The puck drops on the 100th Memorial Cup Friday night. The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) champion Hamilton Bulldogs open their round-robin against the host, Regina Pats (10 p.m. ET). The Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos open against Quebec’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan Saturday (4 p.m.).
The Bulldogs, just two years removed from the franchise’s relocation from Belleville to Hamilton, won the OHL title by knocking off the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, widely considered the top team in Canada, in six games.
Hamilton is the deepest team in the Memorial Cup tournament. Four players (Robert Thomas, Ryan Moore, Brandon Saigeon, Nicholas Caamano) finished with 20-plus points in the OHL playoffs. The Bulldogs also had four players score at least 10 goals (Robert Thomas, Brandon Saigeon, Nicholas Caamano, MacKenzie Entwistle).
Hamilton goalie Kaden Fulcher led the high-scoring OHL playoffs with a 2.70 goals-against average (GAA). Fulcher attended training camp with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings last season.
If defence and goaltending win championships, the edge goes to the Broncos. Swift Current finished second in the WHL in goals against, led by goaltender Stuart Skinner. The Edmonton Oilers’ prospect posted a sparkling .932 save percentage and 2.20 GAA in 26 playoff starts.
The Broncos can score, too. They finished with the third-most goals in the WHL during the regular season. Calgary Flames prospect centre Glen Gawdin posted a 125-point regular season to go along with 100 penalty minutes and a +61 rating. Linemate Aleksi Heponiemi, drafted by the Florida Panthers, finished third in WHL scoring behind Gawdin.
The Regina Pats will have the most to prove, having being given a default spot in the Memorial Cup as hosts. The Pats finished third in the WHL’s East Division. Their 87 points were good for seventh place overall. Regina, however, did take Swift Current to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, before losing to the eventual champs.
Regina will rely heavily on their stifling defence, which features three NHL prospects: Cale Fleury (Montreal Canadiens), Libor Hajek (New York Rangers), and Josh Mahura (Anaheim Ducks). Pats captain Sam Steel, selected in the first round (30th overall), also by the Anaheim Ducks, paces the offence. The 20-year-old couldn’t match his 50-goal and 131-point output from 2016 but still managed 83 points in 54 games this past season. Steel had 11 points in the first round loss to the Broncos.
QMJHL champions Acadie-Bathurst Titan had the easiest road to the Memorial Cup — at least they made it look that way. The Titan lost just four games all playoffs en route to a title. Goalie Evan Fitzpatrick was the team’s MVP in the post-season, posting a 2.10 GAA and .925 save percentage in 20 games. Fitzpatrick was the top-ranked North American goalie in the 2016 draft according to NHL Central Scouting. The St. Louis Blue selected the six-foot-three-inch tall netminder in the second round (59th overall).
Up front, Acadie-Bathurst is led by Philadelphia Flyers’ first-round pick German Rubtsov and Anaheim Ducks’ prospect Antoine Morand. Meanwhile, NHL teams will have their eyes on defenceman Noah Dobson. The 18-year-old two-way blueliner put up 69 points in 67 regular season games for the Titan. Dobson is projected to be a top-10 pick in the NHL draft this summer.
2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup Schedule (all times ET):
Round-Robin Game 1 – Hamilton Bulldogs vs. Regina on Friday, May 18 at 8 p.m.
Round-Robin Game 2 – Swift Current Broncos vs. Acadie-Bathurst Titan on Saturday, May 19 at 2 p.m.
Round-Robin Game 3 – Regina vs. Acadie-Bathurst Titan on Sunday, May 20 at 5 p.m.
Round-Robin Game 4 – Swift Current Broncos vs. Hamilton Bulldogs on Monday, May 21 at 6 p.m.
Round-Robin Game 5 – Acadie-Bathurst Titan vs. Hamilton Bulldogs on Tuesday, May 22 at 8 p.m.
Round-Robin Game 6 – Regina vs. Swift Current Broncos on Wednesday, May 23 at 8 p.m.
Tie-Breaker (if necessary) – Thursday, May 24 at 6 p.m.
Semi-Final – Friday, May 25 at 8 p.m.
Championship Final – Sunday, May 27 at 5 p.m.
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