- Chris Stevenson
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Here's a look at the four teams participating in the Memorial Cup, Canada's national junior championship that begins Saturday in London, Ontario. After a round-robin, the top team gets a bye to the final. The second- and third-place teams play a sudden-death semifinal to advance to the final. The semifinal is May 28 and the final is May 29.
How important is it to advance directly to the final and avoid an extra game on the Saturday? Eleven of the last 12 winners have been the teams that finished first in the round-robin.
Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)
Regular season record: 45-17-5-3 (first overall).
Playoff Record: 12-1
Players to Watch: It begins and ends with Sidney Crosby, the most anticipated NHL prospect out of the Quebec league since Mario Lemieux. He has led the Quebec league in scoring the last two years and had an astounding 14 goals and 17 assists in just 13 post-season games. Crosby is stocky (5-foot-10, 193 pounds) and with powerful legs, is tough to knock off the puck. Teams that try to intimdate him will find he doesn't back down. Crosby's linemates are Marc Antoine Pouliot (45 goals, 68 assists for 113 points) and Dany Roussin (54-60-114). To save you the math, that's a combined 398 points. Pouliot is a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers from 2003 (22nd overall).
The Skinny: The Oceanic got better and better as the season progressed and closed out the season with a 35-game unbeaten streak (28 games to close out the regular season and another seven in the playoffs). The Oceanic is miffed their 35-game unbeaten streak won't be recognized ahead of London's 31-game streak this season. The CHL includes only regular-season games in the streak record.
The London Knights (OHL)
Regular season record: 59-7-2-0 (First overall)
Playoff record: 16-2
Players to Watch: Corey Perry, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim's first-round pick in 2003, was the OHL's leading scorer and MVP. He was Crosby's linemate on gold medal-winning Team Canada at the world junior championships. The Knights feature an all-American line of Dan Fritsche (Parma, Ohio), Rob Schremp (Fulton, N.Y.) and Drew Larman (Canton, Mich.) Knights GM Mark Hunter, the former NHLer, acquired all three through trades Fritsche played 19 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2003-04 season. Schremp was a first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2004. Bryan Rodney, a former Ottawa 67, and Danny Syvret, a member of Team Canada, are offensive forces on the blue line. Coach Dale Hunter has used both Adam Dennis and Gerald Coleman in goal. Dennis started the OHL final against Ottawa and Coleman finished it.
The Skinny: The Knights have been Canada's top-ranked junior team this season. They started the year with a CHL record 31-game unbeaten streak. Hunter (along with brother Dale, who's the coach) built this team to win, now. They knew London would be hosting the Memorial Cup this year and put together a supremely-skilled, veteran team. They have 10 players drafted by NHL clubs. They could lose up to 14 players next season. Their Ontario league championship was the first in the 40-year history of the franchise, ending the longest dry spell in the league.
Kelowna Rockets (Western Hockey League)
Regular season record: 45-13-12-2 (second overall)
Playoff record: 16-8
Players to Watch: Defenseman Shea Weber was named the MVP of the WHL playoffs. A member of Canada's gold-medal winning junior team, Weber had nine goals and 17 points in 18 games. No. 1 goaltender Derek Yeomans was injured in the first game of the Western league final and could be out for the rest of the season. Backup Kristofer Westblom closed the deal and the Rockets were allowed to pickup goaltender Mike Wall from the Everett Silvertips. Wall will be the backup at the Memorial Cup, but can only play in the event Westblom is injured. Justin Keller led the Rockets in post-season scoring with 12 goals and 10 assists in 23 games. Kelowna's Tyler Mosienko is the grandson of former NHLer Bill Mosienko, who holds the record for fastest three goals.
The Skinny: The Rockets clinched their third-straight berth in the Memorial Cup with a victory over the Brandon Wheat Kings, 4-1 in the best-of-seven final. The Rockets won the last game 8-3, an offensive outburst for what is considered the best defensive club at the Memorial Cup. The Rockets allowed only 46 goals in 24 postseason games. This is their first season under coach Jeff Truitt, who took over for Marc Habsheid, who moved on and coached Canada's entry at the world championships to a silver medal.
The Ottawa 67's (OHL finalists)
Regular season record: 34-26-7-1 (10th overall)
Playoff record: 13-8
Players to Watch: The 67's best player in the playoffs has been goaltender Danny Battochio, which is a remarkable fact. After suffering a seizure on Christmas Day 2003, Battochio underwent eight hours of brain surgery to correct an arteriovenous malformation on the frontal lobe of his brain, behind his left eye. He has been spectacular in the playoffs and if the 67's are going to make noise at the Memorial Cup, they'll need him to be sensational. 67's winger Mark Mancari led the OHL playoffs in goal scoring with 14. Defenseman Brad Staubitz and forwards Brad Bonello and Chris Hulit were all obtained in trades and helped rescue the 67's from an inconsistent regular season. Winger Lukas Kaspar was the San Jose Sharks' first pick (22nd overall) in 2004.
The Skinny: Battochio was at the center of some controversy in the OHL final when the Knights found out he was wearing the "Overdrive" blades on his skates (a small blade that protrudes from the instep of a goaltender's skate for added traction when the goaltender needs to move laterally. After the Overdrive blades were brought to the OHL's attention, the league ruled them illegal. 67's coach and general manager Brian Kilrea, the winningest coach in major junior history (over 1,000 wins) was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004. He has a knack for getting the most out of his teams, so a one-game, sudden-death format makes the 67's a dangerous opponent.