The Memorial Cup tournament gets underway tonight in London. The annual Canadian Hockey League showcase event puts the league champion from all three Canadian Junior leagues in a head to head round robin with the host Knight from London.
The Val d’Or Foreurs are the QMJHL representative and will be joined by Ontario Hockey League champion Guelph Storm and the Western Hockey League’s title winners, Edmonton Oil Kings.
The event boasts the best teams, and many of the best young players in the hockey world, but only one of the players is a Montreal Canadiens prospect. That would be big Michael McCarron, a hulking winger on the host Knights. McCarron was selected in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Habs, 25th overall.
McCarron took a while to adjust to the OHL when he first arrived at the start of the year, finding it difficult to settle into a defined role early in the season. He improved as the year went along, and moved to center late in the season. Into the playoffs, McCarron would be centering a productive third line on a very deep and talented Knights roster.
The 6’6” and 240 pound forward struggled for parts of the regular season to score, but ended the season with 17 points in his final 23 games, and chipped in with five more points in the Knights nine playoff games. McCarron uses his size very effectively to control the puck along the boards in the opponents zone, allowing his linemates time to find open area on the ice.
The Knights may be a bit rusty as the tournament opens tonight with them facing the Foreurs. Val d’Or just finished the QMJHL postseason with a dramatic Game 7 victory on Tuesday night, but London were knocked out of the OHL playoffs in the second round, and advance to the Memorial Cup as a host.
The Knights had a great regular season, finishing with the third most points in the league with 103. However, both teams ahead of London, Guelph and the Erie Otters, were in the same division as the Knights, so London drew a tough second round matchup with the Storm who had 105 points in the regular season.
London swept the Windsor Spitfires in the first round, but were defeated by Guelph in a closely contested five game series.
London has now been off for over a month, having last played on April 11th, but enter the tournament fully healthy and rested, and will be inspired by what is sure to be a great crowd in their home town.
Though the Saskatoon Blades were knocked out of the Memorial Cup tournament early last season after losing in the firs round of the WHL postseason, the Shawinigan Cataractes were able to pull off the win on home ice in 2012 after losing in the second round of the QMJHL playoffs.
London plays tonight against Val d’Or and then take on the Oil Kings on Sunday and then get a chance for revenge on Storm on Wednesday. It is a favorable schedule as the rested Knights are the only team that will not have to play on back to back days in the tournament.
It will be interesting to see how one of the Canadiens top prospects handles the big stage of the Memorial Cup, and the next week should play a major role in McCarron’s development.