SASKATOON, Sask. — One trait in sports commentary is to always quote a cherry-picked statistics that have an air of inviolability.
Commentators on National Football League broadcasts, for many years, loved to quote that no dome team had ever won a Super Bowl. That worked, until it actually happened. Or that the warm-weather Tampa Bay Buccaneers had never won a game when the temperature at opening kickoff was below X degrees, or something like that. That sort of thing sounds good, but there's probably another reason for why it was the case. That seems germane at the MasterCard Memorial Cup. Since the four-team format was created in 1983, no Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team has won at the 10 tournaments held in the west, with only three advancing to the final.
When one considers that the tournament is a big-budget operation and that the QMJHL champion Halifax Mooseheads are awfully good, maybe it's time to consider that factoid's days might be numbered. Teams are bit more up to speed on the sport science.
"Coming out here Wednesday gave us time to get acclimated with the time change," Mooseheads forward Stephen MacAulay, who has previously played in Memorial Cups held in Ontario and Quebec, said on Saturday ahead of the Halifax-Portland Winterhawks contest (7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet/TVA Sports, BTN livechat). "Three hours [the time zone difference between Halifax and Saskatoon] is significant enough. They’ve done a good job getting us to bed at the right times and getting us up at the right times. The jet lag is out now."
The Quebec League champ gets a double-edged gift when the tournament is out west. It does not have to face the host on opening night, but then plays back-to-back games against the two WHL teams and has Monday off before facing the OHL champ, who will be in the second of back-to-backs. (The out-of-region teams are always scheduled for Tuesday night, typically bleh for attendance, although that might be relative.
Halifax ended up with a seven-day break after winning the President's Cup on May 10. Macaulay noted that compares favourably with the playoffs-to-tournament transition of both Saint John Sea Dogs teams he helped win the league. The 2011 Sea Dogs, who won the Memorial Cup, had a tight four-day break after a championship series that included two double-overtime games. In 2012, they swept the QMJHL final.
"I don’t think that’ll be excuse," Macaulay says of the travel. "If we had played Friday, it might have different. Emotionally it is different [than it was two seasons ago for Saint John], we went to six games and then opened the tournament against Mississauga [on the Friday]. Emotionally, you have to celebrate a bit and then refocus on the big prize."
One adjustment for the Mooseheads is going from the amped-up atmosphere peculiar to the QMJHL to the more sedate Saskatoon crowd. Ten thousand people in the Halifax Metro Centre sound much louder than they do at Credit Union Centre, which can hold 16,000.
"We’ve had 10,000 strong all year," Mooseheads forward Luca Ciampini said. "It doesn’t matter if it’s Cape Breton or if it’s Baie-Comeau and it’s the last game of the final, it’s still a crazy time. We had our time that night with the fans. We just want to relive that moment."
Halifax is facing questions over whether its 58-6-3-1 regular season and 16-1 playoff run was fashioned against soft competition. Many QMJHL teams have encountered similar stereotyping.
"To the point of being tested, we’ve played a few overtime games, we’ve played in three of the toughest barns in the Q with Gatineau, Rouyn-Noranda, and Baie-Comeau," Macaulay said. "I think we’ve been tested. We’ve played in a lot of tough games. Just because we won them all it doesn’t mean that we weren’t tested."
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions' results at a WHL-hosted Memorial Cup since 1983:
— 2010 Moncton Wildcats: 0-3
— 2007 Lewiston MAINEiacs: 1-2, lost tiebreaker game
— 2004 Gatineau Olympiques: 2-1, lost final
— 2001 Val-d'Or Foreurs: 2-1, lost final in overtime
— 1998 Val-d'Or Foreurs: 0-3
— 1995 Hull Olympiques: 0-3
— 1992 Verdun Collège Français: 0-3
— 1989 Laval Titan: 1-2, lost tiebreaker game
— 1986 Hull Olympiques: 2-1, lost final
— 1983 Verdun Juniors: 1-2, lost semifinal
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.