Three league champions have been decided, and now they converge from across the continent onto Windsor, Ontario, Home of the 99th Memorial Cup Tournament.

Starting in 1918 as a tribute to hockey players lost in battle, junior hockey leagues across Canada would compete to find out which teams would represent them to win the championship. This year they come from Saint John, New Brunswick, Erie, Pennsylvania, and Seattle, Washington. The Sea Dogs, Otters, and Thunderbirds will take on host Windsor Spitfires to crown the best junior hockey team on the continent.

The Host

Windsor, Ontario is the site of the tournament, and has hosted major junior hockey for 41 years, ever since the Spitfires joined the OHL from the ranks of Junior ‘A’. Windsor sits in southwest Ontario, across the Detroit river from Detroit. It is a city of 330,000 people and has been described as “having a storied history and diverse culture, and among the best places to retire in Ontario” by Wikipedia.

The tournament will be held at the WFCU Centre, a 6,500 seat arena that opened in 2008, replacing the 84 year old Windsor Arena. The Spitfires had previously bid to host the 2014 and 2011 tournaments, but lost to the London Knights and the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors (now Steelheads) respectively.

Windsor is served by Via Rail Canada, Porter Airlines, and Air Canada, and is the terminus of highway 401.

Oh, and WFCU stands for Windsor Family Credit Union, it’s not a radio station’s call letters as I’ve always assumed.

The Teams

Windsor Spitfires (Host)

Record: 41-19-5-3, 5th in Western Conference
Playoffs: Lost in round one to London Knights in 7 games.
Leading Scorer: Jeremy Bracco - 25G, 58A, 83Pts
Most Goals: Gabriel Vilardi - 29
Top Goalie: Michael DiPietro - 51GP - 2.35GAA - .917sv% - 6SO

After losing their two previous bids, the Windsor Spitfires were awarded the 2017 Memorial Cup tournament. The Spitfires knew they needed a strong team this year to compete in the OHL’s powerhouse Western Conference.  The season was middling, and they missed out on big trade targets like Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Stephens, but did land Jeremy Bracco. Unfortunately, he didn’t continue the power scoring he showed in Kitchener.

The hosts were out in round one, breaking recent trends that saw host cities go farther in their respective playoffs (2016: Red Deer out in ECF, 2015: Quebec lost the finals, 2014: London out in rd 2). With the extra time off, the Spitfires should be well rested heading into tonight’s opening game.

Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL Champions)

Record: 48-14-5-1, 1st Overall
Playoffs: Swept Rimouski, swept Val d’Or, defeated Chicoutimi in 6, swept Blainsville-Broisband
Leading Scorer: Matthew Highmore - 34G, 55A, 89Pts
Most Goals: Bokondji Imama - 41
Top Goalie: Callum Booth - 2.59GAA - .911sv% - 4SO

The Sea Dogs are the favourites in this tournament. Losing only two games in the QMJHL playoffs on their way to their third President Cup. Their top scorer didn’t get as many points as Erie’s but the team is more balanced than any other in this tournament.

They were the only Q team to finish with more than 100 points and had a .705 win%. Not an over-inflated points percentage, as they won 71% of all of their games. No team could put fear into others like the Sea Dogs, and they’re looking to head back to Harbour Station with the Memorial Cup once more.

Erie Otters (OHL Champions)

Record: 41-19-5-3, 5th in Western Conference
Record: 50-15-2-1, 1st overall
Playoffs: Swept Sarnia Sting, defeated London in 7, defeated Owen Sound in 6, defeated Mississauga in 5
Leading Scorer: Alex DeBrincat - 65G, 62A, 127Pts
Most Goals: Alex DeBrincat - 65
Top Goalie: Troy Timpano - 44GP - 2.37GAA - .901sv% - 4SO

The Otters spent the past four season living in the shadows of the OHL’s west. Last year the London Knights were better than the bottom teams of the NHL. In 2014 they lost to OHL Champion Guelph Storm, and when they made the OHL finals in 2015 they were upset by the Oshawa Generals, who would win the Memorial Cup that year.

This year is their year. They won the OHL title, they had the top scorer in the OHL. They have the best free agent defenseman in the league, they have some high powered lines up front. 15 years after their first kick at the Memorial Cup can, the Otters lost in the semi-finals in 2002, Erie wants to bring something bigger home than just experience. With a team full of draft picks, NHL ready players, and free agents, no one is sure how soon the Otters could rise back up to the top of the OHL.

Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL Champions)

Record: 46-20-4-2, 2nd in US Division
Playoffs: Swept Tri-City, swept Everett, defeated Kelowna in 6, defeated Regina in 6
Leading Scorer: Ryan Gropp - 35G, 49A, 84Pts
Most Goals: Ryan Gropp - 35
Top Goalie: Rylan Toth - 58GP - 2.75GAA - .902sv% - 1SO

The least likely team to be in this tournament, not many picked a team to come out of the US Division and take it all. The focus was mostly out east, picking the winner of Regina Pats / Lethbridge Hurricanes to represent the W, despite the Thunderbirds finishing with more points than Lethbridge.

The Thunderbirds could be called the beneficiary of a divisional playoff format, they took out the Tri-City Americans, and then beat the Everett Silvertips, a team they were better than but had the loser point advantage. Kelowna was a bigger challenge, but were easily dusted off.

A hot scoring touch benefited the Thunderbirds in the WHL Finals, as well as some questionable hits. If Seattle can keep up the hot sticks, they could make some unexpected noise at this years tournament.

Other Events

The Memorial Cup has lots of events happening around town aside from the games. There are charity events, and exhibitions happening to keep travelling fans entertained during their stay in town.

Memorial Cup Community Tour

The Community Tour will take the Memorial Cup trophy through the city of Windsor, stopping in each of the cities wards:

At each stop there will be giveaways, contests, and more. A great way to bring the tournament to the entire city.

Memorial Cup Fan Zones

The four community rinks that make up the WFCU Centre will be transformed into ‘Fan Zones’. Each rink will have a different theme, featuring CHL History, merchandise for sale, local military history displays, and a miniature Hockey Hall of Fame exhibit. All Fan Zones are free of charge, and no ticket to the game is required. You can find more info here.

CHL Alumni Game

On Saturday, May 28th, CHL alumni will come together to play a 40 minute game to raise funds to “benefit a legacy project in association with Smilezone, the charity founded by Adam Graves and Scott Bachly dedicated to putting smiles on the faces of children facing health challenges”.

So far former players such as Colby Armstrong, Doug Gilmour, Ed Jovanovski, Jeff O’Neil, DJ Smith and Darcy Tucker are set to play as well as current NHLers Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Steve Stamkos, Aaron Ekblad, and Jeff Skinner.

Tickets can be purchased at the WFCU Box Office or online for $16.95 each.

Memorial Cup Fan Breakfast

A fan run event, the Fan Breakfast has been running during the Memorial Cup for years, and is a great way to meet fans from across the league. The breakfast features a silent auction of donated memorabilia (signed sticks, jerseys, etc...) as well as raffles. The breakfast is raising money this year for Knobby’s Kids and the Windsor Spitfires Foundation.

It’s being held Sunday May 21st at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 255 in Windsor, Ontario at 10AM until 2PM and it’s $20 to get in.

You can find out more information here, or email, or find them on twitter @memorialcupfan.

The Memorial Cup begins tonight at 7PM with the host Windsor Spitfires taking on the QMJHL Champion Saint John Sea Dogs. You can watch it on Sportsnet360, TVA Sports, NHL Network in the US (tape delayed until 8PM), and streaming on CHL Live.

For a rundown of the history of the Memorial Cup, you can read my rundown over at Raw Charge.

Who will win the 2017 Memorial Cup?

Saint John Sea Dogs34
Windsor Spitfires23
Erie Otters49
Seattle Thunderbirds15