Beck, Spirit look to close out historic season on top at Memorial Cup

Owen Beck of the Saginaw Spirit. (Natalie Shaver/OHL Images)

Owen Beck has a second chance at glory and is locked in on finishing his career on top.

Beck and the host Saginaw Spirit look to make more history when the Memorial Cup begins Friday and runs through June 2. 

It’s Saginaw’s first-ever appearance at the tournament but the second in a row for Beck. He was with a Peterborough team that lost to Seattle in the semifinal of the 2023 tournament.

“It’s exciting,” Beck said. “Last year’s tournament was a lot of fun, obviously coming in a little differently than we were last year as (Ontario Hockey League) champions in Peterborough. But yeah, to be in this tournament two years in a row is pretty special. It’s the biggest tournament in junior hockey and one of the hardest trophies to win.”

“This is a special group,” he added. “I think this group’s got a great chance to win. … It would just mean so much to finish off my junior career with this group that (became) my brothers and just being able to capture that one trophy that I haven’t been able to win yet.” 

Beck was traded from the Petes to the Spirit in January and finished the season with 81 points (34 goals, 47 assists) in 57 games. The 2022 second-round pick of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens added another 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) through 17 post-season contests as Saginaw was ousted in six games by eventual OHL champion London Knights.

Being one of two players on the team who’s competed at a Memorial Cup before, along with defenceman Jorian Donovan, Beck wants his team to understand the task at hand.

“Having gone through last year and being unsuccessful, you learn a lot from those losses, being that close,” he said. “Coming into this year, obviously for guys that haven’t been here much, it’s like I said, it’s exciting. There’s a lot going on. 

“It’s easy to get lost in all the hype and anticipation and excitement and the crazy atmosphere that’s going to be around Saginaw this coming week. We really just got to stay focused.”

The Western Hockey League champion Moose Jaw Warriors and the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League champion Drummondville Voltigeurs round out the four-team tournament.

For the first time in Canadian Hockey League history, all three champions swept their respective league finals. 

Saginaw, in the Western Conference finals for the second time in team history, was the only team to win a game against London in the OHL playoffs. 

“We’re confident, for sure,” star defenceman Zayne Parekh said. “We know how good our group is and we know that we probably deserved a better fate and in our playoffs there. But we think we’re the favourites to win this.”

The Spirit enter the tournament as one of just four teams across the CHL to have a 50-win season, crossing the 100-point plateau for the first time in club history with 102. They were led by Parekh, who paced the team and all CHL defencemen with 96 points (33 goals, 63 assists).

The 18-year-old, who’s a finalist for CHL defenceman of the year, is fifth among North American skaters on the NHL’s draft prospect rankings list. He is one of nine NHL prospects on the Spirit.

Saginaw has a chance to become the third team to win the Memorial Cup on home ice in the last six tournaments, and be the eighth ever — and first since 2011 — to win as a debutant.

But first, the Spirit will have to make good on more of their scoring chances, head coach Chris Lazary said.

“I think just kind of the goal-scoring aspect of our team — we create a lot, we defend, we do a lot of good things well. It’s just in the red zone, making sure we convert a little bit more,” he said. “And obviously to me, we play hard, we angle, we do all these things that you need to do to win.

“We just got to put a few more pucks in the net. I think that’s just guys taking advantage of opportunities when they do come, whether it’s 5-on-5, power play, whatever and making sure we score.”

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