For the 100th time, teams from coast-to-coast set out on a quest for what many consider the most challenging trophy to win in all of sports. The centennial celebration of the Mastercard Memorial Cup will be held in Regina, Saskatchewan this May as 48 CHL clubs aim to be the last one standing in The Queen City.
The final edition of the CHL Top 10 Rankings sees the top three teams finished with 50 wins or more on the campaign. The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (55-7-3-3), Moose Jaw Warriors (52-15-2-3) and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (50-11-4-3) give the OHL, WHL and QMJHL a club at the top of the pile while others including the Swift Current Broncos (48-17-5-2), Sarnia Sting (46-17-4-1), Acadie-Bathurst Titan (43-15-8-2) and Everett Silvertips (47-20-2-3) trail close behind.
The CHL’s top-ranked Greyhounds join the Sarnia Sting, Hamilton Bulldogs and Kitchener Rangers inside the Top 10, giving the OHL its greatest hope for a Mastercard Memorial Cup four-peat after championship victories from the Oshawa Generals (2015), London Knights (2016) and Windsor Spitfires (2017).
The Hounds set a new franchise record with their 55th win on the final day of the regular season, embarking on a first round series against the Saginaw Spirit led by a deep roster featuring Philadelphia Flyers playmaking prospect Morgan Frost (42-70–112), gritty Tampa Bay Lightning draftee Boris Katchouk (42-43–85) and a fellow Bolts prospect and World Junior gold medalist in Taylor Raddysh (33-50–83) up front.
The Sarnia Sting also had a franchise-best 46-win campaign led by St. Louis Blues prospect Jordan Kyrou (39-70–109) who became the franchise’s all-time leader in career assists this season. The Sting have yet to reach the Western Conference Final in their 23 years of operation, looking to buck that trend with a talented group that also includes power play quarterback Cam Dineen (20-44–64) and big Czech centreman Adam Ruzicka (36-36–72).
The OHL’s Eastern Conference is led by a veteran-laden Hamilton Bulldogs squad centred around scoring winger Matthew Strome (37-31–68), fourth-year centre Brandon Saigeon (35-35–70), speedsters Will Bitten (20-44–64) and Ryan Moore (18-42–60) as well as St. Louis Blues first round pick Robert Thomas who had 75 points (24-51–75) in 49 games.
The Barrie Colts have also proven dangerous, boasting the conference’s top offence powered by 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup hero and OHL scoring champion Aaron Luchuk (50-65–115) along with Russian sniper Dmitry Sokolov (50-46–96) and top 2018 NHL Draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov (40-32–72).
Moving west, the Moose Jaw Warriors claimed the WHL’s Scotty Munro Trophy as regular season champions with a record of 52-15-2-3. The Warriors, who haven’t reached the WHL Final since 2006, are in the hunt for their first ever championship as they lead a highly competitive Eastern Conference. The Warriors are paced by San Jose Sharks prospect Jayden Halbgewachs (70-59–129) who became the first WHL player to score 70 goals since Calgary’s Pavel Brendl all the way back in 1999. Overage playmaker Brayden Burke (31-82–113) put up 82 assists in the process while Justin Almeida (43-55–98) and Tanner Jeannot (40-40–80) eclipsed the 40-goal mark.
The Swift Current Broncos also wrapped up a season to remember, winning 48 games while boasting quite possibly the most prolific scoring line in the Canadian Hockey League with the 100-point trio of Glenn Gawdin (56-69–125), Aleksi Heponiemi (28-90–118) and Tyler Steenbergen (47-55–102). Other additions in centremen Giorgio Estephan (30-56–86) and Matteo Gennaro (42-37–79) along with veteran goaltender Stuart Skinner (3.07 GAA, .905 SV%, 30-21-3-1) have made the Broncos as true contender in the WHL this spring.
Facing the Broncos in a first round matchup, the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup host Regina Pats will have their work cut out for them. Swift Current took five of the six meetings between the two clubs on the regular season, but the Pats embark on the postseason playing good hockey with wins in seven of their last eight games. Anaheim Ducks prospect Sam Steel comes off another productive campaign with 33 goals, 50 assists and 83 points over 54 games. Overage scorer Cameron Hebig (41-49–90) led the team in scoring while an experienced blue line led by Josh Mahura (22-47–69) and Cale Fleury (12-39–51) will be leaned upon down the stretch.
The WHL’s Western Conference saw the defensively sound Everett Silvertips continue playing their way, holding opponents to a league-low 167 goals in front of the fine goaltending of World Junior gold medalist Carter Hart. The ‘Tips were led in scoring by 100-point man and franchise all-time leading scorer Patrick Bajkov (33-67–100) while Matt Fonteyne (35-53–88), mid-season acquisition Garrett Pilon (34-46–80) and gritty centreman Connor Dewar (38-30–68) surpassed the 30-goal threshold.
The ever-competitive Kelowna Rockets won their sixth B.C. Division title in the last nine years behind the leadership of trusty Canadian World Junior competitors Dillon Dube (38-46–84) and defenceman Cal Foote (19-51–70). Vancouver Canucks prospect Kole Lind (39-56–95) led the team in scoring while Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carsen Twarynski (45-27–72) lit the lamp 45 times.
In the QMJHL, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada reached the 50-win mark with 107 points for first overall. The Armada held down one of the top-five spots in the weekly Top 10 rankings throughout much of the season, relying on the production of QMJHL scoring leader Alex Barre-Boulet (53-63–116) along with Alexandre Alain (44-43–87) atop the lineup. Ottawa Senators prospect Drake Batherson (29-48–77) also joined the team mid-season after demonstrating a knack for scoring big goals for Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship.
The second-place Acadie-Bathurst Titan enjoyed one of the best seasons in franchise history with a 43-15-8-2 finish. Bathurst boasts a a dynamic blue line led by QMJHL Defenceman of the Year candidate and 2014 President Cup champion Olivier Galipeau (25-49–74) while 18-year-old Noah Dobson (17-52–69) could hear his name called early at the NHL Draft in Dallas this summer. Up front, Mitchell Balmas (42-30–72) and veteran Jeffrey Truchon-Viel (39-23–62) provided consistent scoring as the Titan won their first Maritimes Division title since 2002.
The Rimouski Oceanic and Halifax Mooseheads both finished with 93 points to occupy the third and fourth playoff seeds respectively and were both led by some of the game’s rising stars. Rookie Alexis Lafreniere (42-38—80) became the first 16-year-old to score 40 goals since Sidney Crosby, while 17-year-old netminder Colten Ellis led the league with 33 wins. For the Mooseheads, it’s a group of NHL Draft prospects that have been the story of their season including top scoring rookie Filip Zadina (44-38—82), fellow forward Benoit-Olivier Groulx (28-27—55), defenceman Jared McIsaac (9-38—47), and goaltender Alexis Gravel who won 20 games.
Playoff time presents an opportunity for three clubs to emerge as champions of their respective leagues while just one will earn the ultimate prize of hoisting the prestigious Memorial Cup in its centennial celebration.
Here’s a look at the full 48-team Canadian Hockey League playoff picture.
WHL (Full Playoff Bracket):
(ED1) Moose Jaw Warriors (52-15-2-3) vs. (WC2) Prince Albert Raiders (32-27-9-4)
(ED 2) Swift Current Broncos (48-17-5-2) vs. (ED 3) Regina Pats (40-25-6-1)
(CD 1) Medicine Hat Tigers (36-28-8-0) vs. (WC 1) Brandon Wheat Kings (40-27-3-2)
(CD 2) Lethbridge Hurricanes (33-33-6-0) vs. (CD 3) Red Deer Rebels (27-32-10-3)
(BC 1) Kelowna Rockets (43-22-5-2) vs. (WC 1) Tri-City Americans (38-25-8-1)
(BC 2) Victoria Royals (39-27-4-2) vs. (BC 3) Vancouver Giants (36-27-6-3)
(US 1) Everett Silvertips (47-20-2-3) vs. (WC 2) Seattle Thunderbirds (34-28-8-2)
(US 2) Portland Winterhawks (44-22-1-5) vs. (US 3) Spokane Chiefs (41-25-3-3)
OHL (Full Playoff Bracket):
(1) Hamilton Bulldogs (43-18-4-3) vs. (8) Ottawa 67’s (30-29-6-3)
(2) Barrie Colts (42-21-4-1) vs. (7) Mississauga Steelheads (33-32-1-2)
(3) Kingston Frontenacs (36-23-6-3) vs. (6) North Bay Battalion (30-28-7-3)
(4) Niagara IceDogs (35-23-7-3) vs. (5) Oshawa Generals (36-29-3-0)
(1) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (55-7-3-3) vs. (8) Saginaw Spirit (29-30-9-0)
(2) Kitchener Rangers (43-21-3-1) vs. (7) Guelph Storm (30-29-5-4)
(3) Sarnia Sting (46-17-4-1) vs. (6) vs. Windsor Spitfires (32-30-4-2)
(4) Owen Sound Attack (38-22-3-5) vs. (5) London Knights (39-25-2-2)
QMJHL (Full Playoff Bracket):
(1) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (50-11-4-3) vs. (16) Val-d’Or Foreurs (19-42-5-2)
(2) Acadie-Bathurst Titan (43-15-8-2) vs. (15) Chicoutimi Sagueneens (28-35-4-1)
(3) Rimouski Oceanic (42-17-6-3) vs. (14) Moncton Wildcats (27-33-5-3)
(4) Halifax Mooseheads (43-18-6-1) vs. (13) Baie-Comeau Drakkar (30-33-4-1)
(5) Drummondville Voltigeurs (44-20-3-1) vs. (12) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (32-28-6-2)
(6) Victoriaville Tigres (42-20-4-2) vs. (11) Gatineau Olympiques (32-27-5-4)
(7) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (39-19-7-3) vs. (10) Sherbrooke Phoenix (34-23-7-4)
(8) Quebec Remparts (40-22-3-3) vs. (9) Charlottetown Islanders (37-24-7-0)