No Sidney Crosby-like star at this year's Memorial Cup
There won't be a player of Sidney Crosby's calibre at this year's Memorial Cup in London, Ont. (QMI Agency)
There is no Sidney Crosby this time around.
The chance to see a generational talent at the Memorial Cup in London crashed after Connor McDavid and the Erie Otters were knocked out by Guelph this spring.
There won't be a hyped-up NHL draft prospect like Sam Reinhart on the Budweiser Gardens ice (though his older brother Griffin is the Western league champion Edmonton Oil Kings' main man).
It would be a stretch to call this the no-name Cup, but there isn't the same buzz in hockey circles there was in Saskatoon last year when Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin dominated the headlines.
"We've got four of the top-rated teams in Canada and that's more important to me than individual star power," Knights governor and Cup chair Trevor Whiffen said. "
There are a ton of highly-talented hockey players and the usual assortment of high NHL draft picks and world junior skaters spread out among London, Guelph, Val d'Or and Edmonton.
But who's that marquee guy?
Max Domi, perhaps. Bo Horvat, maybe.
Goal-scoring machine Anthony Mantha?
When Windsor won their back-to-back Cups in 2009 and '10, the folks of Rimouski and Brandon got to eyeball Taylor Hall.
The Knights, in their third straight Cup, are savvy enough to know the buzz in London will build the better they play and the more they win.
As hosts, they will have to generate the electricity early.
“I know what it was like in Saskatoon and that was a blast,” London defenceman Dakota Mermis said. “I fully expect it to be eight times better here in London playing on home ice in front of our home fans again after a long break. We're all eager to get out there (Friday vs. Val d'Or) and we're eager to see how the fans react.”
The 1,200 or so who went to the Knights' charity intra-squad game last Friday was nice, but it doesn't exactly inspire Cup pandemonium.
When the tournament was here in 2005, there was built-in excitement all year as the Knights rolled to a start of 29-0-2 and barely lost the entire season.
Add that to no NHL to watch and the arrival of the teenaged phenom Crosby, the Cup was whipped into a frenzy and enjoyed record television ratings.
We'll do great," Whiffen said. "Junior hockey fans will watch the games as they always do. There's lots of reasons to feel good about the team coming here."
Back then, the phone lines at the Western Fair District Sports Centre were jammed for two weeks with hockey fans curious if No. 87 was going to be taking a few twirls at the Cup's practice facility.
This time, the Knights lost some momentum by bowing out in the second round to Guelph.
"The players are excited about competing for a championship," Whiffen said. "Guelph is a good team. We knew going in, two of Guelph, London and Erie were going to be beat out.
"We happened to be one of the unfortunates, but we're playing for the national championship now and that's what matters most."
Organizers expect to sell every ticket.
"The rink won't get any bigger," Whiffen said. "All you can do is maximize the attendance."
There will be some more tickets available when the Canadian Hockey League gets some returned from the supporters of centres like Portland and Baie-Comeau.
“It should be (packed) and I hope it's a great (atmosphere),” London defenceman Nikita Zadorov said. “We probably have the best fans in the world. It's going to be busy all tournament and everything's going to be crazy.
“I think London's been waiting for this for so long.”
All it needs is a jolt by the Knights on Friday to kick-start the Cup.
Friday, May 16
Va d’Or vs. London, 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 17
Guelph vs. Edmonton, 4 p.m.
Sunday, May 18
London vs. Edmonton, 7 p.m.
Monday, May 19
Val d’Or vs. Guelph, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, May 20
Edmonton vs. Val d’Or, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 21
London vs. Guelph, 7 p.m.
Thursday, May 22
Tiebreaker, if necessary, 7 p.m.
Friday, May 23
Semifinal, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 25