that's forgivable, right?
Ok, so the London Knights will play the Edmonton Oil Kings in one game three, and the other will be between the St. John Sea Dogs and the Shawinigan Cataractes. The losers will play a tiebreaker game on Thursday. That's easy enough. The tricky part is the first place tie that will happen with the teams whose records will improve to 2-1. As previously mentioned, the first place team gets a bye into the finals. A first place tie is decided by head-to-head match up. In this situation, every team has a chance to finish in first place. Here are the situations necessary for each team to finish first, including "helpful" visuals:
St. John Sea Dogs - A win against Shawinigan and a loss by London
London Knights - A win against Edmonton and a loss by Shawinigan
Shawinigan Cataractes - A win against St. John and a loss by Edmonton
And there you have it- I'll be back on Thursday night to update you on the three games leading up to the Semi-Finals. Go Oil Kings and Happy Hockey to all!