Tuesday, May 13, 2008


2008 Memorial Cup

In 1919, the Memorial Cup was presented to the Junior Champions of the Ontario Hockey Association for the first time. It was created as a tribute to all of the soldiers who gave their lives for their country in the First World War.

On Friday, the 2008 edition of the Memorial Cup Championships will open in Kitchener. The Western Hockey League will be represented by the Spokane Chiefs, from Washington State. The Quebec League boasts the Gatineau Olympiques. The Ontario Hockey League will have two representatives: the Kitchener Rangers and the Belleville Bulls. The opening game pits the Olympiques against the host Rangers.

The Belleville Bulls will be playing in their second Memorial Cup Championship. In 1999, they won the J. Ross Robertson Trophy as league champions, but eventually lost to Ottawa in the semi-finals of the Memorial Cup. The 67s went on to defeat the Calgary Hitmen 7-6 in the final game to win the championship.

Last Monday night, the Bulls tried valiantly to overcome a three game deficit to the Kitchener Rangers as league champions. The Bulls clawed their way back into the final, winning three straight games. In the seventh and final game, the Rangers received full credit for their play. They defeated the Bulls 4-1 to win the league crown; however, due to the quirky Memorial Cup format, the Bulls had previously qualified for the Canadian championships.

The merits of winning the league championship are debatable. Certainly it is nice to win a championship. It is also fine to enter the ultimate title round on a winning note. Many local pundits wanted the Bulls to knock off the Rangers rather than going to the Memorial Cup “through the back door” as the second fiddle.

At this moment, that is all irrelevant. The Bulls are going to the finals, and there is a “Send Off Party” arranged for City Hall in Belleville on Wednesday at noon. Teams are required to be in Kitchener for all of the hoopla, even though the Bulls do not play until Saturday.

The tournament is a Round Robin affair, with teams playing against each other once. There is a tiebreaker game, if required, a semi-final and then a final on Sunday, May 25th.

The Bulls play Spokane on Saturday, Gatineau next Monday, and Kitchener on Wednesday, May 21st.

In last Monday’s game, Shawn Matthias suited up for the Bulls and scored their only goal. He has been sidelined with mononucleosis, and an enlarged spleen. He is arguably one of their best players, and was missed in the playoffs. It appears that the Bulls will be at full strength when they take the ice Saturday night.

That has not been the case for most of the playoffs. Their spectacular goaltender, Mike Murphy missed several games with an “upper body” ailment. In the secretive hockey vernacular, that could mean anything from a stomach ache to an ear infection. In Murphy’s case, he had stretched a few back muscles.

Just before the Bulls’ semi-final game against Ottawa in 1999, I chatted with Jonathan Cheechoo in the foyer of the arena. He was resting on his crutches after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in a previous tournament game. The Bulls also played without Justin Papineau, another of their stars, who had suffered a severe concussion earlier in the tournament.

Injuries can play such an important role in a short tournament. Two bad games and you are likely watching the semi finals and the finals from Row 16 in Section 24. There is little room for error, for mental lapses, for serious injuries. It is, however, junior hockey. There will be mistakes made, not always converted into good scoring chances as is the case in the NHL.

In a nutshell, that is what makes Junior Hockey so exciting for the fans: kids playing a kid’s game, going full tilt on every shift to show their stuff. (The tournament is also a great place to showcase one’s skills for an upcoming draft.)

It comes down to these four teams representing the other fifty-six teams in the Canadian Hockey League, playing for a trophy that symbolizes the efforts that Canadians have acknowledged for the past ninety years.

At dinner time Sunday night, on the 25th of May, you will get a chance to see who will circle the ice surface at the Auditorium in Kitchener with the Memorial Cup as CHL Champions.

Note: The photograph of the Memorial Cup is from the Group One Beehive Corn Syrup collection, issued from 1934 to 1943.

James Hurst

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