Hockey Correspondent and Occasional Shakespeare Character, White Cover Magazine
Have the Halifax Mooseheads finally separated themselves from the rest of this year’s Memorial Cup crowd?
It’s not that we were waiting for Halifax to do this, necessarily. They have a pair of stud young superstars-in-the-making in Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, but it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the London Knights and Max Domi pull ahead, either. Ditto for Seth Jones, Ty Rattie and the Portland Winterhawks. Saskatoon? Hey, they’re capable of catching fire, too.
But, when the Mooseheads slammed the powerful Ontario champion Knights 9-2 on Tuesday night, the Memorial Cup was handed its first favourite for the first time in this year’s CHL championship tournament.
It wasn’t even MacKinnon or Drouin, even though they’re incapable of not being factors (and they had three assists each). Halifax’s Martin Frk had a hat trick. His teammate Darcy Ashley had two goals. The remaining four goals came from four different Mooseheads players, not one of them with the first name Nathan or Jonathan.
That’s depth, and that’s this Halifax team.
The Memorial Cup every year is well-rounded and four-squad strong – because the Memorial Cup combines the champions from each conference in the Canadian Hockey League – but there’s always one team that bites the dust early, that can’t hack it. There’s always one team that pulls ahead from the opening gun. There are always the other two teams that find themselves fighting to see who goes to the final to face the favourite.
London was the favourite last year, and they lost to the home team Shawinigan Cataractes. London was also the favourite in 2005, and they stomped the field. This year? Well, they find themselves in the same massive middle ground as everyone not nicknamed Mooseheads. They now move ahead (or behind) to a Thursday tie-breaker, where they’ll play the loser of tomorrow’s match between the WHL champion Portland Winterhawks and the hometown Saskatoon Blades.
Halifax? They’re already onto the next round. With the win, the Mooseheads moved to 2-1 and booked a spot in Friday’s semi-final.
Of course, they’re not invincible, and one would be wise to not read too much into Tuesday’s seven-spot shellacking of London, because the Mooseheads only loss came against the currently 1-1 Blades, a team that had their spot in this Memorial Cup sewn up when they were chosen to host it.
Halifax is good, but they’ve proven to be beatable. (“Boats against the current / Borne back ceaselessly into the past.”)
So, who do you take from here on out?
I guess it’s hard to argue against Halifax, as much as I’d like to make this interesting. They didn’t just neutralize London’s two-pronged attack from Max Domi or Bo Horvat. They completely snuffed them out. They suffocated them – held the bag around their head until they hit the ground and relaxed their lower half.
London is suddenly scrambling to regain the respect it once had too much of, because the mighty OHL champions know the rest of the country sees them as a team that only made it to Saskatoon because the Barrie Colts couldn’t close them out up 3-1 in their last series.
Portland is seen by almost nobody for a couple reasons: 1) They’re in the West, and 2) they’re American.
Saskatoon, of course, is fighting off that always-present idea that the host doesn’t deserve a spot unless they earn a spot, and Saskatoon hasn’t yet earned its spot.
And, Halifax is coming off an inspiring performance. That could be either motivational or corrosive. Are they confident in a good way, or are they cocky and careless?
Whatever the situation – whatever the truth of it all – even after a 9-2 round robin final, the Memorial Cup picture hasn’t gotten any clearer, and that’s exactly the way it should be.