And then there were two.
After six round-robin games, a tiebreaker and a semifinal, the 2013 Memorial Cup is down to the Portland Winterhawks—champions of the Western Hockey League—and the Halifax Mooseheads, the champions of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Both Halifax and Portland went 2-1 in round-robin play, but the Mooseheads automatically advanced to the title game because the Winterhawks took down the Saskatoon Blades in the final game of the opening round.
Portland awaited the winner of the tiebreaker between the Blades and London Knights, which the Knights won 6-1. Portland was victorious against London during round-robin play and made it two in a row with a 2-1 win to clinch a spot in the title game.
When the two title contenders faced off earlier in the tournament, Halifax put seven goals up on the board to defeat London 7-4. Nathan MacKinnon had a hat trick for the Mooseheads, while Zachary Fucale saved 37-of-41 shots on net for Halifax.
Who will be raising the Memorial Cup come Sunday night, Portland or Halifax?
Where: Credit Union Centre, Saskatoon, Canada
When: Saturday, May 26, 7 p.m. ET
TV Information: NHL Network
Key Matchup: Nathan MacKinnon (C, HAL) vs. Seth Jones (D, POR)
It’s very possible that how both MacKinnon and Jones play could determine the winner of the Memorial Cup. Halifax will be looking for MacKinnon to score a goal or two, while Portland will be hoping that Jones can play well enough on defense to prevent it.
MacKinnon and Jones aren’t just two of the top young players at the Memorial Cup but in hockey in general.
NHL.com has Jones listed as the No. 1 prospect in the upcoming NHL draft, while MacKinnon is right there behind him at No. 2. It’s very possible that the Colorado Avalanche could select Jones with the No. 1 pick in the draft, and the Florida Panthers could follow with taking MacKinnon at No. 2 overall.
Jones has scored 14 goals and 42 assists through 61 points on the season for Portland, while MacKinnon has 32 goals and 42 assists in 44 games. But while MacKinnon has the better overall numbers—even if he is a forward while Jones is a defenseman—Jones has been on the winning side when it counts the most.
The two faced off at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship just a few months ago—Jones was representing the United States, while MacKinnon was on Team Canada. Canada won in a preliminary round game, but USA defeated the Canadians in the semifinals and won the gold soon thereafter.
Both were captains at the 2013 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, and once again, Jones’ team was victorious.
Adam Kimelman of NHL.com writes that Jones and MacKinnon have been buddies since they were 15 years old and roommates at a summer camp in Los Angeles. There isn’t any sort of rivalry, according to Kimelman, but the Memorial Cup final will surely be another chapter in the history between the two.
Unfortunately for Jones and the Winterhawks, Halifax was basically unstoppable the last time the two teams took the ice. Portland goalie Mac Carruth had a difficult time stopping anything that came his way, allowing all seven goals.
Carruth, who has a .889 save percentage and a 3.25 goals against average in four games, must be better for the Winterhawks to have any shot at winning the Memorial Cup. If he allows more than three goals, the game is basically over.
Scoring goals is what Halifax does best, though. It scored seven against Portland, a pair in a 5-2 loss to Saskatoon and then nine against London. For those keeping track at home, that’s an average of six goals per game. With an average like that, it’s clear that Halifax enters the game as the favorite.
Jones and the rest of the Winterhawks must do everything possible to make Carruth’s job in net easier. But Portland needs to put goals up on the board as well. The Winterhawks don’t want to end up losing 1-0 after Carruth stands on his head the entire night.
The Mooseheads have been pretty good on defense, allowing around 3.6 goals per game. Even if Halifax lets Portland score three or four times, it should still come out on top at the end of the third period.
Game Prediction: Halifax 5, Portland 3