The puck will drop Friday at the 103rd Memorial Cup, in Kamloops, B.C., kicking off the annual tournament to determine the best team in major-junior hockey.
The Kamloops Blazers earned their spot in the final four as host, along with the playoff champs from the three arms of the Canadian Hockey League, the Seattle Thunderbirds, Peterborough Petes and Quebec Remparts.
Storylines include the talent-packed Thunderbirds, the rallying underdog Petes, the 34 NHL prospects on display across the four teams and a sendoff for Patrick Roy.
The four teams will start with round-robin play, before moving on to a single-elimination tournament. The championship game is set for June 4 to crown the top team of the 60 playing this season in the CHL (52 Canadian and eight American). Here’s a look at the competitors:
Led by four-time Stanley Cup winner Patrick Roy as coach/GM, the Remparts earned their ticket by winning the QMJHL for the first time in 47 years. Quebec seeks the club’s third Memorial Cup trophy, and first since 2006, when Roy hoisted it as a rookie coach. The Hall of Fame goalie for the Colorado Avalanche and Montreal Canadiens announced at the start of the season that this would be his last as Remparts coach, creating speculation he may consider a job in the NHL.
This will be the Remparts’ eighth appearance at this tournament, but first since 2015, when as hosts they lost in the semis to the Kelowna Rockets. They are buoyed by seven NHL prospects on their roster, including Columbus Blue Jackets selection and QMJHL playoff MVP James Malatesta, and Justin Robidas – a Carolina Hurricanes pick and son of former NHLer Stéphane Robidas.
“We won our league so that was a nice achievement from our group,” Roy said at a news conference featuring the four coaches, distinguishing this year’s trip from 2006, when his Remparts lost to Moncton in the QMJHL final but went to the Memorial Cup as league runners-up because Moncton was the host.
“I have a very special group of players, great leaders. So it’s an honour for me to coach these guys.”
The Petes finished the OHL season 10th overall, then went on a stunning playoff run, beating the top two teams in the bracket en route to the final, where they toppled the London Knights. Peterborough’s record of 35-29-2-2 (with 74 points) was the lowest regular-season total by an eventual OHL champion since the 1981 Kitchener Rangers.
Michael Simpson, the OHL playoff MVP who posted two 50-save performances in the final series, stars in goal. Peterborough has eight NHL draft picks, including Tucker Robertson (Seattle Kraken) and Canadian world junior standout Brennan Othmann (New York Rangers).
The Petes are making their 10th appearance at the Memorial Cup, yet their first in 17 years. They hoisted the Cup just once, in 1979.
After flying to B.C. fresh off winning the OHL title, Peterborough’s coach, Rob Wilson, spoke about preparing quickly for the new opponents. “We’re looking at video, making phone calls, trying to get as much information as you can about the teams you’re playing.”
The Thunderbirds are playing in their third Memorial Cup but have never won it. The WHL champs have the most NHL-drafted players of the four teams in Kamloops with 10, plus another six likely to be chosen in the 2023 draft.
Seattle’s scoring starts with Arizona Coyotes 2021 first-rounder Dylan Guenther, whose 16 postseason goals in 19 games led the CHL. In the back, the Thunderbirds have NHL-drafted Luke Prokop, Kevin Korchinski and Nolan Allan.
Thunderbirds goalie Thomas Milic is in the midst of a big year – chosen the WHL goaltender of the year, plus WHL playoffs MVP and helped Canada to gold at the world juniors.
Seattle’s best finish at a Memorial Cup was in 1992, when as hosts it lost 8-3 in the semi-finals to Kamloops.
While the Blazers didn’t play to a league title (they pushed Seattle to six games in the conference finals of the WHL playoffs) this host team has two nice advantages. It has had more than two weeks to rest and will have a big home crowd at Kamloops’ Sandman Centre.
“We’re getting ready to face three championship-calibre teams, so we’ve got a heavy task ahead,” said Blazers coach Shaun Clouston. “We did have some time off, so we were able to sit back and watch some games on TV, so we got a little feel for what’s in store.”
Logan Stankoven (Dallas Stars) and Olen Zellweger (Anaheim Ducks) are among the nine NHL prospects on the Blazers’ roster. They were the two highest scorers in the WHL playoffs, despite playing five fewer games than Seattle.
The Blazers have won six Memorial Cups, but the most recent was in 1995, when they where the hosts, with a team including eventual NHL stars Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla and Darcy Tucker.
Only standing-room tickets are left, Kamloops hotels are at capacity for the tournament’s 11 days, and the region could see approximately $15-million to $20-million in economic impact.
The WHL has claimed the Memorial Cup 19 times since the adoption of the three-league tournament format in 1972. The OHL has 17 Cups in that time and the QMJHL 13, including the past three, won by the Acadie-Bathurst Titan (2018), Rouyn Noranda Huskies (2019) and Saint John Sea Dogs (2022).