By Aaron Bell
If the final BMO CHL Top-10 rankings are any indication, the Halifax Mooseheads, Portland Winterhawks and London Knights will all be joining the Saskatoon Blades in the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Saskatchewan in May.
Of course, there is two months of exciting playoff hockey to go between here and there and past experience has shown that anything can happen along the way.
The Mooseheads finished the season at the top of the rankings and at the top of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League standings with an impressive 58-6-3-1 record for 120 points.
Their 58 wins tied a QMJHL record and their .882 winning percentage is the best in the history of the league.
The Mooseheads will start their playoff run against the Saint John Sea Dogs on Friday. The Sea Dogs won three straight QMJHL season titles and a pair of league championships but have been hit hard by graduation.
“We can’t come out there and play soft,” Halifax centre Matthew Boudreau told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. “We still have to win hockey games. We’re ready to go. We’re waiting for them. We just need to have the right mindset on Friday and everything’s going to go fine.”
The Winterhawks (2) won the Western Hockey League’s regular season title with a 57-12-1-2 record for 117 points.
They set new franchise marks for wins and points this season but their focus is getting to the league finals for the third straight year.
The Winterhawks open the playoffs on Friday against the Everett Silvertips.
“Just because you had a good regular season doesn’t mean you you’re going to have a good playoff,” acting coach Travis Green told Oregon Live. “Over the course of 72 games we set ourselves up to be in a good spot, but you (still) have to play well. The other team’s going to raise the bar. We’re going to raise the bar, too. If we’re playing our best hockey, I like our chances.”
The Knights (3) were the OHL’s top regular season team for the second straight year with a 50-13-2-3 record for 105 points. Along the way, they won 24 straight games and after being Memorial Cup finalists last year in Shawinigan, QC, the Knights are looking to punch their return ticket to the national championship for another shot at the title.
The Knights open their OHL title defence against the Saginaw Spirit on Friday.
Meanwhile the Blades finished first in the East Division and sixth in the WHL standings with a 44-22-2-4 record. They won six of their final 10 games and open their playoff run against the Medicine Hat Tigers on Thursday.
The Memorial Cup hosts won all four games against the Tigers this season but aren’t planning on resting on their regular season laurels.
“It’s so, so important heading into the playoffs that you manage your game,” head coach and GM Lorne Molleken told the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. “I think this year, all the things that we went through, our mental state is excellent. We have the mindset now that we understand what it takes to win. That’s critical.”