After capturing their respective QMJHL and OHL championships, the Rimouski Ocean and the Oshawa Generals enter the MasterCard Memorial Cup as arguably the CHL's two most dominant teams from start to finish this season. Likely the tournament's two odds-on favourites, the opening game of the tournament for the two teams could prove to be a deciding one.
Oshawa, led by top drafted prospects Michael Dal Colle (New York Islanders), Cole Cassels (Vancouver Canucks), Josh Brown (Florida Panthers) and Michael McCarron (Montreal Canadiens), enters the tournament with a CHL-best 51-11-2-4 regular season record.
Their counterparts, the Oceanic, finished their regular season with a record of 47-16-3-2 in large part thanks to to some top prospects in their own right. These include defensemen Samuel Morin (Philadelphia Flyers) and Jan Kostalek (Winnipeg Jets), goalie Philippe Desrosiers (Dallas Stars), centre Frederik Gauthier (Toronto Maple Leafs) and his winger Christopher Clipperton, also of the Panthers.
Beyond their top drafted prospects, both teams also carry a plethora of draft-eligible or underrated overagers. For the Generals, diminutive but offensively dynamic 2015 draft-eligible defensemen Mitchell Vande Compel is a consistent scoring threat from the backend, particularly on the powerplay. For their counterparts from the QMJHL, undrafted prospect Alexis Loiseau is among the CHL's most dominant forwards.
Because the Memorial Cup operates on a round robin format, with the first place team advancing directly to the finals, the second and third place teams facing off in a semi final, and the fourth place team eliminated, this game could decide which of the two teams earns the buy to the finals if they are successful in finishing first and second.
In April, I covered Rimouski's second round QMJHL Playoffs series against the Gatineau Olympiques, where the team was at times utterly dominant with Gauthier, a Leafs first round pick, at the top of his game.
Gauthier, the team's leader according to head coach Serge Beausoleil, is the key to Rimouski's success on most nights.
And while Gauthier began to cool off following the second round series, he was the primary assist on the team's game-winning overtime goal in the QMJHL Finals. If Gauthier can successfully fulfil his task of shutting down Oshawa's top line, led by Dal Colle, Rimouski's depth matches well with Oshawa's other lines.
Gauthier will not only be tasked with matching against Oshawa's first line, but he will also be heavily relied upon to take all of the big defensive zone faceoffs. In the QMJHL playoffs, the hulking centre took 125 more faceoffs than anyone else.
Perhaps the biggest key to victory, however, will be goaltending. Oshawa's Ken Appelby was a finalist for the OHL's Goaltender of the Year award just and Desrosiers is fresh of being named the Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week for the final week of the CHL playoffs. Both are two of the top goalies in the CHL and will need to come up big.
Check out Rimouski's big series-clinching goal against Quebec as Gauthier bangs the puck on net and Joly pots the rebound (courtesy @CrzyCanucklehed).
Time, TV Schedule, Media Coverage
The two teams will meet at 4:30 p.m. ET. Oshawa will be given the last change and serve as the home team for the game, which will be played out of Quebec's Colisée Pepsi.
The game will be broadcast nationally on Sportsnet and can also be heard online at Sportsnet 590 The Fan. In French, the game will be broadcast on TVA Sports in Quebec. In the United States, the game will be carried by the NHL Network. Alternatively, it can also be viewed via NeuLion, an online streaming service.