Sunday, May 27, 2012

Juniors have stage to themselves at Memorial Cup

The stage is set for the championship game of Canadian Major Junior A hockey and as should be the case when we celebrate the Junior game, the professionals have stepped out of the way.

And while it's most likely more related to happenstance than by design, the NHL will be silent on Sunday when the London Knights and Memorial hosts Shawinigan Cataractes take to the ice to decide which team is the best in all of Junior hockey.

The spotlight should ensure perhaps the largest audience yet for Sportsnet, which as host broadcaster for the Memorial Cup will once again provide the championship presentation, offering us many of the same bells and whistles that they use during their regular season Junior hockey broadcasts and those from their NHL affiliations.

To it's credit, Sportsnet does not shortchange the CHL when it comes to hockey coverage, it has been a very successful partnership thus far and with Sunday's championship a stand alone event now, it should provide Sportsnet and the CHL with the audience that these up and coming would be NHLers deserve.

The road to Sunday's showdown was long and twisty one for Shawinigan, gaining a berth in the Memorial Cup owing to their hosting duties, the Cataractes were eliminated from the Quebec league playoffs a month or so ago, well rested no doubt for their Memorial Cup appearance, but perhaps with a bit of rust.

An opening night loss to the Edmonton Oil Kings, probably didn't do much to reassure the home folk that success was at hand, but then the Cataractes caught fire, a victory over London kept their ambitions alive, moving them to a 1 and 1 record heading into their final game of the opening round, a nasty affair with Q league rival Saint John, one which went to the New Brunswick squad amid much controversy both on the ice and between the benches.

Shawinigan shook that off with a convincing thrashing of Edmonton in the Play in Round and then a return match with Saint John this time giving the hosts a victory over the defending Memorial Cup champs and earning a hard fought berth in Sunday's final.

London on the other hand, had the gruelling OHL playoffs to survive, night after night of intense, hard hitting hockey that surely must have taken some kind of a toll well before the team arrived in Quebec.

Yet, in two of their three first round games the Knights were the better squad on the night, earning a bye into Sunday's final, some valuable rest for the OHL representative.

Whether that proves to be more disruptive to the cause than the Shawinigan path this week remains to be seen, though for London the task is harder today than it may have been a few days ago, playing the host team in the final always puts the visitor in a hard spot to work with.

You come into the game clearly the enemy, the crowd which may have remained neutral for the most part if any of the other teams were the competition will be at full voice on Sunday, it will make for a great atmosphere to bring an end to the CHL season, the Knights hopeful of putting a damper on the week long party in Shawinigan, leaving the hosts as first in the fans hearts, but second best on the ice on this day.

You can review the Memorial Cup path from our archive page found here.

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