Thursday, May 15, 2014

Zadorov, Austin ready for Memorial Cup

Action at the 2014 Memorial Cup kicks off Friday with the host London Knights taking on QMJHL
champion Val-d’Or. As has been the case in recent years, the Buffalo Sabres will be well represented with two prospects, OHL 2nd Team All-Star Nikita Zadorov and Brady Austin, expected to play key roles on the Knights blue line.

The Knights are rested and relatively healthy following a second round exit from the OHL playoffs. In the series loss to eventual league winner Guelph, Zadorov looked a bit fatigued by the final game after logging over 30 minutes a night as the Knights competed without overage defenders Zach Bell (broken leg in opening round) and Austin, who missed the series with mononucleosis. Both Bell and Austin will be ready to go, as is Zadorov, who received a few stitches two weeks ago when he cut by a skate in practice. The towering Zadorov collected four goals and nine points in nine playoff games.

The Knights, who have been idle since Apr. 11, boast a star-studded lineup that includes forwards Max Domi (PHX), Bo Horvat (VAN), Josh Anderson (CBJ), Chris Tierney (SJS), Michael McCarron (MTL), Gemel Smith (DAL), and Ryan Rupert (TOR), and American-born goaltender Anthony Stolarz (PHI). London was unable to win their league title, but they are still a strong contender to take home the Memorial Cup on home ice, especially if Zadorov can be a dominant force in his own end much like he was for Team Russia at the 2014 World Junior Championship.

London’s first opponent, the Val-d’Or Foreurs, are led by talented goal scorer Anthony Mantha. When the game is the line, the Detroit Red Wings first-round pick is the go-to guy. Mantha, who scored 57 goals and 120 points in 57 regular season games, maintained his goal-per-game pace in the QMJHL playoffs with a line of 24-14-38 in 24 postseason contests, including the game winner in the final minute of regulation in Game Seven of the championship series vs. Baie Comeau. The 2014 tournament will be the Foreurs third appearance in Canada’s annual battle for junior hockey supremacy.

Zadorov and Austin are familiar with Mantha’s goal scoring prowess, as the big body scored a pair of goals to guide the Red Wings over the Sabres in the title game at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, MI, but he's not the only forward they’ll need to keep an eye on. Louick Marcotte, 20, was the second Foreurs scorer to hit the 100-point barrier highlighted by a career-best 42 goals on Mantha’s opposite wing, while overage defenseman Guillaume Gelinas led the way on the back end with 126 total points in the regular season and playoffs. As far as first-year draft eligibles go, Nicolas Aube-Kubel provided secondary offense all season long to work his way into a likely early selection on day two of the 2014 draft.

Making their fifth Memorial Cup appearance, the Guelph Storm could be the team to beat in the tournament thanks to a potent offense that torched the OHL for 340 goals in regular season play. No other team in junior hockey scored more this year than the Storm did, and no draft eligible player is hotter than OHL playoff MVP Robby Fabbri.

The speedy but undersized Fabbri slashed and dashed his way to 13 goals and 28 points in 16 playoff tilts on the heels to 87-point (45+42) regular season. NHL draft picks Kerby Rychel (CBJ), Jason Dickinson (DAL), Tyler Bertuzzi (DET), Brock McGinn (CAR) and Scott Kosmachuk (WPG) round out the Storm offensive attack along with overage forward Zack Mitchell, while 18-year old netminder Justin Nichols has come up with several big stops throughout their run through the playoffs. The Storm blueline features versatile talents Matt Finn (TOR), Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Ben Harpur (OTT) and Mr. Irrelevant from the 2012 draft, Nick Ebert (LAK).

The field is rounded out by perennial WHL contender Edmonton Oil Kings. The Oil Kings balanced attack, led by first-round NHL draft picks Henrik Samuelsson (PHX), Curtis Lazar (OTT), and defenseman Griffin Reinhart (NYI), saw them edge reigning WHL champion Portland in a seven-game dogfight en route to clinching their second Memorial Cup berth in the past three seasons. Tristan Jarry, a 2013 second-rounder by Pittsburgh, has locked it down in net with a 16-4-1 record, 2.19 GAA and .925 save percentage in postseason play.

Other Oil Kings to keep an eye on include rough-and-tumble winger Mitchell Moroz (EDM) and draft eligible forward Brett Pollock, who continued his notable ramp-up with a team-best 11 goals in their run to their league title. A strong Memorial Cup could see the 6-foot-2 Pollack force his way into a late first-round selection. With Buffalo having a bit of a Latvian love affair, it may be worth tracking undrafted 19-year old winger Edgars Kulda following a 30-goal, 60-point regular season. The Oil Kings also feature a pair of second-day draft hopefuls in defensemen Aaron Irving and Dysin Mayo.


Full tournament schedule:

Friday, May 16: London Knights vs. Val-d'Or Foreurs, 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 17: Guelph Storm vs. Edmonton Oil Kings, 4 p.m.
Sunday, May 18: London Knights vs. Edmonton Oil Kings, 7 p.m.
Monday, May 19: Guelph Storm vs. Val-d'Or Foreurs, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, May 20: Edmonton Oil Kings vs. Val-d'Or Foreurs, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 21: London Knights vs. Guelph Storm, 7 p.m.
Thursday, May 22: Tiebreaker (if necessary), 7 p.m.
Friday, May 23: Semifinal, 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 24: No games.
Sunday, May 25: Final, time to be determined.


The 2014 Memorial Cup is the seventh straight year and 13th in the last 14 that a Sabres draft pick will play at the annual event.

2014 - Nikita Zadorov, Brady Austin (London)
2013 - Andrey Makarov (Saskatoon)
2012 - Mark Pysyk (Edmonton)
2011 - Brayden McNabb (Kootenay), Gregg Sutch (Mississauga-St. Mike's)
2010 - Zack Kassian (Windsor)
2009 - Tyler Myers (Kelowna)
2008 - Paul Byron (Gatineau)
2007 - none
2006 - Patrick Kaleta (Peterborough)
2005 - Dylan Hunter (London), Mike Card (Kelowna)
2004 - Clarke MacArthur (Medicine Hat), Daniel Paille (Guelph)
2003 - Derek Roy (Kitchener)
2002 - Gerard Dicaire (Kootenay)
2001 - Karel Mosovsky (Regina), Seneque Hyacinthe (Val-d'Or)