For the third straight year in a row, the London Knights came up short at the Memorial Cup. Not only did they come up short, but they were flat out embarrassed on home ice. Although Michael McCarron wasn’t good, he wasn’t particularly bad either, which, relatively speaking, is quite good. Despite the disappointment for Habs and Knights fans, the tournament itself was absolutely incredible with several fantastic story lines.
The London Knights opened the tournament against the QMJHL Champions, the Val-d’Or Foreurs. It really was the only time where London played well, but poor decisions overall cost them. Val-d’Or won by a score of 1-0, thanks to a beautiful goal by Anthony Mantha. London outshot Val-d’Or 51-28, but seemed to run out of steam in the third period, where Val-d’Or started to take over. Michael McCarron wasn’t having his best game. Although McCarron created scoring chances, he made some absolutely baffling decisions as well, including a play where he took himself out of passing and shooting position on a two-on-one.
London took on the Edmonton Oil Kings in their second game, where they finally scored their first goal. Edmonton jumped out to a 2-0 lead, until London answered. Then Edmonton would score two straight, putting the game out of reach for London. Second-time draft eligible forward, Edgars Kulda, led the way with a massive three point night and an overall extremely impressive effort. Just like the first game, McCarron had an up and down performance. Mixed between the baffling decisions and a boneheaded penalty that erased all hope for his team to mount a comeback were the occasional chances offensively.
With a 0-2 record, London needed to win against the Guelph Storm in order to play in the tie-breaker. Guelph dismantled them in five games in the second round of the OHL playoffs looked all-around far more impressive than London in the tournament. Powered by the terrific line of Scott Kosmachuk, Jason Dickinson, and Brock McGinn, Guelph destroyed London 7-2. Kosmachuk picked up a hat trick in the rout and was a threat to score every shift. London had no answer for Guelph until the third period, where McCarron strung together three strong shifts. McCarron wreaked havoc down low and in front of the net. Unfortunately it was too little, too late. Before that third period, McCarron was playing possibly his game since early January—a fitting end to an inconsistent, disappointing season.
Of course, the Knights lack of urgency was only one of the fascinating story lines in the tournament. Val-d’Or, after beating the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in spectacular fashion, continued their late-game heroics. After a 6-3 defeat against Guelph, Val-d’Or took on Edmonton in the final game of the round robin for both teams. Val-d’Or went without Guillaume Gélinas, dynamic offensive defenceman after getting taken out in a knee-on-knee collision with Chadd Bauman. It was the most entertaining game of the tournament up to that point, going to double overtime. Leafs prospect, Antoine Bibeau stood on his head, stopping 47 of 50 shots, setting the stage for Anthony Richard’s heroics. With a head of steam, Richard stormed past the defenders, going in all alone, and scoring on Tristan Jarry. It was a massive 4-3 victory for Val-d’Or.
Just a few days later, Edmonton and Val-d’Or met again—this time with a place in the Memorial Cup final on the line. Val-d’Or received a huge boost with Guillaume Gélinas returning to line up. Val-d’Or opened the scoring just a 1:49 into the game, but then eight minutes later, Mads Eller, the brother of Lars, scored with a quick shot in the slot. Mitchell Moroz and Edgars Kulda would each score, putting Edmonton out in front by two goals. Randy Gazzola, would get Val-d’Or within one by walking into the slot and beating Jarry, setting the stage for Gélinas’ heroics. With just 36 seconds remaining in the game, Gélinas scored with a nice shot from the point, ending the game to overtime. Two overtime periods went by before Curtis Lazar deflected the Cody Corbett’s point shot, sending Edmonton to the Memorial Cup final. It was the longest game in Memorial Cup history.
With the Memorial Cup on the line, Edmonton’s big players stepped up. Despite falling behind a by a goal twice, Edmonton battled back and took the game over in the second. Edgars Kulda gave Edmonton their first lead of the game partway through the second. Mitchell Moroz scored his second in as many games shortly after, extending their lead to two. In the third period, Zack Mitchell scored, but Henrik Samuelsson answered shortly after. Samuelsson would clinch the Memorial Cup with an empty-netter, completing the incredible five-point performance. The tournament’s second leading scorer, Edgars Kulda, was awarded the Stafford Smythe Trophy as the Memorial Cup MVP.
Although it was the franchise’s first Memorial Cup since 1966, it was important for far greater reasons. Kristiāns Pelšs, a member of the 2012 WHL Champion Oil Kings, was found dead last June. Edmonton dedicated their season to him with the motto “Play for Pelšs” and with number 26, “KP,” and the Latvian flag inscribed on every player’s helmet. So when rookie defenceman Ben Carroll burst onto the ice carrying the number 26 jersey, the result could have not been any more perfect. The number 26 jersey was paraded around the ice and appeared in the team picture. A heart-warming moment that made the victory just that much more special.
Edmonton became the first WHL team to win the Memorial Cup since 2008. It also ended a three-year run by the QMJHL at the event.
This Memorial Cup was filled with emotion, whether that be the disappointment of Guelph, London and Val-d’Or, or the overwhelming joy from Edmonton for a magnitude of reasons. It truly was an incredible display, featuring amazing hockey and emotion.
Next year’s MasterCard Memorial Cup will be hosted by the Quebec Remparts.