Without a doubt, the finals of all three leagues comprising the Canadian Hockey League have provided action galore.
Now just a week away, the teams are getting to the home stretch of what could be a wild Cup tournament.
As we know, Kamloops hosts the Cup, which means they have assured a spot; the others comprise the other three participants. That’s where the fun begins. In most cases, these teams have spent heavily at the trade deadline, going “all in” and mortgaging what could be a rough three, four years, or longer, especially when it comes to draft picks.
The stage was set for Winnipeg ICE and Seattle Thunderbirds, two teams that spent very heavily at the trade deadline, with only one getting to advance.
The Thunderbirds/ ICE series is listed as 2-3-2, meaning the first pair was played in Winnipeg and the next three in Seattle. If Seattle was able to split in Winnipeg, they controlled home ice with three successive games. The Thunderbirds did that in Winnipeg and brought the series back to Accesso ShoWare Center with three games in a row with home fans and a chance to send the ICE packing.
Game three of the series saw Seattle jump out just 25 seconds in with a pass from Lucas Ciona onto the stick of Kyle Crnkovic and shot short stick side of Daniel Hauser. Winnipeg scored a minute later with a tremendous fake past Bryce Pickford as Carson Latimer walked in on Thomas Milic, tucking it five-hole to tie the game.
Seattle then went on a tear. Four straight goals, two 23 seconds apart in the first period, one on the powerplay on a sneaky far post ringer, and a walk-in shot by Brad Lambert, put the ICE on notice. Seattle scored again just 22 seconds later, and Winnipeg took a timeout. Dylan Guenther added another in the second frame, which was also a powerplay goal, giving Seattle a commanding lead.
Winnipeg tried to chisel into the lead five minutes later but saw Seattle score toward the end of the period to continue the four-goal lead.
With that, at the end of the period, Mason Beaupit took between the pipes for the ICE and saw the ICE score a powerplay goal, but it was too little too late, and the Thunderbirds won 6-3. Winnipeg outshot Seattle 38-33 and went 1 for 4 on the powerplay. Seattle went 2 for 3.
The next night Daniel Hauser started back for the ICE, and Winnipeg responded with a goal after a battle for the puck in the Seattle zone as Carson Latimer battled Jared Hanzel and scooped the puck over Milic. Seattle came back as the period was closing. After several workarounds, they popped it past Hauser for tie, heading to the dressing room.
Four minutes into the second, while on the powerplay, Seattle again went with the pass round in the Winnipeg zone to Gracyn Sawchyn on the doorstep and flicked it far post for Seattle’s first lead of the game. Winnipeg battled back again with a tap-in by Evan Friesen to tie the game. Dylan Guenther, nearly eight minutes into the third, added a goal. Winnipeg thought they’d tied the game a couple of minutes later but was ruled no goal due to using a Winnipeg glove to direct the puck in. With seconds remaining in the third, Seattle added the empty net goal and a 4-2 win. Seattle outshot Winnipeg 37-33 and 1-5 on the powerplay while snuffing out Winnipeg’s three chances.
Game 5 was do-or-die for the ICE. The battle was intense as both teams tried to get the first goal, but the opening stanza was scoreless. In the middle of the second period, Sam Popowich tipped in a Jeremy Hanzel shot for first blood.
Seattle’s Nico Mytovic was awarded a penalty shot as he was hauled down, attempting in the Winnipeg zone. Making no mistake about it, he scored, which put Seattle up by two in a tight game. Three minutes later, Evan Friesen cut the lead in half with a howitzer between the legs of Milic. Pulling Hauser, Winnipeg tried to come back with the tying goal. Dylan Guenther saw to end that by retrieving the puck and feeding to Kyle Crnkovic. Making sure that it wasn’t a miss, he shot from five feet out to seal the win and the series for Seattle.
Seattle will now represent the WHL in the Memorial Cup.
The OHL saw Peterborough Petes face London Knights, who seem to be in the mention a great deal over the past several years regarding the postseason. Dale Hunter, who has been the coach of the Knights since 2002, has won 4 League titles and, except for the Pandemic year, has made it to the playoffs. The Peterborough Petes have won one championship in 2005-06 but have gone through a myriad of coaches and haven’t it past round 1 of the playoffs for most of their time. The Petes, at last report, had split the series with the Knights and had London on the brink of elimination with a 6-5 Overtime win and 5-3. London returned home with a 4-1 win over the Petes.
Game six was as tight as one could imagine. The Knights and Petes went scoreless through 34 minutes before Avery Myers put the Petes up at 14:34 of the second. Not to be outdone, the Knights finally pulled even at 7:59 of the third period when Max McCue scored. The Petes found the dagger 4 minutes later when Tucker Robertson scored at 11:10. The Knights pulled Owen Willmer with two minutes left but couldn’t find the equalizer. For the first time in 17 years, the Petes have earned the right to place in the Memorial Cup.
The QMJHL has had two fierce contenders in the Halifax Mooseheads and the Quebec Remparts. Quebec has not won a title since 1976, mainly losing in the first round early in the years, and later years saw a stronger 2nd round exit and two third-round exits in the past two seasons.. Patrick Roy has coached the team since 2005 except a five-year block in 2013-28 where Philippe Boucher was at the helm.
They faced the Halifax Mooseheads, who won the Memorial Cup in 2013, defeating the Portland Winterhawks. The Mooseheads have been through various coaches, and their playoff showings reflect that. The Mooseheads have been through cycles with a solid team to go into playoffs and then the next few years of tough sledding as the team rebuilt. Both teams were atop the Eastern Conference, with Quebec at 109 points and Halifax at 107.
Like the OHL, the teams split the first two games. Quebec took game 3 5-4 in overtime and had a stranglehold in game 4 with a 2 -1 tight win. Halifax came back in game five, and another close game saw the Mooseheads take a 3-2 win in Quebec. The series in game six went back to the home of the Mooseheads, where they haven’t entirely sold out the building, coming in with about 400 people shy of a sellout.
The Mooseheads and Remparts went through a scoreless first period despite some great shots in the first, with both goaltenders competing at a very high level in stops.
Finally, Halifax broke the logjam with a trailing Jack Martin taking a Marcus Vidicek pass to split the Quebec goaltender, and the Mooseheads went up 1-0. Just over three and a half minutes later, Alexandre Doucet put the home team up by two after receiving a pass from Jack Martin outside his blue line and, on a mini breakaway, finished the job past William Rosseau.
Quebec answered six minutes later, with Evan Nause scoring a lofty shot through a screen just as the Quebec powerplay ended. Halifax responded just over four minutes later as Josh Lawrence completed a tic-tac-toe play in the Quebec zone for his twelfth of the postseason.
Not to be denied, Quebec went back to the powerplay just over a minute later with a James Malatesta marker out front of the Halifax net to pull them within one with twenty minutes left in regulation.
Just over five minutes into the third, Zachary Balduc, who helped the last Quebec goal, got one of his own with a switch to the backhand to shove it past Mathis Rosseau and a tie game.
It became a mad scramble as Halifax once again took the lead with a Zachary L’Heureau workhorse effort as he went into the Quebec zone, went around the net, and stuffed it in to give Halifax the lead.
With just over two minutes left, Kassim Gaudet, scoring his fifth postseason goal, stole the puck in the slot, fired at will, and cut to tie the game again.
With a minute left in regulation, Pier-Oliver Roy was on a 2-0 rush after Gaudet stripped the puck on a pass across by Halifax’s Charlie Truchon in the Quebec zone and buried it past Mathis Rosseau. Just over 84,000 fans watched this series in arenas.
The Remparts will now represent the QMJHL at the Memorial Cup.
The Cup tournament, which begins May 25 through June 4 in Kamloops, will feature Quebec Remparts as the QMJHL entry, Peterborough Petes from the OHL, Seattle Thunderbirds as the WHL entry, and Kamloops as the host team.
In Portland Winterhawks news, the WHL Bantam draft occurred last week, where the first female, Morgan Stickney, was selected by the Winterhawks, and the WHL took place. There is also brotherly love in the Hawks as well when the Hawks drafted Griffen Darby at the #17 pick, His brother Hudson was drafted by the Hawks in 2021, and while there have been brothers on teams before, they played apart from each other for pretty much all of their career thus far. Their father, Regan, was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 1998 and spent time in the AHL with Manitoba Moose, Utah Grizzlies, and Binghampton Senators. He finished his career in England with Cardiff and Sheffield in the EIHL.
The NHL Draft will follow two more weeks of hockey action, and within a couple of months, camps begin with the teams in search of a new champion for 2024.