Think of a league championship as the sumptuous meal and the Memorial Cup as dessert. The latter is nice but not essential to feeling full.
With the MasterCard Memorial Cup 10 days away — and with the Saskatoon Blades occupied with their refresher course on post-season hockey — it's not a bad time to harp on how a season isn't defined by winning the Memorial Cup. Or maybe one should hold in her/his air and abide that the majority perception that the team who wins that 10-day tournament in May gets to fashion a lasting legacy.
Reality, of course, is more scrambled. Franchises shouldn't downplay winning four best-of-7 series to claim the league, or ruling over all the competition in their region of Canada (and a few U.S. border states). It seems germane to point this out during the lead-up to this tournament. The WHL finalists in Edmonton and Portland each won 50-plus games in the regular season. Down east the Halifax Mooseheads had a QMJHL-record-tying 58 victories and are 14-0 in the playoffs. The London Knights, who are having enough trouble with the Barrie Colts in the OHL final, also hit the big five-oh. Chances are, someone from that group is not going to hoist a trophy on May 27, just like some other stacked squads from throughout the tournament era:
By no means is this a definitive list. It's more of a sampling from throughout the years.
2006-07 Lewiston MAINEiacs — Led by St. Louis Blues centre David Perron, then an 18-year-old first-rounder, the MAINEiacs went an unprecedented 16-1 during their President's Cup run. Their only loss, hello foreshadowing, was in Game 4 of the league quarter-final against the Mooseheads; it's conceivable an 11-year-old Nathan MacKinnon might have been in the Halifax Metro Centre that night.
Lewiston also had a 50-14-0-6 regular season, so within the Q, they were untouchable. The Memorial Cup in Vancouver involved schlepping coast-to-coast, though. Lewiston wasn't exactly loaded with high-end talent. Six years on, Perron and goalie Jonathan Bernier are the only established NHLers. That might have caught up to them; they played three low-scoring round-robin games, lost two, and were thumped 5-1 by Plymouth in an all-American tiebreaker game.
1998-99 Calgary Hitmen — The Hitmen's story is one for hockey's romantics. Like the present-day Edmonton Oil Kings, they were a team in a NHL market where the big club was struggling who had endeared themselves by coming out of the expansion team growing pains to become a contender. Calgary had a 51-win, 110-point season, then went 16-5 in playoffs while handling a 48-win, 109-point Kamloops Blazers in a five-game Ed Chynoweth Cup final that included a triple-overtime Game 4.
Factors out of their control hurt them at the Memorial Cup. Then as now, the '99 tournament included a well-rested host team, since the Ottawa 67's had lost out in the OHL's second round to the Belleville Bulls. It was unseasonably balmy in Canada's capital during tournament week and Calgary was deprived of two blueline pillars, losing Brad Stuart to a headshot and Kenton Smith due to the death of his mother.
Calgary beat Acadie-Bathurst — and a 20-year-old Roberto Luongo — and Belleville to win the round-robin and earn a three-day respite before the final. Ottawa, though, had more in the tank thanks to its long break. The 67's played a double-OT game with the Bulls at the end of the round-robin, won a Saturday-night semifinal rematch with their division rival and then beat the Hitmen 6-5 in overtime on the following afternoon.
1992-93 Peterborough Petes — The Petes seem pertinent to the present since, like Portland, they had an 18-year-old defenceman scouts were drooling over, a 6-foot-6 lad named Chris Pronger. They also boasted another future Stanley Cup champion in Cory Stillman, who had more of a NHL career than the club's three 100-point scorers, Mike Harding, Jason Dawe and David Roche. On the blueline, stay-at-home defender Geordie Kinnear was destined for a long career in the game; he's now a coach with the AHL's Charlotte Checkers.
The Petes had 97 points in a 66-game season, 16 more than anyone else in the OHL in that pre-bonus point era. At that time, the choice where to hold the Memorial Cup wasn't so business-driven. The Petes and Ted Nolan-coached Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds played off in a special series to decide the host team. The Greyhounds swept. That rendered their rematch in the OHL final moot. Peterborough won that 4-1, setting up a 10th and 11th playoff matchup. The 'Hounds won both to take bragging rights for all eternity.
1983-84 Laval Voisins — Thank goodness there was no Twitter in 1984, or else the "Mario Lemieux is good at hockey" tweets would have made you through all your devices out a window. (May that meme please die before May 17, eh.) Lemieux was an 18-year-old in his draft season and laid waste to the Q with a 133-goal, 282-point season, playing all 70 games after declining a place on Team Canada for the world junior championship. Someone who is better at math can figure out how four points a game in 1983-84 compares to Jonathan Drouin averaging two a game in 2012-13 amid improved goaltending, better scouting and much faster-paced game.
This was the second year of the host-team format. Laval was put up against the host Kitchener Rangers, who were smarting from being swept by the Ottawa 67's in the OHL final. Laval lost 8-2. In their next game, the 67's defence corps with Mark Paterson and future NHLer Brad Shaw held Super Mario, in relative terms, to two goals in a 6-5 Ottawa win. Laval was done after their next game, finishing 0-3 while being outscored 18-10.
1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings — Still a legendary team in the Keystone province, but the grand prize eluded them. Brandon, with three future 1,000-game NHLers in Brian Propp, Laurie Boschman and the late Brad McCrimmon, dominated the Dub with a 58-5-9, 125-point regular season. The Memorial Cup between the Wheaties, the Gary Green-coached Peterborough Petes and Trois-Rivières, who had also won a league-record 58 games, was incredibly tight.
Everyone went 2-2 during the double round-robin. That created a Peterborough-Brandon final. McCrimmon logged somewhere in the range of 50 minutes' ice time in the final, but the Petes pulled out a 2-1 overtime win.
Point being, one bounce doesn't diminish what Brandon did.
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.