The road to the Memorial Cup
There are six teams left in the battle for junior hockey supremacy, four of which will get the chance to play in the Memorial Cup tournament in Vancouver about two weeks from now.
All three of the league finals, in the WHL, OHL and QMJHL, get underway tonight, with Vancouver at Medicine Hat, Sudbury at Plymouth, and Val d'Or at Lewiston. The two WHL clubs have already clinched a spot given the Giants are this year's host, while the winners of the OHL and QMJHL series will advance.
In terms of notables, there are a few among the remaining teams: Kristopher Letang and Brad Marchand (Val d'Or), Jonathan Bernier and Marc-Andre Cliche (Lewiston), Darren Helm, Kris Russel and Mike Sauer (Medicine Hat), Kenndal McArdle, Brendan Mikkelson and Cody Franson (Vancouver), Dan Ryder and James Neal (Plymouth), and Nick Foligno, Jared Staal and Marc Staal (Sudbury).
There's an awful lot of world junior players on that list, including a few — Letang, Marc Staal and Russell — who skated for Canada for the past two gold-medal winning turns in the tournament. Letang began his season with Pittsburgh in the NHL, while Staal (Rangers) and Russell (Columbus) are likely headed there soon. Marchand (Boston), Cliche (Rangers), Helm (Detroit), McArdle (Florida), Franson (Nashville) and Neal (Dallas) were also part of the 2007 team.
Bernier, meanwhile, is a top-notch netminder and the younger brother of Sharks forward Steve, while Sauer's elder sibling Kurt is on the Avalanche blue line. Ryder's the younger brother of Canadiens sniper Mike, and Foligno's the son of former NHLer Mike (now his coach with the Wolves).
Finally, Jared Staal is the last member of the brothers four who are on their way to the NHL. In his rookie season in the OHL, he managed only three points in 63 games as a 16 year old — but Jordan wasn't exactly lighting it up at that age either.
That's a whole lotta storylines worth following, and I'm sure by the end of these final series, we'll have a few more to add to the list. Ticket sales have apparently been very, very good for Vancouver's first-ever turn as host — although I haven't heard if it's a complete sellout or not.
I'm going to be flying out to B.C. for the tail end of the tournament, so expect more updates as we move along toward the May 27 finale.
(With this, the NHL playoffs and the world championship all going down in the same time frame, 'tis the season for a hockey overdose.)