The chase for the Mastercard Memorial Cup begins tonight in Quebec City, QC. For those unfamiliar with junior hockey’s most coveted prize, the Memorial Cup is awarded to the top junior team in the CHL, following a round-robin tournament between the winners of the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and Western Hockey League, as well as a host team.
This year’s edition features the host Quebec Remparts, OHL champion Oshawa Generals, QMJHL champion Rimouski Oceanic, and WHL champion Kelowna Rockets. The one Nashville connection to the 2015 Memorial Cup is Justin Kirkland, a defenseman for the Rockets, and a 2014 third round pick of the Predators.
Kirkland has excelled in his second full season with Kelowna, putting up 51 points in 50 games. He missed 18 games due to injury, but still managed to put up those astonishing numbers. The 18-year-old has also been a prime playoff performer, contributing to deep playoff runs in both of his full seasons with the Rockets. Last season, he had five goals and added five assists in 14 playoff games. This time around, he has five points through nine games.
The Rockets will open the festivities tonight against the hosts, the Quebec Remparts. It should be a very offensively-inclined battle as both teams have some pretty impressive offensive weapons. Kelowna boasts offensive juggernauts like Leon Draisaitl and Nick Merkley, while the Remparts have Coyotes prospect Anthony Duclair, as well as Dmytro Timashov. Puck drop for that game is at 7:30 EST.
In an interview with Justin Bradford of Penalty Box Radio, Kirkland said on the nature of this year’s tournament, “I definitely think that one of the best parts is being able to measure up against every league and see where we stand. I don’t think there’s a favorite going into the tournament. I think we’re all pretty much on the same level. It’s going to be exciting. Every team has a top skill guy. You look at Quebec with Duclair and Oshawa has guys like Dal Colle. It’s going to be fun playing against those guys. Hopefully we can come out on top and trying to take it in all at the same time.”
He’s definitely right. This year’s tournament is highly-contested. Kirkland’s Rockets only lost three games en route to a WHL title. All four teams had incredible runs. The 2015 Mastercard Memorial Cup should be a fun ride, and could result in Kelowna’s first Memorial Cup title since a guy named Shea Weber wore a Rockets uniform.