CHL- Road to the Memorial Cup
The drive towards the Memorial Cup has begun. The CHL 2005-06 regular season was capped off by an amazing 11-point performance by Quebec Rempart’s forward Alexander Radulov (NAS). Can the league’s top scorer lead the Remparts to a Memorial Cup birth? Calgary Hitmen goalie Justin Pogge (TOR) is the leading candidate for the CHL MVP honours and the Hitmen will need him to elevate his game beyond World Junior Championship levels if they want to become WHL champions. The Peterborough Petes and the London Knights look to be on a collision course for OHL supremacy but the Brampton Battalion and Kitchener Rangers may throw a wrench into those plans. I will also add my two cents by predicting the individual league champions and who will take home the Memorial cup.QMJHL
The likely QMJHL player of the year Alexander Radulov (NAS) finished first overall with 152 points. He capped of the year with a Sitler like performance of 11pts against the lowly Oceanic. Quebec has a potent offense that includes the likes of Brent Aubin and rookie of the year candidate Angelo Esposito. The Remparts may receive some opposition in the Eastern Conference from the fast skating Haitian Maxime Boisclair and the Slovakian Stanislav Lascek (TB) of the Chicoutimi Saugeneens. If Chicoutimi has any hope of beating St. Pat’s Remparts, they will need player of the month Patrick Coulombe and Julien Brouillette to shut down the Rempart attack and quarterback the power play on the blue line.
In the West, the Moncton Wildcats are assured a spot in the Memorial Cup because they are the host-city. They are well prepared for the tournament as they are the top ranked team in the West. Led by centre Phillipe Dupuis (CLB) and top scoring defenseman Keith Yandle (PHX), it may be a cake walk through the West. The Acadie-Bathurst Titans led by iron man winger Mathieu Roy may beat the Wildcats but don’t count on it.
QMJHL prediction: Quebec Remparts
Barring a major collapse, no one is going to touch the Remparts. Patrick Roy has this team firing on all cylinders and if you watch Radulov play, no CHL skater takes control of the game like he does. If he plays to expectation, everything else falls into place for Quebec.
Without question, Justin Pogge has had a stellar season and is the number one reason why the Hitmen are a top ten team in the entire CHL. The problem is, without Justin Pogge, the Hitmen would have struggled to make the playoffs. But as hockey fans know, a hot goalie can take you far but they need help in front. Look for the Hitmen to go deep but divisional rival, and regular season champions, The Medicine Hat Tigers will be the Hitmen’s greatest hurdle. Led by centre Darren Helm (DET), the Tiger’s offence has scored the second most goals in the league while goalie Matt Keetley (CAL) has had a lot of help from a solid defense lead by Kris Russell (CLB) with allowing the 4th fewest goals in the WHL. Do not count out The Moose Jaw Warriors who led the WHL in scoring with the formidable attack led by Troy Brouwer (CHI), Dustin Boyd (CAL) and Blair Jones (TB) all being top ten scorers. They will need help in the goaltending department as Joey Perricone has been mediocre this season. On thing is for sure, the Eastern Conference is very tight.
In the wild wild Western Conference, Gilbert Brule (CLB) after missing a large chunk of the season to the NHL and a sternum injury, will need to bring his A game if he wants the Giants to slip past the Kelowna Rockets and Kootenay Ice. Look for the undrafted Vancouver goalie Dustin Slade to shine for his team. Kootenay is led by star power forward Adam Cracknell (CAL) and the Rockets have sniper Justin Keller (TB). These elite Western Conference players will have their work cut out for them against the Eastern powerhouse teams.
WHL prediction: Medicine Hat Tigers
Having the second best offence and the 4th best defence in the WHL makes you the team to beat and I don’t believe anyone can take them down other then star goalie Justin Pogge and the Hitmen. The majority of great teams fall due to a great goalie but I don’t believe Pogge himself can hold off the barrage he will face from the best team in the WHL.
Junior fans, this is the league to watch. Living in the Kitchener area, I have been blessed to see numerous divisional battles between the Kitchener Rangers and London Knights. I look forward to seeing this rivalry continue for the Western Conference crown. The Knights have the best offence in the OHL led by David Bolland (CHI) and Rob Schremp (EDM). These two explosive forwards round out a very solid Knights team that also include rookie of the year candidate Sergei Kostitsyn (MON). The Rangers have the best goalie in the OHL Dan Turple (ATL) who compliments the towering 6 ft + defensemen Jakub Kindl (Det) and Mat Lashoff (BOS).
The Eastern conference has it shares of rivalries but look for the inevitable conference clash between the Brampton Battalion’s surprise World junior omission Wojtek Wolski (COL) against a well rounded Peterborough Petes team. Looking down the top scorers list, you will not see a Pete until you hit #20 Daniel Ryder (CAL). The Petes are well balanced and every line can light up the lamp and shut the down the opposition. The Battalion will look upon Wolski to carry the offensive load and rely on San Jose defensive prospect Michael Vernace to log a tonne of minutes in an attempt to contain the Petes’ attack.
OHL prediction: Peterborough Petes
As competitive as the OHL is with the four horses I mentioned, only the Petes are solid in every position on every line. This is the best team hands down and if they play the way they did during the regular season, they can contain the top players and win a lot of one goal games which are generally numerous in the play-offs.
Memorial Cup Final Prediction:
Quebec Remparts vs. Peterborough Petes.
If this is the final, I can’t wait. These are the two best teams in the CHL in my opinion. The Remparts have the typical flash you are accustomed to see in the French league while the Petes are a balanced grinding team typical of the English leagues. The two styles compliment each other like an old Montreal-Toronto rivalry. Look for hard hitting and fast paced hockey. The Petes however have more depth and a defensive minded concept will allow them to shut down the Remparts. If you can contain Radulov, you have a great chance of winning. Look for Columbus defensive prospect Trevor Hendrix force Radulov into taking many penalties which is one of Radulov’s few weaknesses. Watch for the aggressive Hendrix to log in the most ice time out of any player due to his special team attributes.