By Tony Carr
Is this the time to switch up the Memorial Cup tournament format?
Currently, the winners from each of the three leagues in the CHL (Quebec, Ontario and Western Leagues) all earn the right to play for junior hockey supremacy. The fourth team invited is the host team. This rotates from league to league on a yearly basis. Usually, the host team loads up on talent via trades to ensure themselves a competitive team for the tournament but lately there has been a disturbing trend with this format; the host team doesn’t win their league title. Or even make it that far. Last year, the host Shawinigan Cataractes lost in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. This year the host Saskatoon Blades lost in the first round of the WHL playoffs, not only lost, but were swept. This begs the question: why are we allowing an inferior team the chance to play for such a prestigious trophy?
Rotating the host through the three different leagues makes sense, in a fairness sort of way. Is it time to stop “being fair”, and time to start rewarding winning? As the host team this year, the Blades are automatically in which also means that two of the Portland Winterhawks (117 points), Edmonton Oil Kings (108 points) and Kelowna Rockets (108 points) will absolutely not be (of course all three teams could miss out on the league title but that seems unlikely). The Blades had 94 points this season which is a pretty good year, and we all know regular season success does not guarantee playoff wins but an all access pass to the championship tournament because you had the best pitch to the selection committee a year previous seems wrong as well.
One idea is to continue rotating the host through the three leagues but allow the two teams playing in that particular league final to participate for the Memorial Cup. Using last year’s Memorial Cup as an example, the Saint John Seadogs and the Rimouski Oceanic would have represented the QMJHL in the tournament held in Shawinigan. The obvious problem with this scenario is attendance but is it really that big a problem? Maybe in the big markets like Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton but not in the smaller towns that make the CHL what it is. With the eyes of the junior hockey world watching, Baie Comeau would sell out the 2,779 seats in the Centre Henry-Leonard. Likewise in 3,257 seat Yardmen Arena located in Belleville. These smaller venues, smaller towns, can use the revenue and spotlight brought in by the Memorial Cup tournament despite the hometown team possibly not playing in it.
Another idea is to allow the league that wins the Memorial Cup to host the tournament the following year. Since 1983, when the tournament switched to four teams instead of three, the WHL has a dominating lead in Memorial Cup victories with 15, compared to nine for the OHL and six for the QMJHL. However, in the past 10 years, the margin is much closer with the OHL holding four titles with the other two leagues tied with three wins each, making this idea much more intriguing due to the parity. This idea is also based on rewarding teams that win at the expense of “fairness”.
Whatever happens, be it a change to the format or status quo, the Memorial Cup tournament is one of the most exciting times of the hockey year. No matter where it is held coast to coast, big city or small town, get out and support junior hockey.
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