Before the hostilities of competing for the MasterCard Memorial Cup, the coaches of the four teams involved talked about how they’re getting ready to square off.
The puck drops on the 10-day tournament on Friday, but Wednesday evening Brent Sutter, Red Deer Rebels head coach; Dale Hunter, London Knights head coach; Gilles Bouchard, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies head coach; and Kelly McCrimmon, Brandon Wheat Kings head coach gathered in the Centrium.
“We’ve been watching these guys play for the last two weeks,” said Sutter. “We’ve done a lot of practicing trying to get ready to play these three teams. They’re the champions of the leagues they play in, so we certainly have our hands full.
“To be quite honest, I’m kind of sitting up here as the loser right now.”
The Huskies (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), Knights (Ontario Hockey League) and Wheat Kings (Western Hockey League) all got to the Memorial Cup by winning their respective leagues. The Rebels, as hosts, have an automatic berth.
Bouchard’s Huskies lost only nine games in regulation and 14 games overall during the QMJHL season. They come into the tournament as the top ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League.
“We have four good teams here and the best team at this moment will win it,” said Bouchard.
“It’s our first Presidents Cup for our organization. It was an unbelievable moment for us. We had a great moment and now it’s time to turn the page and be ready for the Memorial Cup.”
After watching tape of the other three teams, Hunter said he expects there to be quality hockey during the tournament.
“All four of us coaches were challenged to put the puzzle together to win,” said Hunter.
“It makes it interesting, that’s what hockey is all about.”
This is the third time in four years the Knights have won the OHL championship, qualifying for the Memorial Cup but not winning the title.
McCrimmon said all four rounds of playoff hockey were a real challenge for his squad, starting with an Edmonton Oil Kings team that upset them twice in Brandon before the Wheat Kings rebounded and won four straight games.
Facing teams they have never seen before changes preparation to an extent.
“You can’t over-analyze it,” said McCrimmon. “It’s still hockey, you still have to be able to play. For our team, we’re preparing for our game Saturday against Rouyn-Noranda that’s our focus. Likely the same as the other three teams, we’re more worried about our own team and how we play than we would be in a series.
“This is a sprint.”
The Rebels have had their spot booked in the Memorial Cup since they were announced as hosts in 2014.
“We’re excited for the challenge,” said Sutter. “We feel like we have a good team and we can compete and it will be nice to see how it goes here. It’ll happen quite quickly and every game is very important, it’s like a Game 7.”