Why not make the final a best-of-three affair? In fact, why not revisit the Memorial Cup’s format altogether? It wouldn’t be the first alteration in the tournament’s illustrious history, and it’s time for the event to be a true best-on-best affair.
This year’s Memorial Cup finished in fantastic form with Oshawa edging Kelowna 2-1 in overtime.
Anthony Cirelli, a rookie who had been passed over twice in the OHL draft and signed with the Generals as a free agent, scored both goals in a fairytale performance. The game was marked by excellent matchups, stellar goaltending and a lot of drama. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t have minded seeing a rematch or two. Which got me thinking: why not make the final a best-of-three affair? In fact, why not revisit the Memorial Cup’s format altogether? It wouldn’t be the first alteration in the tournament’s illustrious history. Personally, my biggest gripe is the length of the tournament. One game a day? That spreads things out way too much during a time when there isn’t a lot of other hockey going on (the NHL conference finals are usually on at the time and that’s only a game per night itself). I also struggle with the concept of a host team, one that gets an automatic berth – though the Quebec Remparts did themselves proud this year, both on the ice and in the party-throwing department. Still, on principle, there have been problems in the recent past with London, Saskatoon and Shawinigan, all teams that bombed out of their playoffs and had about a month off before the Memorial Cup began.
What really got me thinking was an appearance by Guy Lafleur and the rest of the 1971 Remparts at the Memorial Cup this year. That team controversially won the Cup after the St. Catharines Black Hawks and Marcel Dionne refused to go back to Quebec City for the end of a series that had become too hot thanks to the French-English politics of the day. Lafleur’s Remparts ended up playing the Edmonton Oil Kings in a negotiated best-of-three final (nothing was easy back then, apparently – overage players and unequal funding for the West were hang-ups for the eastern teams) and swept the Edmonton kids in two straight.
“We were considered the black aces of junior,” Lafleur said. “They were saying we couldn’t compete with Ontario teams or teams out West. But we proved that year we could compete against anybody.” I love that. And though world junior camps and a younger draft means players from all over the continent are friends off the ice now, there is still regional pride on the line. So instead of a wonky round-robin, why not shake things up and go back to a traditional semifinal and final series format? Here’s what I’m proposing: keep the three league winners, but give the fourth bid to the highest-ranking team in the CHL power rankings. This season it would have been the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Seed the teams by those power rankings (but since the Soo didn’t win their league, they would automatically be slotted fourth – only fair) and do a pair of best-of-three showdowns. This year would have seen Oshawa take on Sault Ste. Marie, while Rimouski and Kelowna would have faced off in the semis. Then, the home team in the championship gets to decide whether it wants to host the first two games of the series or the last two. Sure, this does away with the Memorial Cup’s central location we’ve all become accustomed to, but it would give sponsors a chance to advertise in multiple cities and the TV ratings wouldn’t be hurt at all. Plus, attendance would be greater, since there would always be a home team to pull in fans. The past two Memorial Cup finals, bereft of the host team, were far from full houses. Change is scary, but the CHL has done it before and we all survived. And for a team to survive two series against the true best in the land? Creating that scenario is a change worth making.
This feature appeared in the 2014-15 Season Commerative edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.