The Regina Pats and Hamilton Bulldogs will drop the puck on the 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup Friday night and, by next weekend, we’ll have crowned a new CHL champion.
But there is a lot of hockey to be played between now and then and all four teams have a very real shot to win it all. In the lead up to the tournament, we’ve given you a strength and weakness for each team, one strategy each team needs to employ and a player to watch on each of the four participants.
Today we look at one key to success for each of Regina, Hamilton, Swift Current and Acadie-Bathurst.
Hamilton — Climb the Mountain Again: Inevitably, there’s one team every year that comes into this event so happy to have won a league title that it’s hard to regenerate the same passion and energy to win another title. Hamilton is most susceptible to this in 2018, after knocking off the CHL’s top team, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, in the league final. Based on the talent and depth inequality between the two OHL conferences, the Bulldogs were underdogs but found a way to defeat the Hounds in Game 6 on home ice to set off a celebration not seen in that town since the Lemieux-Gretzky goal at the 1987 Canada Cup. Hamilton should not take the Pats lightly simply because they lost in Round 1.
Regina — Win Game 1: There is no better way for the Pats to shed the lame-host moniker than by winning on opening night. A victory against de facto favourite Hamilton would immediately restore confidence into the Pats and their fan base. A win on opening night would also guarantee at least one game beyond the three round-robin games, whether it’s a semifinal or tie-breaker, and that immediately puts you in the mix to win the whole thing. The Pats will have to channel their emotions early as the crowd is sure to be fired up. The players will be nervous for not having played since April 2, and getting up to game speed against a fast and heavy Hamilton team will be a challenge.
Acadie-Bathurst — Overcoming the Time Change: Three time zones worth of travel is normally the kiss of death. Think about two powerhouse teams that played in Windsor at the Memorial Cup last year: the Seattle Thunderbirds and Saint John Sea Dogs. Both teams failed to resemble the level they played at when they won their respective league titles. The Titan actually did themselves a favour by winning in six games as Game 7 was scheduled for Tuesday night, which would have left no time between winning, packing and leaving to get to Regina and settle. The Titan does have the benefit of playing its first game on Saturday, although it’s a 2:00 p.m. local start, which is essentially 11:00 a.m. in Bathurst. Of the past 14 teams that had to travel three time zones to the Memorial Cup, only two ended up winning. The last to do it was the 2013 Halifax Mooseheads, which featured the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Zach Fucale.
Swift Current — Mojo: There’s something fascinating about the smallest CHL market earning a berth in the 2018 Memorial Cup. Oddly, the Broncos are also the last Saskatchewan-based team to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup, all the way back in 1993. In 1986 the Swift Current Broncos were involved in a bus crash that killed four members of their team. That same year, the Humboldt Broncos went on to win the SJHL title. The Humboldt Broncos lost 16 members of their team in an April 6, 2018 bus crash and, one month and one week later, the Swift Current Broncos captured the WHL title. If you believe in divine intervention, there may be one more title left for Swift Current to capture. Not to mention, it would be nice if this generation of Broncos fans could actually celebrate and embrace a Memorial Cup win, something they haven’t reconciled since the franchise’s last Cup win in 1989.