Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Real Contenders (Memorial Cup Part 2)

Part of the reason why we put the Rimouski Oceanic and the Drummondville Voltigeurs is because in our book the Memorial Cup Final is going to come down to a OHL/WHL matchup. There is very much a difference in talent between the "O" and "W" as both of these leagues move closer and closer towards being clones of the NHL.

Once again we "borrow" from WHL Director of Communications Cory Flett for the break down on OHL champ the Windsor Spitfires and WHL champ the Kelowna Rockets. Regular readers here already know both teams given their relationship with Ranger prospects so instead we will follow with our prediction.


Head Coach: Ryan Huska
General Manager: Bruce Hamilton
2008-09 Record: 47-21-1-3, 98pts, GF: 267 GA: 178
2008-09 CHL Final Ranking: Not Ranked

2009 Playoff Record: 16-6 GF: 78 GA: 54

-Defeated Kamloops Blazers 4-0 in first round
-Defeated Tri-City Americans 4-2 in second round
-Defeated Vancouver Giants 4-2 in Western Conference Championship series
-Defeated Calgary Hitmen 4-2 in WHL Championship series

2009 Playoffs Top Scorers:

LW – Jamie Benn 19gp-13g-20a-33pts
C – Cody Almond 22gp-10g-17a-27pts
C – Mikael Backlund 19gp-13g-10a-23pts
D – Tyler Myers 22gp-5g-15a

The Kelowna Rockets are making their fourth appearance at the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament, and fourth in the last seven years. The Rockets won the Memorial Cup in 2004 as the host team.

Up Front: The Rockets boast some top-end offensive talent on their top two lines, but also possess great depth and speed right through their line-up. Canadian World Junior star Jamie Benn led all WHL players in playoff scoring, despite missing a number of games, and has established himself as one of Major Junior hockey’s top snipers.

Swedish star Mikael Backlund and Phoenix Coyotes prospect Colin Long provide great playmaking ability and skill, while Cody Almond has proven himself to be a strong two-way presence. Rockets forwards Evan and Lucas Bloodoff, Ian Duval and Kyle St. Denis provide a solid blend of speed, skill and physicality.

On The Blue Line: The Rockets’defense more than proved itself as a dominant force after shutting down the WHL’s top two offensive teams during their run to the WHL Championship. Buffalo Sabres’ prospect Tyler Myers has been the best player in the WHL down the stretch and throughout the playoffs, playing near mistake-free defensive hockey while providing outstanding puck movement and offense.

Veteran Tysen Dowzak has also been a force in his own end while sophomore Tyson Barrie has continued to add a dynamic offensive element. Add in the speedy Brandon McMillan and defensive stalwart Collin Bowman, and the Rockets have all the tools to handle any opposition attack.

Goaltending: 20-year-old Mark Guggenberger has provided the Rockets with solid and consistent goaltending since coming to Kelowna at the trade deadline from Swift Current. The 6’2”, 208-lb netminder may not have been required to outright steal any wins for the Rockets, but he’s always there to make key saves when called upon. After taking the reins in Kelowna, Guggenberger is certainly turning heads with his strong post-season performance.


Head Coach: Bob Boughner
General Manager: Warren Rychel
2008-09 Record: 57-10-0-1, 115pts, GF: 311 GA: 171
2008-09 Final CHL Ranking: 2

2009 Playoff Record: 16-4 GF:102 GA:59

-Defeated Owen Sound Attack 4-0 in first round
-Defeated Plymouth Whalers 4-2 in second round
-Defeated London Knights 4-1 in Western Conference Championship series
-Defeated Brampton Battalion 4-1 in OHL Championship series

2009 Playoffs Top Scorers:

LW – Taylor Hall 20gp-16g-20a-36pts
C – Andrei Loktionov 20gp-11g-22a-33pts
D – Ryan Ellis 20gp-8g-23a-31pts
RW – Dale Mitchell 20gp-14g-15a-29pts

The Windsor Spitfires are making their second appearance at the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament, and first since 1988. The Spitfires lost the 1988 Memorial Cup championship game to Trevor Linden and the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Up Front: The Spitfires possess a powerful offense that rivals any team in the CHL, and have the firepower to overwhelm their opponents. Left wing Taylor Hall, who isn’t NHL draft-eligible until 2010, led the team in post-season scoring with 16 goals and 36 points. Hall has tremendous speed, skill and agility, making him a difficult player to handle for even the best defensemen. Russian pivot Andrei Loktionov, veteran forward Dale Mitchell and Canadian World Junior standout defenseman Ryan Ellis all topped the 30-point mark in the Spitfires’ run to the OHL title.

The Spitfires also boast great offensive depth with Calgary Flames’ prospect Greg Nemisz, 19-year-old winger Eric Wellwood, and 30-goal man Adam Henrique all able to provide scoring. Veteran Scott Timmins can draw on his experience at the 2008 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament with Kitchener.

On The Blue Line: In addition to being the OHL’s top offensive team this season, they were also the top defensive team. As good as Ryan Ellis is offensively, he’s been tremendous on the defensive side as well, posting a +16 rating in 20 playoff games to lead all Spitfires’ rearguards.

20-year-old Rob Kwiet adds an offensive element for the Spitfires, while veteran Ben Shutron has Memorial Cup experience after playing in last year’s tournament with Kitchener. Collectively, the Spitfires’ defense corps was a combined +63 during the 2008 OHL Playoffs, and have managed to limit some of the top players in the CHL, including John Tavares, en route to the OHL crown.

Goaltending: 20-year-old Andrew Engelage has been solid when called upon for the Spitfires. Although he may not have to be spectacular, game in and game out, Engelage has put forth some terrific performances throughout the post-season. For a team that can score like the Spitfires, Engelage likely won’t need to play shutout hockey for his team to have success. Having already faced some of the top snipers in Major Junior hockey, Engelage won’t be intimidated by what awaits him in Rimouski.


These two teams are a lot alike when it comes to bringing offensive firepower, playing good solid defense and have great coaching. That being said the areas where we see the differences is what is going to decide who wins the Memorial Cup.

For Windsor, to win they can not allow Kelowna to dictate the tempo of any matchup. The Spits play best when playing a wide open fast paced game. There is no question that in a shootout that nobody will beat Windsor as they get scoring from everyone but their goalie.

For Kelowna, they want to slow the game down, they want to punish you repeatedly with the body and then punish you more. When you can send out guys on the blueline who will make you pay for coming anywhere close to their crease then you have an edge.

The difference for us is that Kelowna wants to play a 2-1 game, they have a goalie in Guggenberger who has repeatedly shown that he can shut down the very best offenses and buy his team time.

We disagree that Windsor needs Andrew Engelage to be spectacular as Kelowna is a WHL version of their offense. Windsor may not have needed a big game from their goalie before but they will now.

Kelowna very quietly has been playing the best hockey in all of the CHL over the last 3 months. Nothing against Windsor as they are a great team but if Kelowna plays the way they have then the Memorial Cup is returning to the WHL.

(original material from Cory Flett of the WHL)

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