Making it to the Memorial Cup is no small feat.
Each team entering the Canadian major junior hockey championship is skilled and talented in all aspects of their games. But every squad has its areas to work on and the four teams competing in the 101st running of the event are no exception.
Here’s a breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses for all the contenders:
PRINCE ALBERT RAIDERS, WHL
Ian Scott was sensational in both the Western Hockey League playoffs and regular season for the Raiders.
He had a 1.96 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 23 post-season games to help Prince Albert win its first league title in 34 years.
The Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick earned league MVP honours and in a short tournament like the Memorial Cup, a good goaltending performance can go a long way.
WEAKNESS: Special teams
The Raiders had the most power-play opportunities during the WHL playoffs (76) and converted 18 times for a success rate of 23.7 per cent, which was sixth-best in the post-season. They were worse in the regular season, ranking ninth with a 22 per cent conversion rate.
Prince Albert will need to make the most of their opportunities on the power play in order to be successful.
Penalty killing is also an important key. The Raiders were atop the WHL in that department during the regular season, killing off nearly 87 per cent of opponent’s opportunities on the man advantage. But the number slipped to 78.1 per cent in the playoffs — sixth best in the league.
GUELPH STORM, OHL
Just when you think the Storm are down and out, they fight back.
Guelph won a record seven elimination games throughout the Ontario Hockey League playoffs — an impressive feat for any team. The Storm overcame a 3-0 series deficit against London, a 3-1 disadvantage against Saginaw and climbed back from a 2-0 hole against previously undefeated Ottawa to claim their fourth OHL championship.
Just one win will guarantee them a tiebreaker at the Memorial Cup so don’t count this team out at any point.
Anthony Popovich will need an improved performance if the Storm are to be successful in Halifax.
He allowed 23 goals in the six-game series against the Ottawa 67’s and finished the OHL playoffs with a 3.12 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.
The 19-year-old had some good games throughout Guelph’s post-season run and will need to be consistent moving forward.
ROUYN-NORANDA HUSKIES, QMJHL
This team knows how to put the puck in the net.
Montreal Canadiens prospect Joel Teasdale led the league with 34 points in 20 playoff games and five of his teammates were in the top 10 in QMJHL scoring.
Rouyn-Noranda scored 25 goals in the league final to win its second President Cup in the past four years.
WEAKNESS: Defensive depth
Finding weaknesses in the Huskies’s game is difficult, but if there’s one area of concern, it’s depth on defence.
Rouyn-Noranda coach Mario Pouliot says a lack of defensive depth is what led him to acquire QMJHL playoffs MVP Noah Dobson at the trade deadline. Dobson along with Justin Bergeron were key cogs for the Huskies on the back end, but production further down the lineup isn’t as promising.
William Cyr, Jacob Neveu, rookie Samuel Regis and Alexis Arsenault round out the remaining defencemen. None of those four have put up big offensive numbers and Neveu was a minus-two in the playoffs.
HALIFAX MOOSEHEADS, HOST
STRENGTH: Lavoie & Home Crowd
Draft-eligible prospect Raphael Lavoie led the QMJHL with 20 post-season goals and was second to Teasdale with 32 points in 23 games.
At 6-foot-4, 198 pounds, the right-winger will be tough to handle, although the Huskies were able to limit him to five points and a minus-eight rating in the league final.
A home crowd is also sure to be an advantage for the Mooseheads.
WEAKNESS: Penalty kill
After topping the QMJHL in penalty killing during the regular season, Halifax’s execution and discipline let them down in the playoffs.
The Mooseheads accumulated 252 penalty minutes and allowed 20 goals for a kill rate of just 76.2 per cent — 11th in the President Cup playoffs.
Much like the Raiders, Halifax will need a better effort on special teams in order to be successful.