On Friday, the 2013 Memorial Cup will get underway as host Saskatoon takes on OHL champ London in the tournament opener.
But it’s Game No. 2 most will be paying attention to.
On Saturday, WHL champion Portland — led by top-ranked draft prospect Seth Jones — will take on QMJHL Halifax, a team featuring the No. 2 and 3 ranked prospects behind Jones for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft: Nathan McKinnon and Jonathan Drouin.
“I don’t know if this tournament has ever had the top-three ranked players playing in the Memorial Cup,” NHL director of scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. “We’re looking forward to it.”
“It’s one-stop shopping for NHL scouts,” added Halifax general manager Cam Russell.
In addition to Jones, MacKinnon and Drouin, there will be several other high-profile prospects on hand:
— Three London Knights ranked in North America’s top 25 skaters: center Bo Horvat (15th), center Max Domi (19th) and defenseman Nikita Zadorov (22nd).
— Portland center Nicolas Petan (33rd) and left winger Oliver Bjorkstrand (36th).
— Halifax goalie Zachary Fucale, the top-ranked North American netminder.
“When you get to the Memorial Cup, the team game is most important,” Marr explained. “But when push comes to shove, when something big is on the line, it’s always good to see who can perform under that pressure.
“People will be watching that for sure.”
Now, players are known to at least try to return to games after injuries, sometimes ultimately demeaning such efforts unsuccessful.
So, it’s possible that the Washington Capitals should still be concerned about defenseman Nate Schmidt. The solid depth blueliner was helped off the ice after a hit by Leo Komarov of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the good news is that he was at least able to make his way back for a spin later on in the same third period.
Does that mean he’ll be OK? We’ll see. The game is entering OT – the 18th of this round, a new NHL record – so a possible Schmidt injury could put Washington at a disadvantage during “free hockey.”
It makes sense that Toronto and Washington made it a new record, as this is the fifth time in six games that they beyond regulation in this series. Wow.
These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.
Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.
It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).
The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.
Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.
It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.
His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.
Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.
He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.
And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.
Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:
As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.
Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?
It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.
Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).
There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.
Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.