It is now time to determine the best of the best in Canadian major junior hockey. Meeting in Vancouver to compete for the Memorial Cup are the Lewiston MAINEiacs (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Champions), the Plymouth Whalers (Ontario Hockey League Champions), the Medicine Hat Tigers (Western Hockey League Champions) and the Vancouver Giants (tournament host).
Vancouver Giants (Host)
The Giants are the host team for the Memorial Cup; however donít let that fool you. They just recently came off an overtime game seven loss against the Medicine Hat Tigers trying to defend their 2006-2006 WHL championship. This team may not have won the title this season but they are as much of a contender as the rest.
Vancouver has depth in every position and Coach Don Hay has his troops playing a team game. Tyson Sexsmith has been nothing short of exceptional from taking over the number one position early into the season and was as solid as they come in the post season.
The defensive core in Vancouver is as good as it gets, in fact it may be better. With Brett Festerling, Cody Franson, Jonathon Blum, A.J. Thelen, Brendan Mikkleson and Brent Regner they have six defensemen that would have no trouble cracking a top four anywhere in the CHL.
Finally the Giants offense is nothing to take lightly. With the likes of Kenndal McArdle, Michael Repik, Wacey Rabbit and Milan Lucic the Giants are able to generate scoring chances almost on a whim. This team is not scared of physical play, watch for a lot of crash and bang hockey. The only thing that can be said as a weakness about this team is that they are full of great players, but they miss that Brule-like phenomenal player that can be counted on to deliver in the clutch.
Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL Champion)
Medicine Hat did not take it for granted that they were guaranteed a Memorial Cup berth when they advanced to the WHL finals against the Giants. They brought everything they had and put it all on the table. The Tigers finished with 52 wins and 107 points which placed them 2nd overall in the WHL.
The Tigers have one of the most gifted offensive defensemen in the tournament in Kris Russell who led the team in regular season scoring and was second on the team in the playoffs.
Offensively, this team is quick. They love to set the pace for the game early and to move the puck and they will fly by you if you canít keep up. However, even with Darren Helm and Derek Dorsett leading a deep offensive roster there is a lack of a solid sniper in the pack.
Goaltending is something that the Tigers have. With Matt Keetley in net, and able to steal games, Medicine Hat will be relying on him to just that. The Tigers will need to control the pace of the game and back their opponents into their own zone with their speed.
Plymouth Whalers (OHL Champion)
The Plymouth Whalers finished second overall in the OHL with 49 wins and 103 points. They posted an impressive 16-4 playoff record beating some of the best teams in the OHL and should be considered to be in the same category.
The Whalers are a high scoring team, and had six players that finished with more than a point-per-game average. Their offense is led by James Neal, Daniel Ryder, Dan Collins and Evan Brophey, all of whom posted excellent post season numbers.
Defensively, the Whalers are not the strongest in the tournament. While they have defensive depth they lack strong puck moving, point generating defensemen to lead the rush and capitalize on the power play. Their leading offensive defenseman is Steve Ward.
Goaltending is a monstrous strength for the Whalers with the tandem of Jeremy Smith and rookie Michal Neuvirth. Both goalies saw their share of ice time in the regular season, but Neuvirth was the go-to guy in the post season so expect him to play most games. However donít be shocked to see Smith start a game, and if he does it takes nothing away from this team whatsoever.
Lewiston MAINEiacs (QMJHL Champion)
The MAINEiacs posted an impressive 16-1 post season record en route to claiming the QMJHL championship. They posted 50 wins and 106pts to lead the QMJHL in the regular season as well. Lewiston is also an exceptionally deep team in all aspects.
A very well coached team that is excellent at stifling their opponentís offensive attack with their excellent defensive coverage. They rely on their scoring to come from all across the board, and it seems to have worked very well to this point. However if they go down a goal or two at any point they do not have that go-to scorer to rely on, and that may be their weakness.
Goaltending is definitely a strength with Jonathan Bernier, drafted 11th overall by the LA Kings in 2006, between the pipes. He has proven that he is always up for the challenge of making the big saves when needed.