For the fifth straight year, the MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts will enter the tournament through the back door.
Not since the 2008 Kitchener Rangers has the host team of the national championship won their league prior to the tournament’s commencement. What felt like a long, 31-day wait for last year’s hosts, the Shawinigan Cataractes (who became just the second team in tournament history to win it all after going through the tiebreaker), pales in comparison to the 51 days off for this year’s hosts, the Saskatoon Blades.
The Blades were unceremoniously swept in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, marking the first time since the 2001 Regina Pats (whose head coach, ironically, was also Lorne Molleken) the tournament hosts failed to make it out of the first round.
There’s been plenty of venom spewed since the embarrassing defeat, with the same criticism the Cataractes faced this time last year when they lost in Game 7 of their second-round series. As was the case last year, the growing concern over the strength of the host team is being called into question.
The Blades held a press conference on Wednesday, one day after their season ended. Team owner Jack Brodsky shot down any notion of making a coaching change, while Molleken accepted responsibility for the defeat and denied the criticism was getting to him.
“There are always going to be pressures,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long, long time. If I couldn’t take the heat, I’d get out of the kitchen. Trust me.”
With so much time off now, players were sent home and given two weeks off before returning to Saskatoon to prepare for the tournament. In the meantime, they’ll have plenty of time to figure out what went wrong.
Danny Flynn’s seat getting hotter?
After sending star defenceman Brandon Gormley to Shawinigan to win the MasterCard Memorial Cup last year, the Moncton Wildcats were expected to contend for the same crown this year.
As part of deferred compensation from the Gormley trade, the Wildcats received forward Yannick Veilleux, defenceman Jonathan Racine and goaltender Alex Dubeau from the Cataractes in the summer. Flynn, the team’s head coach and director of hockey operations, added a few more veterans in defenceman Jonathan Narbonne and forward Phillip Danault, in addition to Europeans Dmitrij Jaskin and Ivan Barbashev.
Nothing short of an extended playoff run was expected in Moncton, and after losing in five to Danault’s former team, the Victoriaville Tigres, rumours abound that Flynn won’t be behind the bench next season in Moncton.
Following his team’s 3-2 overtime loss in the series-clinching fifth game, Flynn reportedly refused to speak with media.
Word now is that the Wildcats’ next bench boss could be a familiar name in New Brunswick.
Speaking of coaching changes, last year’s MasterCard Memorial Cup champion Cataractes could be targeting Guy Boucher, the recently fired head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning and former bench boss of the Drummondville Voltigeurs.
Cease-fire in Brampton
The Battalion’s 15-year run in the Greater Toronto Area suburb of Brampton is now officially over. The No. 4 Eastern Conference seed lost in five games to the upstart Sudbury Wolves.
It was an early exit for the Battalion, who won the series’ first game but lost the next four, including Friday’s Game 5 in overtime. The Battalion players showed their support by rallying at centre ice and raising their sticks in acknowledgement of their fans. As mentioned in this space two weeks ago, there is a small, but very dedicated and passionate fan base that will miss this team.
The team name and military-themed uniform will carry over with the franchise to North Bay next season. North Bay has been without an OHL team since 2002, when the Centennials moved to Saginaw and became the Spirit.
The Battalion may not have garnered enough support to stay in Brampton, but left an imprint nevertheless.
Oil Kings’ bus collides with elk
The Edmonton Oil Kings awoke to a strange sensation around 3 a.m. late Monday night when their bus ran into a 600-pound elk along a stretch of two-lane highway.
In light of what could have been a serious situation, wildlife officials asked the Oil Kings to remove the elk from the highway. Head coach Derek Laxdal and athletic therapist Brian Cheeseman each grabbed a pair of legs and pulled the elk off the road and to the ditch.
Special thanks to Tieja MacLaughlin, Friday Night Hockey’s social media guru, for tracking this story.
– The winds of change in Lethbridge saw the team fire head coach/GM Rich Preston after four seasons without a playoff appearance. The Hurricanes, a community-owned team which operates with a board of governors overseeing operations, haven’t had much playoff success in recent years, only helping further influence a desire for a change in ownership:
– A sad story in Kitchener-Waterloo, as a devoted, six-year-old diehard Rangers and Storm fan succumbed to brain cancer and passed away on Thursday, one day before the Rangers would eliminate the Storm in their playoff series.
– The Swift Current Broncos got a close look at the Jarome Iginla press conference on Thursday: