After nine months of battles and hard-fought competition, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and London Knights have finally reached the climax of the 2015-16 Canadian Hockey League season, going head-to-head in the 98th MasterCard Memorial Cup Final this afternoon in Red Deer, Alberta.
It’s the last game. There’s no tomorrow. This one is for the prize.
The QMJHL champion Huskies, losers of just nine games in regulation all season, gained entry to the championship finale with a 3-1 win over the host Red Deer Rebels on Friday.
With tight defensive zone coverage and a frustrating amount of shot blocks against the Rebels who were firing on all cylinders, Rouyn-Noranda bench boss and recently named Bumper to Bumper Brian Kilrea CHL Coach of the Year Gilles Bouchard feels his club is coming in prepared. The Huskies lost 5-2 to London in round robin play.
“We played a good hockey game on Friday, we played hard,” he said. “We were not perfect over 60 minutes, we made some mistakes but I think we did a good job. Against London I think five-on-five we played very well in our game against them.”
With the challenge of facing the high-powered trio of Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk lying ahead, Bouchard says his club respects the big line.
“We have to respect them,” he said,” but at the end of the day, if we respect them too much, it will not be good for us. We have to play hockey, play our game, respect our identity, our culture, and we have to play to our strengths.”
The last encounter between the two clubs featured saw the Huskies gain 11 power plays, only to cash in on two of them in the 5-2 loss as Marner, Dvorak and Tkachuk combined for nine points.
For Huskies star winger Timo Meier, it’s the last challenge for his club.
“It’s fun to face adversity with such a great team,” he said. “We have such a tight-knit group of guys here. There are no cliques in this dressing room. We’re in this together. I’m looking forward to the game.”
Across the ice, the 3-0 Knights have been off since Tuesday, taking an off-day trip to Banff in their spare time. The time off doesn’t appear to be a concern for veteran Knights coach Dale Hunter.
“It’s a Game 7,” he said. “These guys know what’s at stake. It means a lot for the veteran guys on both teams. They know it’s their last game and it’s huge for them because they’re going on to something different.”
London has outscored opponents 20-5 in the tournament, going 9-for-20 (45%) on the power play. With one task remaining, the Knights try and bury shortcomings at the 2012, 2013 and 2014 MasterCard Memorial Cups firmly into the history books.
“We’re 3-0 and it feels good but we’re not done yet,” said veteran Owen MacDonald, who has been at two MasterCard Memorial Cups as a Knight. “We know what we have to do, we’ve got 60 minutes to play and they’re going to be the most important 60 minutes of any of our careers.”
The Knights and Huskies square off as OHL and QMJHL champions on WHL ice for the first time in 30 years, following the 1986 MasterCard Memorial Cup Final between the Guelph Platers and Hull Olympiques that Guelph won by a score of 6-2 in Portland, Oregon.
What’s been a tremendous week of hockey and festivities in Central Alberta comes to an end this afternoon as the 98th MasterCard Memorial Cup champion will be crowned at the ENMAX Centrium.
Catch today’s action at 2:30pm MT/4:30pm ET across the country on Sportsnet, TVA Sports 2 and NHL Network in the United States.