In advance of the 92nd MasterCard Memorial Cup, which opens Friday in Brandon, Man., we take a look at the four teams vying for the toughest trophy to win in hockey. Presenting the Windsor Spitfires, the Ontario Hockey League champion and defending Memorial Cup champ.
CAN they rein themselves in and stay out of those basketball-on-ice freewheeling frenzies that are fun to watch, but open the door to losing to a less talented team?
WAS that the real Philipp Grubauer in the OHL final, when he put up a .927 save percentage in the four-game sweep of Barrie?
WILL Taylor Hall play his way into being the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft next month?
Storyline: Out to become the first repeat champion in 15 seasons and coming in with a bit of a chip on their shoulders after and next season's tournament was awarded to the Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors.
In a couple paragraphs: The Ewen Theory states the two biggest indicators of success in the WHL have been having a good-sized handful of NHL-drafted players and a high-ranked power play.
If you apply that to this tournament, the Spitfires stack up well, with 10 drafted players (plus at least three more who will be selected next month) and the OHL's second-best PP.
The combo of Hall and Adam Henrique (20 goals in 19 post-season games) have been lights-out during their current eight-game win streak since going down 0-3 in the Western Conference final against Kitchener, while they boast three scoring lines and Fowler, Ryan Ellis and veteran Mark Cundari to help shore up the attack. The depth is such you can get tricked into forgetting Stephen Johnston, Dale Mitchell and Scott Timmins can play.
On top of that, they have more experience with high-leverage environments.
[block]"I think the pre-tournament favourite probably has to be Windsor. They are the defending champs and their roster boasts 12 players who were on last year's team - a year older, better, and with that winning experience... in those 10 or so players that weren't there last year, they have added a couple big-time players like Cam Fowler and Zack Kassian. I think they have to be favoured." (Small Thoughts At Large)[end block]
A WHL team has won the last seven tournaments held in the west, but the travel lag has been reduced, since the league's eastern-most team is hosting.
Coach: Bob Boughner (fourth season)
Captain: Harry Young
Record: 50-12-1-5 regular season, 16-3 playoffs
Goal differential: +129 regular season, +36 playoffs
Special teams: 25.3% power play (second, OHL); 84.8% penalty killing (third) in regular season; 24.4% (second) and 88.8% (second) in playoffs.
NHL draft picks: 10 -- C Adam Henrique (third round, New Jersey Devils), C Greg Nemisz (first, Calgary Flames), RW Zack Kassian (first, Buffalo Sabres), RW Kenny Ryan (second, Toronto Maple Leafs), RW Dale Mitchell (third, Toronto), C Stephen Johnston (sixth, Detroit Red Wings), C Scott Timmins (sixth round, Florida Panthers), LW Eric Wellwood (sixth, Philadelphia Flyers), D Ryan Ellis (first, Nashville Predators), D Harry Young (seventh, New Jersey).
Draft watch: Hall should need no introduction, since he was ranked No. 1 for the 2011 NHL draft by NHL Central Scouting until he was leap-frogged by Plymouth Whalers' Tyler Seguin in the final ranking. It's quite possible the Edmonton Oilers have decided already whom they will take No. 1.
Defenceman Cam Fowler (the No. 5-ranked North American skater) and winger Justin Shugg (No. 53) are also playing for their draft status. Fowler had a quiet post-season statistically.
Shugg, a 39-goal in the regular season, has had benefit of playing three OHL seasons prior to entering the draft. Whether by accident or design, the Spitfires seem to have good luck with players with late-year birthdates; leading scorer Hall and captain Young were both born after the Sept. 15 cutoff for the NHL draft. Malcolm Gladwell would approve.
Grubauer, 19, is ranked No. 15 among North American goaltenders.
Days off between final playoff game and tournament opener: 9
Historical nugget: The Spitfires are the first OHL team to win the Memorial Cup and reach the touranment the following season since the Peterborough Petes of 1979 and '80. The '80 Petes lost the final in overtime.
Round-robin schedule (all times EDT): Friday vs. Brandon (8 p.m.), Monday vs. Calgary (8 p.m.), Tuesday vs. Moncton (8 p.m.)
(Note: goal differential does not include shootout winners.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Sports Canada. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.