The Memorial Cup is awarded annually to the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) champion. It is awarded following a four-team, round robin tournament between a host team and the champions of the CHL's three member leagues: the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL). Sixty teams are eligible to compete for the Memorial Cup, representing nine provinces and five American states. The Windsor Spitfires are the defending champions, while the 2010 Memorial Cup tournament is scheduled for May 14–23 and will be hosted by the Brandon Wheat Kings.
The trophy was originally known as the OHA Memorial Cup and was donated by the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) in 1919 to be awarded to the junior champion of Canada. From its inception until 1971, the Memorial Cup was open to all Junior A teams in the country and was awarded following a series of league, provincial and regional playoffs culminating in an east-west championship. The three-league tournament format began in 1972 when the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association divided the Junior A rank into two tiers, naming the Memorial Cup as the championship of the Major Junior level.
The Memorial Cup was proposed by Captain James T. Sutherland during World War I, who wanted to create a trophy as a memorial to remember the OHA's players who died during the war. When the trophy was created, it was dedicated in honour of the soldiers who died fighting for Canada in the war. During the 2010 tournament, it will be rededicated to honour all soldiers who died fighting for Canada in any conflict.
Often referred to as the ‘Father of Hockey’, Captain James T. Sutherland is the man responsible for the Memorial Cup. The well-traveled Kingston shoe salesman was a great hockey booster and administrator, championing his hometown of Kingston as the birthplace of hockey. Two of his former players and two of Kingston’s greatest hockey stars died in World War I; Alan (Scotty) Davidson was lost in battle in 1915 just one year after he helped the Toronto Blueshirts win the Stanley Cup and another Kingston hockey great, Capt. George T. Richardson, was killed in action in 1916. Capt. Sutherland, who was also overseas, was President of the Ontario Hockey Association and he brought forward the idea to present a trophy to honour all the young Canadian hockey players who died in battle and have it awarded to the best junior hockey team in Canada. The idea for the Memorial Cup was born:
The Ontario Hockey Association’s annual meeting was unanimous that a fitting memorial be established to members of the OHA who had fallen on the field of war. "Past President Capt. J.T. Sutherland, now in France, spoke of the splendid work done by Canadian boys in France and suggested the erection of a suitable memorial to hockey players who have fallen." --The Globe, Toronto, Ontario, Dec. 9, 1918.
It is considered one of the hardest trophies to win in sports, as there are currently 60 teams competing each year to make the tournament, and a player has a maximum of five years to win it due to age restrictions.
So let's take a look at this year's tournament:
It started with 60 teams but eight months and more than 2,300 games later, the Canadian Hockey League playoffs are down to the final four.
The OHL champion Windsor Spitfires, QMJHL champion Moncton Wildcats, WHL champion Calgary Hitmen and host Brandon Wheat Kings will all play in the 2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup starting on Friday with junior hockey's biggest prize on the line.
Windsor Spitfires (OHL Champions)
How they got here: The Spitfires cruised through the first two rounds of the OHL playoffs, sweeping the Erie Otters and then the Plymouth Whalers. They were rolling into the Western Conference finals but got a rude awakening when the Kitchener Rangers won the first three games of the series, including two in Windsor to put the Spitfires one loss away from elimination. Windsor roared back with four straight wins and then swept the CHL's top rated team, the Barrie Colts in the OHL Championship Series to win the Robertson Cup for the second straight season.
Top guns: The Spitfires are led up front by top NHL draft prospect Taylor Hall, who led the OHL playoffs in scoring with 17 goals and 35 points and was the MVP in the Memorial Cup last year, and Adam Henrique, who won the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as the MVP of the OHL playoffs after scoring 20 goals and 25 points in 19 games. Defenceman Ryan Ellis had three goals and 33 points in the Spitfires' 19 game march to the OHL title.
Behind the bench: Bob Boughner is in his fourth season behind the Spitfires' bench but already has a lifetime of experience after guiding the team to their remarkable win in Rimouski last year and to their second straight OHL title last week.
Calgary Hitmen (WHL Champions)
How they got here: The Calgary Hitmen got off to a shaky start to the playoffs after winning the WHL's regular season title. They lost three of the first four games of their opening round playoff series against the Moose Jaw Warriors before rallying for a seven-game series win and then needed six games to brush aside the Medicine Hat Tigers in the second round. The Hitmen hit their stride in the Conference Finals, knocking off the Wheat Kings in five games and then claimed their second Ed Chynoweth Trophy with a five game win over the Tri-City Americans in the WHL Championship Series.
Top guns: Bandon Kozun led all WHL scorers in the post-season with eight goals and 22 assists for 30 points while Michael Stone scored five goals and added 15 assists for 20 points in the playoffs. Joel Broda was their top sniper in the run to the WHL championship with a league-best 13 goals to go along with four assists for 17 points in 23 games.
Behind the bench: Mike Williamson is in his first season behind the Hitmen bench after spending 15 years with the Portland Winterhawks as a player and then coach. He was an assistant coach with Portland when they won the Memorial Cup in 1998.
Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL Champions)
How they got here: The Wildcats took a relatively easy route to the QMJHL championships with five game wins over the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, then the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and then the defending QMJHL champion Drummondville Voltigeurs to set up an all-New Brunswick QMJHL final against the Saint John Sea Dogs. The Wildcats jumped out to a 2-0 lead early and wrapped up the series in six games.
Top guns: The Wildcats were led up front by the dynamic duo of Kelsey Tessier (14-16-30) and Gabriel Bourque (19-10-29) throughout their extended playoff run while defenceman Mark Barberio chipped in with five goals and 17 assists for 22 points from the blueline. Nicolas Deschamps came over from Chicoutimi midway through the season and was one of the top snipers in the regular season but a leg injury has sidelined him since the semi-finals.
Behind the bench: Danny Flynn joined the Wildcats as their head coach in 2007 after spending a season as an assistant with the New York Islanders. He was an assistant coach under Ted Nolan with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds when they won the Memorial Cup in 1993. He also won a CIS national championship as head coach of St. Francis Xavier University in 2004.
Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL/Host Team)
How they got here: After being named the host team for the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup, the Wheat Kings publicly stated that they planned on going through the front door as WHL champions. They swept the Swift Current Broncos in the opening round of the playoffs and then knocked off the Saskatoon Blades in six games in the second round but fell to the Hitmen in five games in the Eastern Conference championship.
Top guns: LA Kings' prospect Brayden Schenn (8-11-19) and overager Matt Calvert (9-7-16) were the Wheat Kings top playoff performers but they had lots of support from the likes of Aaron Lewadniuk (6-8-14) and Brent Raedeke (5-7-12) up front and Colby Robak (3-9-12) and Travis Hamonic (4-7-11) on the blueline.
Behind the bench: Kelly McCrimmon, the owner, GM and coach of the Wheat Kings is celebrating his 20th season with Brandon and fifth as their head coach. As the GM, McCrimmon put the Wheat Kings into the Memorial Cup twice and this will be his first time behind the bench.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the hard working men and women of Canada's Armed Forces, to whom this tournament and trophy are dedicated. They stand on guard for freedom, all 'round the world. Salute.