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Here’s who the London Knights will face in 2024 Memorial Cup tournament

The Memorial Cup tournament is often called a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience by the players who get to participate in it.

For the London Knights franchise, this will be their sixth appearance since 2005.

That year, the Knights won their very first Ontario Hockey League Championship. Then they captured the ultimate prize with a 4-0 win over Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic in the Memorial Cup final. London also hosted the event.

The Knights also played host in 2014 when the Edmonton Oil Kings defeated the Guelph Storm in the final.

Their other three trips came in 2016 when Matthew Tkachuk’s overtime winner led London to a 3-2 victory over the Rouyn-Noranda in the final in Red Deer, Alta., as the Knights earned their second Memorial Cup title.

London also made back-to-back appearances in 2012 when they lost in overtime to the host Shawinigan Cataractes and in 2013 when they went as far as the semi-final in Saskatoon, Sask.

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The field almost always features three league champions and a host club built to compete with all of them. That’s exactly what has happened in 2024 with the Knights, the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, the QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs and the host Saginaw Spirit.

What is brand new this time is the amount of rest each team has had. For the first time in Memorial Cup history, every league champion won their championship series in four straight games. Drummondville last played on May 14. London and Moose Jaw won their league titles on May 15 and the Spirit have been away from games since May 5 when they were eliminated in six games in the Western Conference Championship.

The Knights will open their tournament schedule on Day Two against the Voltigeurs.

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London vs Drummondville – May 25 – Pregame at 3:30 on 980 CFPL

What makes the Voltigeurs tick?

Sensational defensive play and a star goaltender with game-breakers up front who attack fast and hard.

Riley Mercer turned heads in the QMJHL playoffs in the Drummondville net when he posted a .934 save percentage and posted longest shutout streak in league history in the post-season going 174 minutes and 33 seconds. Making that even more impressive is the fact that most of it came against the QMJHL’s best team, the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.

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Mercer is the kid brother of Dawson Mercer who spent one of his QMJHL seasons in Drummondville and it now a member of the New Jersey Devils.

In front of the Bay Roberts, N.L. native are some award-winning defenders.

Vsevolod Komarov was the QMJHL’s overall Defenceman of the Year, while overager Mikael Diotte won the Kevin Lowe Trophy as the QMJHL’s best defensive defenceman. Add in the steadiness of Marc-Olivier Beaudry and Matteo Rotondi and there is a stellar top-four who absolutely eat minutes.

The defence corps also helped their team to win without NHL first rounder (Utah) Mavric Lamoureux.

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The first thing that jumps out about the forwards is their competitiveness. It’s like you wind them up on the bench and release them onto the ice.

Ethan Gauthier (Denis), Alexis Gendron (Martin) and Lukas Landry (Eric) all have dads who played in the National Hockey League. Martin Gendron actually crossed paths with Knights head coach Dale Hunter in Washington.

Gauthier is a catalyst and Gendron is a sniper.

They are joined by captain, Luke Woodworth, who grew up playing with and mostly against London’s Landon Sim in Nova Scotia along with Sam Oliver and Justin Cote who know how to score.

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Kassim Gaudette and Mikael Huchette provide the kind of leadership you just can’t add to a roster every day. They won the Memorial Cup with Komarov and the Quebec Remparts last year in Kamloops, B.C. Gaudette was Quebec’s captain when this season began.

Peter Repcik can compare notes with Rusland Gazizov of the Knights. Both were selected in the 2021 CHL Import Draft and both had break-out years this season.

There is youthful energy as well and also redemption stories in winger Noah Reinhart and defenceman Yan Gaudet. Both are from Ontario and went undrafted in in the OHL Priority Selection and then forged a path that led them to Drummondville.

To beat the Voltigeurs you must match their compete level, be patient in trying to dissect their defence and then score whenever you are given the chance against Mercer. The recipe is not an easy one but at this level it never is.

London vs Moose Jaw – May 27 – Pregame at 7 p.m., on 980 CFPL

The Moose Jaw debut

The Moose Jaw Warriors joined the Western Hockey League in 1984-85 when Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers were hitting their peak a province to the west and this season marked the first time that the Warriors built a championship team of their own.

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And this one is built to win.

They are coached by Mark O’Leary who played with London assistant coach Rick Steadman on the Guelph Storm in 2004-05.

Moose Jaw is deep down the middle with Brayden Yager, Matthew Savoie and Braden Schuurman. Savoie was a major acquisition this year by the Warriors from the Wenatchee Wild. Moose Jaw sent seven draft picks including two first-rounders to Wenatchee for the former 1st overall pick in the WHL Bantam Draft. Savoie was selected ninth overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2022. He also played with London’s Easton Cowan and Oliver Bonk at the World Junior Hockey Championship as a member of Team Canada.

Centre Jagger Firkus mirrored Cowan as the WHL’s player of the year and similar to Cowan presents all kinds of challenges with his skill and determination.

Overager Atlee Calvert is born and bred from Moose Jaw, Sask. he has been through his club’s entire climb and is a pass-first playmaker who goes to the dirty areas.

Martin Rysavy brings size, strength and World Junior experience. He went head to head with Kasper Halttunen of the Knights in a thrilling 8-5 bronze medal game at this year’s World Junior tournament. Rysavy is a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect.

On defence, Denton Mateychuk will quickly become known as one of the most dangerous players at this year’s Memorial Cup tournament. He also played for Team Canada and is the complete package of offence, defence and leadership.

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He plays with the towering Lucas Brenton.

Kalem Parker is physical and Vojtech Port is steady and sound and Aiden Ziprick and Cosmo Wilson bring great names and are considered very underrated in the way that they limit what opposing teams can do when they are on the ice.

In goal is Jackson Ungar who is a first-year starter for the Warriors but a dynamite one at that.

Ungar is calm and cool between the pipes and kept coming up against goalies in the WHL playoffs who might have had longer resumes but Ungar kept outduelling them in net.

To beat Moose Jaw you have to contain what they can do on the attack, which is an awful lot to ask. You have to be mindful of Mateychuk every time he is on the ice, and find a way to outwill their effort from the net out.

London vs Saginaw – May 29 – Pregame at 7 p.m., on 980 CFPL

Don’t sleep on Saginaw

During the Western Conference Championship Knights defender Oliver Bonk stated that the Spirit, “had more skill” than London. The Knights just had to find a way to win, which they did in six hard-fought games.

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The Spirit will have learned from that Conference final experience. They will have seen the level that it took to beat their very talented roster and they will bring that knowledge into this tournament in front of their fans and with the drive to join the other three teams that they are competing against as a championship team.

Saginaw has not been off long enough to worry too much about rust and in fact they should be completely healthy which means OHL Defenceman of the Year and number one goaltender Andrew Oke will have had time to get a whole lot closer to 100 per cent.

The Spirit still boast a line that could play on most American Hockey League teams led by Josh Bloom, Owen Beck and Strathroy, Ont., native Hunter Haight.

Matyas Sapovaliv is a second-round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights and Michael Misa will have eyes on him as a top prospect for the 2025 NHL Entry Draft.

Ethan Hay is tremendous as a penalty killer and Calem Mangone has provided Saginaw with clutch scoring away from the top two lines.

Defensively Parekh and Braden Hache are a perfect complement. Parekh on offence and Hache as a stay-at-home defender.

They are a 1 and 1A with Jorian Donovan and James Guo and Roddy Dionicio will be one of the most athletic and unpredictably skilled players on the ice.

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The tandem of Oke and Nolan Lalonde in net provide great stability.

It isn’t hard to make clear cut arguments for any of the four teams to be the favourite.

That is one of the true beautiful things about the Memorial Cup tournament.

You truly never know what you are going to get. All that is left to do is drop the puck.

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