The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies have been defending Memorial Cup Champions since 2019.
They will lose their crown on June 29 and there are four teams that have set up in Saint John, N.B., to seek the title.
The Hamilton Bulldogs are looking for their first Memorial Cup championship after getting to the tournament in Regina in 2018.
The Edmonton Oil Kings, Shawinigan Cataractes and host Saint John Sea Dogs are all after their second titles.
Edmonton won in London, Ont., in 2014. Saint John won in 2011 in Mississauga, Ont., and Shawinigan won on home ice as hosts in 2012.
Here is a look at each of the four teams competing for the ultimate prize in the Canadian Hockey League.
The Hamilton Bulldogs had to go to a seventh game in the Ontario Hockey League championship series to earn their place in the 2022 Memorial Cup but the long series win over the Windsor Spitfires may have been a blessing.
After a breezy 12-0 run through the first three rounds, the Bulldogs were able to elevate their game to a whole new level against Windsor and that should help them once the puck drops in Saint John, N.B. Skill is never enough to win the Memorial Cup.
Hamilton has impressive skill at every end of the ice. They are led by two of the best in Major Junior hockey at the moment in Mason McTavish and Arber Xhekaj.
McTavish began this year in the National Hockey League with Anaheim, represented his country at the shortened World Junior Hockey Championship and then at the 2022 Winter Olympics, and then made a major impact in the Bulldogs playoff run. McTavish scored 16 goals and added 13 assists in 19 games. Six of those 13 goals came in the finals and the last two came in the deciding game.
McTavish is the kind of player who can do damage at any point in a game but he has an uncanny ability to make things happen when his team needs it the most.
Xhekaj moved from Kitchener in the regular season to finish his career in his hometown of Hamilton, Ont. Xhekaj may be the most intimidating presence in junior hockey. He is big and he can play nasty but Xhekaj can also make plays. Have a look at his Game 7 rush that made it 4-0 Bulldogs and essentially put the game away and clinch a second championship in three seasons of OHL Hockey for the Bulldogs.
From there, Hamilton has had big-time contributions from several players. Undrafted Logan Morrison is an engine that makes the Bulldogs go. He always makes the right play and he led Hamilton in playoff scoring. Seattle Kraken prospect Ryan Winterton is about as complete a player as you will find at this year’s tournament. Avery Hayes can score in big moments and guys like Ryan Humphrey and Mark Duarte will go through a wall if you need them to. George Diaco provides great spark with his offensive ability and Jan Mysak has twice captained Czechia at the World Junior Hockey Championship and is a second-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens. Mysak is great on the forecheck and anticipates well on the ice.
The Bulldogs don’t have to wait for their opponents to make mistakes to get scoring chances. They are great at manufacturing goals.
On defence, Xhekaj and OHL Defenceman of the Year Nathan Staios lead the way. Staios missed five games in the playoffs due to injury but returned in Game 4 of the finals and scored to force overtime where Hamilton evened the series. Staios is a leader who dictates the tempo of a game when he is on the ice.
Artem Grushnikov is a prospect of the Dallas Stars who can play the game any way you want him to. Gavin White came out of the Under-18 Priority Selection and faced a long road to get to where he is now. He scored the Game 4 overtime winner against the Spitfires.
Jorian Donovan and Noah Van Vliet are both rookies but both are counted on to contribute. Donovan is the son of former NHLer Shean Donovan, who always told his son that he, “needs to hate losing more than he loves winning.”
In goal, Marco Costantini has been incredibly steady all season. Costantini led all OHL goalies in goals against average and save percentage in the regular season and showed an ability to make the big save at key times in the playoffs, especially late in games to help preserve victories.
The Bulldogs may not have the depth of the Edmonton Oil Kings going into the Memorial Cup but with their game breakers and what they had to do to reach the tournament, there is every reason to think they could be the last ones standing at the end.
Saint John Sea Dogs
The host Saint John Sea Dogs set out to do what every other host team wants to do going into a Memorial Cup tournament. They wanted to win their league title to earn a pass through the front door and then hoist the biggest trophy in junior hockey on their home ice.
The task is a tall one. The last team to accomplish it was the London Knights team of the century in 2005. In fact, since 1998 only the Kitchener Rangers and the Moncton Wildcats have managed to win their league championship after being named tournament hosts.
The Sea Dogs looked like a favourite to capture the QMJHL’s President’s Cup as the regular season ended. Saint John won 15 games in a row as they headed into a first-round matchup with the Rimouski Oceanic. After dropping the first game of their best-of-five series they won the next two only to have the Oceanic rally and knock out the Sea Dogs in overtime in Game 5.
That exit prompted a major front-office move as head coach Gordie Dwyer was fired and replaced with Gardiner MacDougall who has guided the University of New Brunswick to seven national championships since 2007 and eight in his 22 years as their head coach.
Saint John has been preparing to play in the tournament since May 12. They are the ultimate Exhibit A in the “rest vs. rust” debate.
The Sea Dogs have players who can score. They led the QMJHL in goals for and they weren’t bad when it came to keeping them out of the net, either.
Saint John acquired Nikolas Hurtubise from Victoriaville in January. Hurtubise led the Tigres to the QMJHL’s President’s Cup championship in 2021. Hurtubise isn’t the only former Victoriaville player on their roster, either. Vincent Sevigny came over from the Tigres in December and was named team captain on March 17.
Sevigny headlines a blue line that has great puck-moving ability in Maple Leafs draft pick William Villeneuve, Flames prospect Jeremie Poirier, and Prince Edward Island native Charlie DesRoches. They also have the defensive presence of another Calgary draft pick in Yan Kuznetsov, who is six feet four inches and 216 pounds.
William Dufour scored 56 goals and finished second in QMJHL scoring. He is an offensive key for Saint John and is powerful and hard to contain. Ryan Francis is a third Flames prospect on the roster. Francis, Brady Burns and Josh Lawrence are not the biggest guys but all three can create offence.
Riga, Latvia, native Raivis Kristians Ansons is a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect who does all of the little things that it takes to win and Olivier Picard is a gritty player who loves to hit.
Londoner and former London Knight Jacob Chantler has added veteran savvy to the team and Riley Bezeau is the son of former Niagara Falls Thunder forward Andy Bezeau. Andy amassed 3,477 penalty minutes playing 20 seasons outside the NHL.
The Sea Dogs are not alone as a team that did not get out of the first round of the playoffs and the recent track record actually works in their favour. In 2012, Shawinigan won the Memorial Cup. Five years later Windsor did the same thing on their home ice and in 2018 the Regina Pats rebounded from an opening-round loss in the WHL to make the Memorial Cup final against Acadie-Bathurst. Can Saint John find that same kind of magic?
The QMJHL champion Shawinigan Cataractes had an electric run to his year’s Memorial Cup. They went 7-0 in overtime and flattened Gatineau, knocked out Patrick Roy and the Quebec Remparts in the semi-finals and upset the Charlottetown Islanders in the final. The ‘Cats weren’t exactly a Cinderella story. They won 40 games in the regular season; they just weren’t necessarily expected to go all the way.
They have one of the most dangerous trios in the tournament in Edmonton draft pick Xavier Bourgault, Dallas prospect Mavrik Bourque and overager and Pierrick Dube who scored the championship-clinching goal in the finals. Those three combined for five of the seven OT winners Shawinigan scored in the playoffs and scored an astounding 33 of the 52 goals the Cataractes collected all playoffs. That’s 63 per cent of the team’s scoring.
All three are strong, quick and opportunistic.
Shawinigan’s second line features Olivier Nadeau, who was selected by the Buffalo Sabres in 2021. He’s the kind of responsible, do-everything player who can score or shut down opponents. Even with the firepower on the first line, Nadeau actually led the Cataractes in scoring in the regular season.
He typically skates with two other versatile players in Charles Beaudoin and Lorenzo Canonica.
Shawinigan has a few rookies in their bottom six in Alexis Bonefon, Jacob Lafontaine, Lou-Felix Denis and Charles-Olivier Villeneuve, but all have performed well throughout the season.
The ‘Cats can get offence from their defencemen as well. They have big defender Martin Has, who spent part of a season with the Guelph Storm. He was drafted by Washington in 2019. Angus Booth, Jordan Tourigny and Isaac Menard are all puck movers who topped the 20-point plateau in the regular season.
Loris Rafanomezantsoa may set the record for the longest name ever to play in the tournament clocking in at seven syllables and 15 letters.
In goal Shawinigan has a pair of 2002-born netminders in Antoine Coulombe and Carles-Antoine Lavallee. Coulombe got the bulk of the starts in the playoffs but both are capable keepers.
The Cataractes will go as far as Mavrik Bourque, Xavier Bourgault and Pierrick Dube will take them. That might sound like a tall task, but as hosts in 2012, Michael Bournival, Anton Zlobin and Michael Chaput accounted for more than 50 per cent of their scoring and led them to a Memorial Cup title.
Edmonton Oil Kings
On paper, the Edmonton Oil Kings enter the 2022 Memorial Cup tournament as the team to beat. Just grab the roster of Canada’s World Junior team and you’ll find five Oil Kings. All of them were playing prominent roles when the World Junior tournament had to be stopped in December.
Sebastian Cossa was vying for the role of number one goalie. Cossa is a six-foot, seven-inch netminder who was selected 15th overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings. Cossa had a 1.93 goals-against average in the Western Hockey League playoffs and twinned that with a .919 save percentage. He’s big and he’s hard to score on.
On defence, Edmonton has a shutdown pair in Kaeden Guhle and Luke Prokop. Guhle was one of the five Oil Kings on Team Canada and won a WHL championship when he played for Prince Albert in 2019. Prokop had the top plus-minus in the postseason in the WHL and Guhle ranked third. The tricky part with Prokop and Guhle is that they can both contribute offensively as well.
Logan Dowhaniuk and Simon Kubicek form an experienced and very strong second pair. They can play in all situations and both make very good decisions on the ice.
Up front, take your pick. Edmonton is deep. Jake Neighbours nearly stuck with the St. Louis Blues. Justin Sourdif is a top prospect of the Florida Panthers and Dylan Guenther was taken ninth overall by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. They are the other three Team Canada members.
But the Oil Kings’ talent level stays high after that. Josh Williams is a pure goal scorer who finds spaces to get his dynamite shot away. Carter Souch sets the tone with his work ethic and has great vision. Jakub Demek has big size and great anticipation. Jalen Luypen is hard to catch and there are three players in John Szabo, Cole Miller and Dawson Seitz who started the year as 16-year-olds but have played consistent roles.
The Oil Kings were also missing two other key players in Brendan Kuny and Jaxsen Wiebe due to injury.
Had there been a Memorial Cup tournament in 2021, Edmonton would have had a good chance at representing the WHL. Now they are a year older and they appear to have all of the necessary ingredients. However, there are three other teams who plan to more than stand in the way in what should be a great 10 days of major junior hockey.
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