With the first game 2015 Memorial Cup set to take place tonight, four teams start their journey to become supreme champions of the Canadian Hockey League. The Rimouski Oceanic, Quebec Remparts, Oshawa Generals and Kelowna Rockets make up the four-team tournament, and all four teams have proven to be at the top of their respective leagues over the course of their seasons. Unfortunately, just one can receive the title of Memorial Cup Champions and as we count down the hours until the first game, Last Word On Sports takes a look at the biggest x-factors for each team.
One player from each team is selected as the biggest factor to a potential tournament win. Teams are listed geographically from East to West and not based on who the better x-factor is.
For the full preview, analysis and predictions of the Memorial Cup tournament, give Ben Kerr’s piece a thorough read.
2015 Memorial Cup X-Factors
Rimouski Oceanic: Philippe Desrosiers
Drafted 54th overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft by the Dallas Stars, the Oceanic goaltender has provided the team with some of the best goaltending in the QMJHL this year. Born in St. Hyacinthe, Desrosiers posted a 29-9-3 record with the team, posting the best goals-against average in the league.
Heading into the playoffs, Desrosiers was in battle with Louis-Philip Guindon for starting team and only appeared in nine of Rimouski’s 20 playoff games. Stopping 18 of 19 shots in the first period, this Monday, Desrosiers placed his team in a good position to win, as both he and Montreal Canadiens prospect Zachary Fucale remained perfect through periods two and three. Rimouski would go on to win the game in overtime. With Guindon dropping game 5, Desrosiers would play in relief in game 6 and then lead the Oceanic to win game 7, defeating the Quebec Remparts to capture the QMJHL Championship. In the process, Desrosiers was honored with CHL goaltender of the week honors.
While it is unclear who will start the tournament for Rimouski, if Desrosiers can capture the same magic in a bottle and perform the way he did at the tail-end of the QMJHL playoffs, Rimouski could ride him all the way to a title.
Quebec Remparts: Adam Erne
When you think about how deep the Tampa Bay Lightning are and that Adam Erne is their 33rd selection in the 2013 entry draft, it’s almost not fair to think of what their team will look like in the near future. For now, the 20-year-old left winger has been tearing it up in the QMJHL as part of an exciting Rempart team that just missed out on the league championship, but still qualify for the Memorial Cup as the host city.
In 60 games this season, Erne posted a remarkable 86-point campaign (41 goals, 45 assists), just four points shy of team leader Dmytro Timashov, yet a full 26 points ahead of the next best player, Kurt Etchegary. As amazing as that sounds, it doesn’t come close to what Erne has done for the Remparts in the playoffs. In 22 games, Erne scored nearly a goal-per-game with 21, adding 9 assists to lead the entire team in goals and points. The closest to touch his 21-goal mark is a three-way tie between Guillaume Gauthier, Anthony Duclair and Kurt Etchegary, who all scored 8 goals apiece.
The Remparts went all the way to game seven of the QMJHL playoffs, losing out to Rimouski in double overtime, but they’ll have a shot at redemption in the Memorial Cup. With offensive juggernauts like Duclair, Etchegary, Timashov and Erne, the Remparts have a shot at out-dueling any team in their way; but if they want to put the puck into the net, it’s best to leave it on the stick of Adam Erne.
Oshawa Generals: Michael Dal Colle
As the New York Islanders 5th overall selection in last year’s draft, Michael Dal Colle is expected to be one of the better offensive players on their team for years to come. For now, he is tearing it up in the Ontario Hockey League as a member of the surging Oshawa Generals, the champions of the OHL.
In 56 games this season, the left winger out of Woodbridge, Ontario led all Generals skaters in goals and points, while tied for assists with Cole Cassels. With 42 goals and 51 assists in the regular season already, Dal Colle turned up his compete level to the next level, putting up 31 points (8 goals, 23 assists) in 21 games, sharing the lead in points with Cassels while leading in the assists department. Dal Colle and Cassels were also tied for second place in OHL scoring during the playoffs.
Beyond the points Dal Colle put up in the playoffs, it’s his compete level that jumps out the most. Every shift, he gives it 150% and works his best from the time he jumps off the bench to the moment he makes a line change. Dal Colle is one of the most noticeable players headed to the tournament, in the best ways possible, and his efforts will be a big reason why the Generals make a push for the Memorial Cup.
Kelowna Rockets: Nick Merkley
Likely the most sought after 2015 draft eligible prospect in this four-team tournmanent, Nick Merkley is turning heads everywhere he goes and his stock has been on the rise ever since. The 5’10 centre oozes energy and his tenacious attitude has made him one of the better playmakers headed into this year’s draft.
Heading into this year’s WHL playoffs, Merkley finished with 27 points (5 goals, 22 assists), placing third in playoff scoring. His regular season looked similar, with Nick leading the Rockets in points with 90, and assists with 70. Playing on the right wing, Merkley has proved time and time again that dynamite can indeed come in small packages, as players like Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens have shown. Granted his size and how the trend seems to favor larger, more physical players, Merkley is still a likely 1st-round pick.
With a team that already hosts high-calibre offensive players like Rourke Chartier and WHL Playofs MVP Leon Draisaitl, and defensemen Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey, the Rockets have a favorable chance of winning it all. Add the sheer brilliance of Nick Merkley and equally undersized Tyson Bailie, who combined with Merkley for 51 points in the WHL playoffs, and it’s no wonder why Last Word On Sports has picked Kelowna to win it all.
BOSTON, MA – APRIL 20: Rusney Castillo #38 of the Boston Red Sox catches a ball before a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 20, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Red Sox won 7-1 in a rain-shortened game that was stopped in the 7th inning. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)