The 103rd installment of the Memorial Cup begins Friday night. The annual tournament, played by the winners of the three Canadian Major Junior leagues and a host team, will feature the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL champions), Peterborough Petes (OHL champions), Quebec Remparts (QMJHL champions), and the Kamloops Blazers (host team).
The Nashville Predators will be represented by two prospects: Reid Schaefer and Luke Prokop of the Seattle Thunderbirds. In the organization’s history, eight prospects drafted by the team have won the Memorial Cup as has undrafted signee Frédérick Gaudreau and current Predator Michael McCarron.
Below, I take a look at this year’s Memorial Cup field and who has the best chance to come out on top.
Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
The Seattle Thunderbirds are arguably the best team in junior hockey right now. After finishing the regular season third in the WHL with a 54-11-3 record (where they were one of just three WHL teams to score 300+ goals), they’ve steamrolled their way through the league playoffs. They swept the Kelowna Rockets in round one, swept the Prince George Cougars in round two, bested Kamloops in round three, and rolled comfortably past the Winnipeg Ice in the final, losing just three games all postseason.
Offensively, the Thunderbirds are led by their top line featuring Brad Lambert (WPG), Dylan Guenther (ARI), and Reid Schaefer. Schaefer has scored eight goals and 19 points in 19 playoff games, and that trio is first, second, and fifth in team scoring, respectively. Behind them, there’s plenty of depth. Seven Seattle forwards have scored 10+ points in the postseason, including Gracyn Sawchyn—who’s looking to hear his name called on night one of the 2023 NHL Draft.
On the blue line, Seattle is led by Jeremy Hanzel, who has lit up the scoresheet for 22 points in 19 games, and Kevin Korchinski (CHI), who is the Thunderbirds’ offensive dynamo from the backend. Luke Prokop (NSH)—who’s chipped in five points this postseason and played in the 2022 Memorial Cup as well, Nolan Allan (CHI), and Sawyer Mynio deliver on their hard-hitting, shutdown responsibilities as well.
Between the pipes, Seattle will stick with overager Thomas Milic. The British Columbia native, who is rocking a 0.933 save percentage in the playoffs, is hoping a stellar Memorial Cup performance will boost his draft stock this summer.
While they have yet to capture the Memorial Cup, this will be Seattle’s third appearance in the postseason tournament.
Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Coming out of the OHL are the Peterborough Petes, who will be playing in their tenth Memorial Cup (having won just one). After finishing the regular season fourth in their conference and tenth league-wide with a 35-29-4 record, the Petes have been on an impressive run through the playoffs. They swept Sudbury in the first round, ousted Jack Matier and the Ottawa 67’s in round two, squeezed past North Bay in round three, and bested the London Knights to clinch an OHL title.
Offensively, Peterborough is led by Brennan Othmann (NYR), Tucker Robertson (SEA), and Owen Beck (MTL); those three combined for 63 points in the OHL playoffs. Beck was handed a two-game suspension for slew footing after game five of the OHL championship series, but the NHL Department of Player Safety has ruled him eligible for their first Memorial Cup contest despite serving just one game so far.
Defensively, the Petes aren’t the most sound, giving up the most goals in the OHL playoffs (67)—15 more than the London Knights. Their blue line is led by Brian Zanetti (PHI) and overager Samuel Mayer. Between the pipes, the Petes will go with 20-year-old Michael Simpson, who’s posted a 0.918 save percentage in 23 playoff games.
Québec Remparts (QMJHL)
Representing the QMJHL and appearing in their eighth Memorial Cup is the Québec Remparts. After an impressive regular season where they finished atop the league standings with a 53-12-3 record, the Remparts swept their way through the first three rounds of the QMJHL playoffs before being seriously tested by the Halifax Mooseheads. With the Remparts up three games to two, Nashville prospect Zach L’Heureux scored a go-ahead goal in game six for the Mooseheads with just a few minutes remaining only for Québec to storm back and score twice in the dying moments of regulation to clinch a QMJHL championship.
Québec—who may pose the biggest challenge to Seattle—is a scoring machine. They’ve pumped in 4.33 goals per game in the playoffs and are scoring on every fourth power-play opportunity they get. Their forward lineup is an impressive group of prospects highlighted by Justin Robidas (CAR), Théo Rochette, James Malatesta (CBJ), Zachary Bolduc (STL), and Nathan Gaucher (ANA); Robidas has led the way in scoring with 11 goals and 27 points in 18 playoff games, and Malatesta was named the QMJHL’s playoff MVP.
On the blueline, Evan Nause (FLA) and Charle Truchon lead the way for a solid but average corps. And in-net, William Rousseau has been good, posting a 0.915 save percentage while facing just 26.78 shots per game.
The Remparts will look to add a third Memorial Cup to their trophy case.
Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
There’s sometimes a fear that the host team doesn’t quite deserve to be at the Memorial Cup, but that’s certainly not the case with the Kamloops Blazers. Appearing in their seventh tournament having won three, Kamloops finished just behind Seattle in the Western Conference regular-season standings with a 48-13-7 record and a staggering 313 goals scored. In the playoffs, Kamloops swept Vancouver and Portland before running into the Thunderbirds’ buzzsaw and losing in six games.
Up front, the Blazers’ offense starts with Logan Stankoven (DAL). After a 97-point regular season, Stankoven has been on fire in the playoffs, scoring 30 points in 14 games. Behind him are Matthew Seminoff (DAL), Caedan Bankier (MIN), and Jakub Demek (VGK) who deliver secondary scoring for Kamloops. On the blue line, the story is all Olen Zellweger (ANA). The defender has 29 points in 14 playoff games, finished second in WHL postseason scoring (behind Stankoven), and has made a case that he’s the best player at the Memorial Cup.
Dylan Ernst will be the Blazers’ go-to in the crease; the 2023 draft-eligible goalie has posted a 0.913 save percentage in 14 games this postseason.
Memorial Cup Schedule
The Memorial Cup is a round-robin tournament between all four teams. The team with the most points at the end of the round-robin advances directly to the championship game, and seeds two and three play a semifinal contest to advance.
- Friday, May 26 @ 8:00 p.m. CDT — Quebec vs. Kamloops
- Saturday, May 27 @ 5:00 p.m. CDT — Seattle vs. Peterborough
- Sunday, May 28 @ 5:00 p.m. CDT — Kamloops vs. Peterborough
- Monday, May 29 @ 8:00 p.m. CDT — Seattle vs. Quebec
- Tuesday, May 30 @ 8:00 p.m. CDT — Peterborough vs. Quebec
- Wednesday, May 31 @ 8:00 p.m. CDT — Kamloops vs. Seattle
All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com, whl.ca, ontariohockeyleague.com, or theqmjhl.ca.