Canada’s junior hockey elite will be assembling in Regina to compete for the top prize on the Canadian Hockey League (CHL): the Memorial Cup.
While fans in Saskatchewan will know all about the host Regina Pats and WHL Champion Swift Current Broncos, unless they are junior hockey junkies, some of the other teams might not be familiar to fans heading to the tournament.
Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino was on the 980 CJME Morning Show to help shed some light on the Ontario Hockey League (OHL)’s Hamilton Bulldogs and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL)’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
Hamilton Bulldogs: OHL
The first team Cosentino touched on was the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. The Bulldogs perhaps had the biggest challenge heading into the tournament, needing to defeat the Soo Greyhounds — the CHL’s top-ranked team — in the finals.
Cosentino said the Greyhounds ran into some tough matchups in the playoffs and had to deal with injuries, which is something the Bulldogs took advantage of.
The Bulldogs, who relocated from Belleville three years ago, saw some things last year they really liked from their players.
“This year really decided to take a major step forward because I think they felt some opportunity in that OHL Eastern Conference, which is traditionally a little weaker than the Western Conference,” Cosentino said.
Former NHLer Steve Staois and head coach John Gruden guided the team to the top of the conference and third place overall in the league.
The Bulldogs come into the tournament with 10 players who have already been drafted by NHL clubs, including St. Louis Blues first round pick and World Juniors member Robert Thomas.
“To me, the most-ready CHL player there is,” Cosentino said.
Cosentino said the Bulldogs are very underrated on defence and the team has good forward depth which will help them in the tournament.
Acadie-Bathurst Titan: QMJHL
While the QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan didn’t defeat the best team in the CHL on their way to the Memorial Cup, they did have to knock off their league’s top seed.
The Titans defeated the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in six games to punch their ticket to the Queen City.
Coached by Mario Pouliot, The Titan finished the season as the sixth best team in the country.
Cosentino said the team has one of the best defensive groups in the country.
“They have three guys on the back-end that had 50 or more points in the regular season, no other CHL team could boast that, they’re a little bit older on the back end.”
As for their forward groups, Cosentino said they have a lot of depth led by team captain and San Jose Sharks draft pick Jeffery Truchon-Viel.
But one thing the team is lacking is a true superstar player, with only four of their players being affiliated with an NHL team.
“I wouldn’t say they have that super high-end guy that can walk into a shift or period of a game and really change the game, they have to do it by committee.”
One player who has proven to be a revelation for the Titan has been goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick, who came over in a trade with Sherbrooke.
“Quite honestly his numbers have changed almost 180 degrees.”
Before the trade, Fitzpatrick never had a save percentage above .900 or a goals-against-average below 3.4. Since the trade, Fitzpatrick has a percentage well up over .900 and the goals against have gone down by over one.