Friday, May 19, 2006

It could be that the guys behind the bench, are better known than the guys on the ice!

Their names are like a who’s who of Canadian hockey, Don Hay, Dick Todd, Ted Nolan and Patrick Roy. The four are spending the next week seeking to guide their young junior players to the Holy Grail of Junior hockey, the Memorial Cup.

The four are well known in their own right for past success in hockey, Don Hay as a successful junior coach who had a shot at NHL glory before returning to the WHL and Vancouver. A former Memorial Cup winner he brings a wealth of experience and desire to his Vancouver Giant team.

There is Ted Nolan, who is of course best known for his time in Buffalo, named coach of the year and then promptly dismissed in a nasty bit of acrimony with then GM John Muckler. He has bounced around the world of hockey for the last few years, occasionally having his name associated with an NHL opening, this year he took over the Moncton Wildcats franchise and transformed them into a QMJHL powerhouse.

Dick Todd is long thought of as one of the deans of junior hockey, he is a bit of a legend in the OHL for his well thought out game designs and his success in sending many a youngster off to NHL success. His Petes were a middle of the pack kind of team for most of the season, but once the playoffs began they turned their play up a notch and surprised more than a few teams across Ontario.

And then there is St. Patrick, an icon in Quebec, the former Hab and Avalanche goaltender brings many years of Stanley Cup battles back to his Quebec City home and his stewardship of the Remparts franchise. All four bring a larger than life kind of presence to this tournament, which is always a first class event and full of high octane hockey year in and year out...

The tournament gets underway in Moncton, New Brunswick tonight as Roy’s Quebec Remparts takes on the Todd’s OHL champion Peterborough Petes. Tonight offers up the first of a week of nightly action that leads up to the final game next Sunday afternoon.

It’s the final stop on the long grueling path that is Junior Hockey in Canada, a season of lengthy bus trips to far flung locations in all parts of Canada and the USA, from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Vancouver, BC. Prince Albert, to Portland the CHL through its three national leagues provides a jumping start for a possible NHL career and high grade local entertainment for hockey fans everywhere.

All four of the teams competing this week have proven to be worthy champions of their respective leagues. Moncton as host received a bye into the tournament, but went ahead and collected the QMJHL title for good measure, the Remparts who had an equally impressive regular season record are worthy of inclusion as well as the representative of the Q.

Peterborough worked their way through the OHL playoffs, finishing off the defending Memorial Cup champs the London Knights. That OHL final, was a hard fought battle worthy of the OHL”s greatest rivalries. Todd’s team played his system to perfection to cast aside any thoughts that the Knight’s may have thought about claiming dynasty in the OHL. Pegged as the tournament underdog, it’s a spot that Todd will probably accept gladly, few gave his club a chance to win the OHL title, so bring on the Remparts and we’ll see what develops.

The Vancouver Giants were a rolling machine throughout the playoffs, led by Hay they rarely seemed to have to worry about any series they were in; when it was required they turned up the power and took control of the flow of the play, cruising past Moose Jaw for the Western League title.

Four teams with different personalities, four teams with very different coaches. They all are playing at the top of their game, heading into one of the most exciting tournaments in Canada. Sportsnet will be covering it all from the drop of the puck on Friday to trophy presentation on May 28th. While you keep one eye on the NHL playoffs, keep your options open for a night of fast paced junior action, you may not know many of the names of the players right now, but in a few years many will be household names in the NHL. Come watch a preview through the week.

Friday, May 19 Peterborough vs. Quebec (8 AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Saturday, May 20 Vancouver vs. Moncton (8 AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Sunday, May 21 Quebec vs. Vancouver (5 AT, 4 AT, 1 PT)
Monday, May 22 Moncton vs. Peterborough (8 AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Tuesday, May 23 Vancouver vs. Peterborough (8 AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Wednesday, May 24 Quebec vs. Moncton (8 AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Thursday, May 25 Tie Breaker if necessary (8AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Friday, May 26 Memorial Cup Semi-finals (8AT, 7 ET, 4 PT)
Sunday, May 28 Memorial Cup Final (5 AT, 4 ET, 1 PT)

All Games live on all Rogers Sportsnets!

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