HALIFAX—After six days of preliminary-round action, sudden-death play is set to begin at the Memorial Cup.
The host Halifax Mooseheads will play in the Memorial Cup championship on Sunday, while the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Guelph Storm square off in the semifinal on Friday. The Prince Albert Raiders were eliminated after going 0-3.
Here are five take-aways from round-robin action at the Canadian Hockey League’s national championship.
Tiebreakers can be tricky
For just the sixth time since 1983, three teams finished tied for first with 2-1 records. That forced a drawn-out mathematical formula to decide seeding for the playoffs.
Any one of Halifax, Rouyn-Noranda or Guelph could have earned a berth in Sunday’s tournament final based on the outcome of the final round-robin game on Wednesday, but it was the Mooseheads who squeaked it out by holding the highest percentage (. 538) when implementing the tiebreaker formula — goals for (seven) divided by goals for plus goals against (13) using the two games played between the teams (Huskies and Storm) with equal records.
Guelph’s calculation also worked out to .538, but the Mooseheads advance based on their 4-2 win in head-to-head play. The Huskies’ tiebreaker calculation was .429.
Western Hockey League champions have struggled in recent years at the Memorial Cup and this time was no different.
The Prince Albert Raiders dropped three games and were on a plane back to Saskatchewan before the final round-robin game was played. Tuesday’s 6-3 loss against Guelph was the 13th in a row for WHL champions at the four-team competition, dating back five tournaments.
The last time the WHL champion won a contest was the 2015 semifinal, when the Kelowna Rockets beat the Quebec Remparts before falling to the Oshawa Generals in the final to start the streak of defeats. The 2014 Edmonton Oil Kings were the last Memorial Cup champions from the WHL.
Hardware up for grabs
Unlike some past tournaments where it became clear early who would be going home with the tournament’s individual awards, this year is still wide open.
Guelph defenceman Sean Durzi leads all skaters with seven points in three games, but there are four others with at least five points pushing him for the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as the tournament’s leading scorer.
The Stafford Smythe Trophy for tournament MVP will be a difficult one to decide, and will perhaps come down to a clutch goal or a single-game performance in a big moment to figure it out. Storm forwards Nick Suzuki and Alexey Toropchenko and Halifax forward Antoine Morand are tied for the tournament lead with three goals each.
Meanwhile, the Happ Emms Memorial Trophy for outstanding goaltender is a two-horse race unless Samuel Harvey and the Huskies knock off Guelph to set up a final with Halifax. Mooseheads goaltender Alexis Gravel leads with a 2.33 goals-against average and .929 save percentage, while Guelph’s Anthony Popovich has a 2.67 GAA and .908 save percentage.
Importance of special teams
Power plays aren’t leading to more goals at this year’s tournament despite some gifted players getting extra time and space on the ice.
The three remaining teams have dominated on the penalty kill, combining to kill 27-of-30 power plays while each giving up just a single goal. The Mooseheads were short-handed the most of any team, 12 times, but have the best penalty kill at 91.7 per cent while also scoring a short-handed goal.
The Storm are clicking with the best power play at 18.3 per cent, joining Halifax (13.3) as the only teams with two goals scored while playing up a man. Rouyn-Noranda, which dominated the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs on the power play with 30 goals on 96 chances (31.2 per cent) are just 1-for-7 at the Memorial Cup.
The host team will always have the most fans in the building, and that’s no different at Scotiabank Centre. But the games not involving the Mooseheads are still putting people in the seats.
The tournament opener between Halifax and Prince Albert drew 9,926 while the other two games featuring the Mooseheads in the round robin went over 10,000 fans. A Huskies-Raiders matchup had the fewest tickets purchased, but still checked in at 9,186 thanks to sections of travelling supporters.
Through six round-robin games, the tournament averaged 9,651 fans per game. Capacity at Scotiabank Centre is 11,093, meaning the crowds could be even bigger and louder by the final. The Vancouver Giants hold the Memorial Cup attendance record, averaging 13,496 fans over nine games in 2007.