All Four Coaches Anticipate A Competitive Tournament
Red Deer Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter did his best to portray his club as an obvious underdog in the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament opening Friday at the Centrium.
Kelly McCrimmon, who holds the same dual position with the Brandon Wheat Kings, was having none of it during a press conference Wednesday evening.
“These other teams are the champions of their leagues,” said Sutter, referring to the Wheat Kings, London Knights and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who along with the host Rebels will battle for the Memorial Cup.
“We’ll certainly have our hands full and to be honest I feel like a loser right now,” he chuckled. “But we’re excited for the challenge. We feel like we have a good team and that we can compete, but we’ll have to see how it goes.”
The Rebels, of course, fell to Brandon in five games in the best-of-seven WHL Eastern Conference final and practised for two and half weeks while the Wheat Kings (WHL), Knights (OHL) and Huskies (QMJHL) were en route to capturing their league titles.
“Obviously this is an interesting tournament. Things happen very quickly and every game is a test . . . very important, like a Game 7,” Sutter, whose squad opens the tournament Friday versus London, continued.
“It’s great to have three quality organizations come into Red Deer and be part of the Memorial Cup. Our community and all of Central Alberta are very excited to host this and it will be an outstanding event.”
The Wheat Kings dropped their first two opening-round post-season games to the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings but only three more the rest of the way.
McCrimmon called his team’s march to the WHL title a ‘challenge’, crediting second-round opponent Moose Jaw for having two of the best players in the country in Brayden Point and Dryden Hunt, defining the Rebels as “a big team with great depth, a good hockey team that’s built to win”, and the WHL finalist Seattle Thunderbirds as a club that played “extremely hard.”
“I always believe that playoffs make teams better,” he continued, praising the Knights and their lengthy history as a winning organization and the Huskies for their nine-loss season.
“And then we have the host team, who is the first guy to try and sandbag here,” McCrimmon joked. “They have a hell of a hockey team and they’re playing on home ice, so it looks to me like it will be a tremendous tournament.”
Other highlights from the question-and-answer session:
“We got on a roll, got great goaltending, solid defence and good scoring. Then we had a chance to rest for a week. After watching video on the other three teams, it’s going to be quality hockey out there, it’s going to be fast and very competitive. It’s very exciting for all four coaches here to put the puzzle together to win. That’s what hockey is all about.” — London GM/head coach Dale Hunter.
“It was quite a moment for us (winning the Quebec Major League title), our fans were unbelievable. Now it’s time to turn the page and get ready for the Memorial Cup.” — Huskies head coach Gilles Bouchard.
“Brent was a very skilled player but he also was competitive. We both played center so it was always a battle to the end. You knew when you came to play against him that you had to compete and that’s what his team does — they compete with skill and it’s hard to defend.” — Hunter, on going head-to-head against former Islanders and Blackhawks star Sutter while a member of the Quebec Nordiques and Washington Capitals.
“There are a few things about the tournament format that make it different. First, you don’t know your opponent so you have to try and get as good a handle on the team as a coaching staff as you can. You’re probably not going to share part of that with your players, and it’s not a series format which is what we all know so well, so that part is different as well. But you can’t over-analyze it, it’s still hockey, you still have to be able to play. For our team, for example, we’re still preparing for our game Saturday against Rouyn-Noranda. That’s our focus, that’s where the bulk of our preparation will be. It’s likely the same as the other three teams — we’re probably more worried about our own team and how we play for that game than we might in a series. In a series, you have more of a war of attrition, a bit more time for adjustments. This is a sprint.” — McCrimmon, on how viewing video of the opposing teams will help his club.
“For me, we have four good teams here, OK? The best team at this moment will win the tournament. That’s it for me.” — Bouchard, when asked if his team is the favourite entering the tournament.