The 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup is in full swing, entering Game 5 of the tournament tonight as the Saint John Sea Dogs take on the Seattle Thunderbirds in a must-win scenario for both clubs.
One unique aspect of this year’s event is the presence of players with NHL experience, one on each of the four teams competing.
Seattle’s Mathew Barzal goes head-to-head with Saint John’s Thomas Chabot tonight, with one league champion set to punch its ticket to Friday’s Semi-Final while the other will return home winless.
Barzal, who was a first round pick by the New York Islanders in 2015, made his NHL debut with the big club on October 15th in Washington and got into a second game on October 26th in Montreal before being returned to the T-Birds.
Though he’s been locked in as a central figure in Seattle’s success, Barzal has kept close tabs on his friends in Brooklyn.
“The Islanders had a great second half and they were one of the best teams in the league at one point,” he noted. ” I have some pretty good friends on that team in Beauvillier and Ho-Sang who did well when he got called up.
“Everybody there was really welcoming to me and I enjoyed following them closely down the stretch. They almost got into the playoffs.”
Smooth-skating Saint John Sea Dogs defender Thomas Chabot, who played alongside Barzal on Canada’s silver medal National Junior Team this past December, had a similar experience with the Ottawa Senators who selected him 18th overall in 2015.
Chabot made his NHL debut on October 18th at home to Arizona before rejoining the Sea Dogs to earn both QMJHL Defenceman of the Year and Playoff MVP honours as Saint John hoisted the President’s Cup.
“I was lucky because I had the chance to work out in Ottawa before training camp,” said Chabot. “I got used to the pace pretty quick. I got sent down and not even two or three weeks later I was back to the World Junior level so that was a good thing for me.
“There’s a big difference between junior and the NHL,” he continued. “I tried to bring NHL habits back to Saint John in the way that I practice, prepare and play at a higher pace.”
While Barzal and Chabot try and keep their respective seasons alive tonight, two other standouts in Windsor have made big impacts in leading their clubs to 2-0 starts.
Arizona Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome, who saw seven games of NHL action to start the campaign, leads the tournament with eight points (5-3–8) in two games, setting a new Mastercard Memorial Cup single game record with his four goals and three assists in Erie’s 12-5 win over Saint John on Monday.
Strome faced Chabot’s Senators in his NHL debut on October 18th in Ottawa, registering his first career point when he assisted on a goal by Tobias Rieder.
Strome, who led the OHL in scoring in 2014-15, led all players with 2.14 points-per-game in an abbreviated 35 game OHL campaign this past season.
Windsor Spitfires defenceman Mikhail Sergachev rounds out the NHL foursome. The Russian played in four games with the Montreal Canadiens this season and got a late season call-up following Windsor’s first round playoff exit.
“It was pretty crazy to have that opportunity,” he said of the chance to play in one of the final games at Joe Louis Arena on April 8th. “Getting called up by Montreal in April was a big boost for me and I feel like I’ve been getting so much better.”
NHL experience on all four teams is good for the fans, the scouts and the competition on the ice.
Tune in tonight at 7:00pm ET/4:00pm PT on Sportsnet, TVA Sports, NHL Network and CHL Live to catch a pair of the NHL’s top prospects in Barzal and Chabot going head-to-head with their seasons on the line.