Rebels Ready For Memorial Cup Opener
Finally, the puck is about to drop.
The host Red Deer Rebels and the OHL champion London Knights will open the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament Friday at 6 p.m. at the Centrium.
The Knights wrapped up their league title last week, while the Rebels have been polishing their skills and working on their systems on a daily basis since losing to the eventual league champion Brandon Wheat Kings in the fifth game of the WHL Eastern Conference final April 29.
“We’re as ready as we’re going to be,” said Rebels GM/head coach Brent Sutter. “Two and a half weeks (of practice) have gone by quick, but it’s also been long . . . trying to keep the kids going.
“It will be three weeks from our last game until we play tomorrow night. I think everyone is getting excited and the players are anxious to get started.”
Clearly, the Rebels will have the crowd on their side through the tournament and they’ll have to keep their emotions in check, particularly in the opening game.
“We have to use (home ice) to our advantage but we also have to play with controlled emotion,” said Sutter. “We still have a team game we have to play and we have to play a certain way at a high level.”
Each game in the tournament will feature three 90-second TV timeouts per period. Accordingly, teams will be able to double shift their top lines.
The Rebels, then, can expect to see plenty of the Knights’ explosive forward unit of Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak Friday.
“And you’re probably going to see a little extra of our top three lines too,” said Sutter. “That’s just the way it works with these tournaments. Your best players need to play and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
It’s not just the players who are fired up and ready to roll. The community is also getting worked up about the four-team, May 20-29 event which featured the arrival of the Memorial Cup Thursday morning.
The cherished old mug arrived by helicopter and was then transported from Central School to the downtown area by a military vehicle as fans lined the streets.
“Downtown went really well, the ceremony today with the arrival of the Cup was tremendously supportive. I thought it was awesome,” said Sutter.
“It’s the kickoff, it’s here now and finally all the work done by the host committee, all the chair people for all the volunteer groups and all the volunteers themselves, gets put into action. And yet everyone is so organized and everything looks fantastic.
“Everything seems to be well in order and it will be a great 10 days.”
Notable: The London franchise has been the most successful in the Ontario League in recent years. The Knights won the league and Memorial Cup titles in 2005 and since then have captured three league championships — in 2012, 2013 and, of course, this year . . . The London roster features 10 American players, including Tkachuk and back-up netminder Brendan Burke, who previously played in the WHL with Portland and Calgary . . . All three members of the Knights’ top line played in this year’s world junior championship, with Marner wearing the Canadian jersey and Tkachuk and Dvorak suiting up for Team USA. As well, defenceman Olli Juolevi, who along with Tkachuk is expected to go early in June’s NHL entry draft, played with Finland in the world juniors . . . Tkachuk, Juolevi and forward Max Jones, another projected first-round selection next month, competed in the BMO/CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Vancouver in January . . . Marner was named the OHL’s most outstanding player earlier this month . . . The Quebec Major League champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the Wheat Kings will meet in the second game of the tournament, Saturday at 5 p.m.