The Memorial Cup: A battle for junior supremacy
Two Flyers prospects going after coveted trophy
With the eyes of the hockey world focused on the Stanley Cup Playoffs and even the World Championships in Sweden and Finland, another very important and historical tournament is set to begin.
And it's one that Flyers fans might want to keep an eye on.
The 2013 Memorial Cup, the annual battle for junior hockey supremacy, will kick off in Saskatoon and run through May 26.
"I would say the Memorial Cup is the hardest trophy to win in most sports because you have to win your league, a couple best-of-7 series, and then when you're champion of your own league you have to go play in a another tournament against three other teams," said Flyers forward Max Talbot, who has had the privilege of competing in two Memorial Cups.
The tournament features the winner of each Canadian Major Junior League, the Western Hockey League Champions, the Ontario Hockey League Champions and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Champions.
The fourth team in the tournament is determined far before the season even starts. The host city of the tournament, which rotates from year-to-year, earns the right to battle for the Memorial Cup.
The teams vying for this year's title are the Portland Winterhawks (WHL), London Knights (OHL) and Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) with this year's host city team, the Saskatoon Blades rounding out the foursome.
So why is this tournament, which enters its 95th year dating back to 1919 in remembrance of the many soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice for Canada in the First World War, so special beyond what was just explained?
"It was the first time I played in front of so many people. It was at the Colisee at the time and there were 14,000 people. It was pretty cool for everybody, but especially a 16-year-old kid," said Flyers Director of Player Development Ian Laperriere, who played in the tournament 22 years ago as a member of Drummondville of the QMJHL.
|Brayden Schenn in the 2010 Memorial Cup|
"It's like the Stanley Cup Final actually. It's a grind to get there. You get to know what it takes to win and the sacrifices it takes. It doesn't matter what level it is. Those kids have to make sacrifices too. You have to put everything aside and make sure you're doing everything to help you're team win."
The WHL Champion Portland Winterhawks have Flyers prospect Taylor Leier, who is enjoying a breakout regular and postseason in his second year with the club.
Leier is tied for third on Portland during the playoffs with nine goals and has posted 16 points in 21 games. He also has a plus-minus rating of plus-11 going into his first Memorial Cup.
During the regular season Leier recorded 27 goals, more than doubling his output from his rookie season, while posting 62 points in 64 games. Leier played with this year's top prospect for the NHL Draft in New Jersey - defenseman Seth Jones.
"Taylor Leier was a big part of that team, added Laperriere. "I saw him play a couple weeks ago and he was great. I talked to his coach every week and he has been a big part of that championship team. He's one of those players that is going to add experience under his belt. It's all positive."
Here's a look at Leier's goal in Game 3 of the WHL Final…
The OHL Champion London Knights have 2012 Draft pick Anthony Stolarz, who joined the team half-way through the regular season. Throughout, and most of the playoffs, Stolarz shined with his first season in junior hockey, posting a 13-3-1 mark in 20 appearances to go along with a 2.29 GAA and .920 save percentage. He also added a 13-5 record in the post seasons with a 2.53 GAA and .923 save percentage.
The QMJHL Champion Halifax Mooseheads don't have any Flyers prospects, but boast two of this year's hottest commodities at the Draft - center Nathan MacKinnon and left wing Jonathan Drouin.
The annual tournament for junior supremacy consists mainly of a round-robin format. The team with the best record afterwards advances directly to the Championship game, while the second and third-placed teams play a semifinal game to advance to the Finals.
If there is a tie for third place after the round-robin, a tiebreaker game will be played to determine the second team in the semifinals.
For the prospects, both drafted and undrafted, winning the Memorial Cup is the main concern, but also on the line is their potential to play professional afterwards.
"They know. They're smart," added Laperriere. "We knew 22-years ago that you put yourself on the map because every scout is there. I know our crew is going and every team is sending their 'A-crew' there, and the general managers are going to be there to watch them play. It doesn't matter if they're drafted or not. It's their chance to see that they can shine under pressure and it's their chance to show everybody they're shining under the brightest spotlight."
As for current Flyers, a handful who ended the season on the roster have Memorial Cup experience. Most recently forward Brayden Schenn played in the 2010 Memorial Cup with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.
Sean Couturier played in the 2009 Memorial Cup with Drummondville. Claude Giroux and Jason Akeson both appeared in the 2008 Memorial Cup, but with different squads. Giroux was a member of the Gatineau Olympiques, who won the QMJHL title, while Akeson's Kitchener Rangers took the OHL title and just happened to be the host city.
In case you're wondering, in a case where League champion is also the host city, the finalist from that League who hosts the tourney gets in as the fourth team.
Max Talbot is the only current Flyer who has appeared in the tournament twice. Talbot was a member of the 2003 and 2004 Olympiques, but both times his team fell short in the final game.
Despite falling short, Talbot knows that the experience has definitely helped prepare his game for the NHL stage, including the long second-season that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"It's a really tough trophy to win and the experience is unbelievable and really valuable for a junior player to not only have the chance to win the trophy, but to go there and play against all the best players, not only in Canada but against European players you're going to see in the NHL as well."