2016 Memorial Cup Final Preview: London vs. Rouyn-Noranda

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On Sunday afternoon, the OHL champion London Knights and QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies will square off in the final of the 2016 Memorial Cup. The Knights received a bye to the final by being perfect through the round robin, winning all three games against the Huskies, host Red Deer Rebels, and WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings. Rouyn-Noranda had a more complicated road to the championship game, defeating the Rebels in front of a raucous home crowd in the semi-final, by a score of 3-1.

2016 Memorial Cup Final Preview

London Knights  (3-0-0) vs. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (2-2-0)

This game is sure to be fascinating, with the two strongest teams in junior hockey squaring off. The Knights and Huskies met previously on Tuesday, in both teams’ final round robin game, where London came out the victors by a score of 5-2. That game wasn’t quite what it was expected to be; the referees set the tone early by assessing a penalty to Rouyn-Noranda’s Antoine Waked just nine seconds in, and from then on even strength play was a rarity. In all, 20 minor penalties were called (9 to the Huskies, 11 to the Knights), and frustration grew in both teams.

London made better use of their power-plays, though, going 3 for 7 when the Huskies went 2 for 11. That comes as no surprise, though, as the OHL champion’s deadliness with a man advantage has been a common theme all year – they were tops in the league at 29.1% in the regular season.

The Knights’ much-lauded top line of Mitch MarnerChristian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk combined for 9 points in that game against the Huskies, 26 in the whole Memorial Cup tournament. Marner alone has an astonishing 13, with 2 goals and 11 assists. On Saturday the 19-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs prospect was named CHL player of the year, bringing him one step closer to the astonishingly historic company he’s chasing.

Marner has already caught the attention of the world, lighting up every team that has stood in his way throughout the playoffs and Memorial Cup. He surpassed Leon Draisaitl‘s 2015 tournament-leading points total of 7 in just the second game. He’s now three points away from tying the all-time Memorial Cup record – not out of reach at the rate he’s scoring.

As a team, the Knights have outscored their opponents 20-5 in this tournament, taking no prisoners as they romped through the first three games by scored of 6-2, 9-1, and 5-2. Nine different players have recorded a point, among them depth scorers such as Aaron Berisha and Max Jones.

The Huskies can score too, though. Quebec’s best team was the highest-scoring in their league as well, putting up 302 goals in the regular season and 88 in the QMJHL playoffs. They’re led up front by San Jose Sharks prospect Timo Meier, who recorded 51 points in 29 games after Rouyn-Noranda acquired him at the trade deadline. He has 7 points at the Memorial Cup, tied with his teammate Francis Perron, an Ottawa Senators draft pick who was named the regular season MVP in Quebec after scoring 108 points. Leafs prospect Martins Dzierkals is just another one of the list of Huskies players who can contribute offensively.

Both teams are also strong on the back end, capable of winning battles in both ends and taking some of the heavy lifting away from their goaltenders. London’s blue line is led by their mismatched top pairing of the 5’10” Victor Mete, one of the best skaters in the league, and the towering 6’7″ Chris Martenet. Behind them, highly-touted draft eligible Finn Olli Juolevi provides an offensive flair from the point while veteran (and member of last year’s Memorial Cup champion Oshawa GeneralsJacob Graves provides support.

Rouyn-Noranda’s defence also received help at the trade deadline, as they added Nikolas Brouillard to contribute in their own zone. Jeremy Lauzon, a draft pick of the Boston Bruins, typically calls the shots from the back end. 6’5″ Philippe Myers rounds out the Huskies’ big three, which has been paramount to their defensive game all year.

The battle in net will be between London’s Tyler Parsons and Rouyn-Noranda’s Chase Marchand. Parsons has been spectacular in the Memorial Cup so far, with a .944 save percentage. He was a major factor in the Knights’ dominance of the OHL playoffs, providing the offensive-minded defencemen with more freedom to join the rush. Marchand has also been a rock for the Huskies, having posted a .946 save percentage throughout the entire QMJHL playoffs.

Both teams made waves to get to the final. The Knights rolled through every team they played. The Huskies had to fight their way here, but still impressed by dispensing with the Wheat Kings (who were severely disappointing) and the feisty Red Deer Rebels.

With the roll that London is on, it’s all too easy to call them the favourite. For the third year in a row, the OHL champion at this tournament has gone 3-0 and automatically qualified for the final. However, the Knights must be wary of what has happened in the past to teams who rested on their laurels. At the 2014 Memorial Cup, the Guelph Storm dominated the competition en route to the championship game, where they were promptly dismantled 6-3 by the Edmonton Oil Kings – who the Storm had beaten 5-2 just eight days previously.

The Knights were present at that tournament, five of their current players having experienced the 7-2 beatdown given to them by Guelph firsthand. Surely Dale Hunter‘s team will know not to ease up on a team they have beaten in the past – they learned that in the first round of the playoffs against the Owen Sound Attack. After their team trip to Banff during the free time they bought themselves, the Knights have been practising hard, having watched hours of Huskies game tape.

The first meeting between these two teams will not have been a good preview for what will happen in the final. It was a slow game riddled with stoppages, an abnormality for any hockey game. The 2016 Memorial Cup Final will surely be the true test of the Knights and Huskies. Rouyn-Noranda will definitely be hungry, having been beaten handily by London last time in a game where neither team got into any true rhythm. They’ve fought harder to get here, though, having played just two days ago – while the Knights have been off since Tuesday.

The greatest prize in junior hockey is up for grabs on Sunday. The London Knights may be the slight favourites given their recent record and star-studded roster, but in a single elimination game anything can happen. The puck drops in Red Deer, Alberta at 4:30 EST.

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