The Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights have been off since Tuesday, after they clinched a bye to the final by finishing first in the round-robin portion of the four-team tournament with a record of 2 and 1.
The host Cataractes took the long route to the final, by finishing last in the round robin but then winning the tiebreaker game against the Western Hockey League champion Edmonton Oil Kings, before defeating the defending Memorial Cup Champions Saint John Sea Dogs in the semi-final Friday night.
The Knights (2-1) and Cataractes (3-2) will clash Sunday night in the final in front of the raucous Shawinigan fans at the Bionest Centre.
The main advantage could be home ice, where a veteran Shawinigan side seems to feed off the deafening noise from their fans, which could be intimidating for a mostly younger London team.
The Cataractes are also the only team to defeat London thus far in the tournament winning 6 to 2 on May 20th. Defenseman and team leader Brandon Gormley lead the way in that game with two goals and an assist.
The Knights have succeeded this with a defence-first game, shot blocking and very strong counter attack.
London coach Mark Hunter has welcomed the break the team received heading into nights game because Hunters team had been through a long season and playoff drive that culminated with their victory in five games over Niagara in the OHL final.
Meanwhile, Shawinigan finished second to Saint John in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League regular season, but then were upset in seven games in the second round by Chicoutimi. That left them a 31-day break before the Memorial Cup, although they didn’t sit idle.
Now Shawinigan has a chance to be only the second team to win the Memorial Cup after having to play in a tiebreaker game. The first was also in Quebec in 2009 in Rimouski, where the Windsor Spitfires lost their first two games and then ran the table.
But history favours London.
The final will be Shawinigan’s fourth game in five nights and their sixth in 10. It will be London’s fourth in 10 days.
Another determining factor in tonight’s game will be the goaltending, Shawinigan’s Gabriel Girard has been solid while London’s Michael Houser has been surprisingly off his game so far.
Girard has posted a 2.50 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in four starts.
Houser was recently named the most outstanding player in the OHL after tying a league record with 46 wins and posting a 2.47 GAA. But at the Memorial Cup, he has let in some real weak ones through. His average is 3.03 and his save percentage a weak .885.
PREDICTION: London 4 – 2 after an empty netter