The puck drops tonight in Windsor as the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup gets underway. Here’s a look at 10 prominent storylines across all four competing teams:
NHL Connections: Each team features a star player who spent time in the NHL this season. Windsor’s Mikhail Sergachev (Montreal Canadiens), Erie’s Dylan Strome (Arizona Coyotes), Saint John’s Thomas Chabot (Ottawa Senators) and Seattle’s Mathew Barzal (NY Islanders) all made their NHL debuts earlier this season.
Canada Crew: Six players from Canada’s silver medalist National Junior Team are competing in the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup. The Saint John trio of Thomas Chabot, Mathieu Joseph and Julien Gauthier lines up against international allies in Erie’s Dylan Strome, Anthony Cirelli and Taylor Raddysh as well as Seattle’s Mathew Barzal.
Gold Medal Company: Also on the international level, Windsor’s Jeremy Bracco, who won gold with the United States this past January, looks to become the 24th player in tournament history to win both World Junior gold and a Mastercard Memorial Cup title in the same season.
Exceptional Talents: Two players granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada are battling for CHL supremacy. Nineteen year-old Windsor Spitfires defenceman Sean Day just wrapped up his fourth OHL season after gaining the ‘exceptional’ label prior to the 2013-14 season. A third round pick by the New York Rangers, Day recorded 32 points (12-20–32) in 58 games this past season. He’s joined by 17-year-old Saint John Sea Dogs forward Joe Veleno who just completed his sophomore season in the QMJHL, recording 40 points (13-27–40) over 45 contests. Day and Veleno will square off in Friday night’s Mastercard Memorial Cup opener.
Familiar Flynn: Saint John Sea Dogs head coach Danny Flynn lands in Windsor for his sixth Mastercard Memorial Cup following past trips as an assistant coach with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (1991, ’92, ’93) and Moncton Wildcats (2006). He was the head coach of the 2010 Mastercard Memorial Cup host Wildcats and enters this week’s action off a President’s Cup title in the QMJHL. Flynn coached Spitfires owner and president Bob Boughner on the 1993 Mastercard Memorial Cup Champion Soo Greyhounds and also coached Seattle Thunderbirds assistant coach Matt O’Dette in Sault Ste. Marie in 1994-95.
American Flavour: With the OHL Champion Erie Otters and WHL Champion Seattle Thunderbirds punching their way to the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup, two U.S.-based teams square off at the event for the first time since 2007. The 1998 Mastercard Memorial Cup Champion Portland Winterhawks headlined the only other occurrence.
Stankowski Steps Up: A newly-turned 17-year-old who got into just seven games during his first WHL season, fresh-faced Seattle Thunderbirds goaltender Carl Stankowski was big for his club down the stretch. The 5-foot-9 netminder stepped up after an injury to veteran starter Rylan Toth, posting a 2.50 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage over 20 playoff contests for the WHL champions.
Spits Stellar at Home: The host Windsor Spitfires enter action after a first round playoff exit, but their play on home ice this season was up there with the OHL’s best. Windsor played to a 27-6-1-0 mark at the WFCU Centre where they’ll open up the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup tonight against the Saint John Sea Dogs. By comparison, Erie had 30 home wins this past season while Seattle equalled Windsor’s total of 27 and Saint John won 25 times on home ice.
Streaking Cirelli: Clutch performer Anthony Cirelli added to his resume of big goals in Game 5 of the Rogers OHL Championship Series, crowning the Otters as OHL Champs in overtime off a pass from linemate Dylan Strome. Cirelli enters the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup on a nine game point streak, the longest of any player competing in the event.
NHL Draft Prospects on Display: A number of prospects eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft hit the ice in Windsor. Leading the way is Spitfires forward Gabriel Vilardi who comes in as the fourth ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s Final Rankings. Goaltender Michael DiPietro was ranked fourth among North American goaltenders. Other prospects ranked in the Top-100 include Erie’s Ivan Lodnia (36) and Seattle’s Jarret Tyszka (41).
SPORTSNET’S SAM & RJ PREVIEW THE ACTION: