The fight for the Memorial Cup will begin Friday evening.
On Wednesday, though, the four-team tournament in Kamloops for junior hockey bragging rights unofficially began with a meet-the-coaches session.
Sometimes, the gathering gives insight as to what fans can expect. For the 2023 tournament, there were no such hints — all four coaches were businesslike and sported few smiles while answering media questions.
“It’s very short and it goes very fast,” Rob Wilson, head coach of the OHL champion Peterborough Petes, said of the annual tournament.
“It’s important you’re ready off the hop. We want to be ready and make sure that we’re ready to go.”
The opening game will feature the Kamloops Blazers (regular-season record of 48-13-4-3, 103 points), the tournament hosts, playing the Quebec Remparts (53-12-1-2, 109 points), the QMJHL champions.
Game time is 6 p.m., PT, at the Sandman Centre.
“If I look back, a lot of host teams won the Memorial Cup,” said Patrick Roy, Quebec’s head coach/GM and former NHLer who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006. “That’s something we’re going to have to address in the room but make sure that we’re ready when the puck drops.”
Roy continued, saying “the start of the game is very important. The first goal can make a big difference. We certainly look forward to having a good start to the game and hopefully score that first one.”
Notably, all four head coaches have Memorial Cup experience — an important fact, as this tournament can be equated to a sprint when compared to the grinding run in the playoffs.
Wilson played in the 1989 tournament in Saskatoon, with Peterborough placing third.
Roy led Quebec to the 2006 Memorial Cup in Moncton, N.B.
Clouston was an assistant coach with the Medicine Hat Tigers, who played in the 2004 and 2007 tournaments. The Tigers placed third in 2004 and second in 2007.
Matt O’Dette led Seattle to the 2017 Memorial Cup in Windsor, with Seattle going winless at 0-3 and placing fourth.
“It’s exciting. I experienced it once before as a player with Peterborough. That was a long time ago and it was out west in Saskatoon,” said Wilson.
“It’s great to come back out this way and it’s a pleasure to be here – obviously, it’s the Memorial Cup. We’re pretty grateful for everything. We’re excited that we’re the team that won (the OHL title) and we’re looking forward to doing our best in this tournament.”
Kamloops’ roster features associate coach Don Hay, who was part of the Blazers’ trifecta of Memorial Cup wins in 1992, ’94 and ’95.
“The guys love him and he’s an unbelievable teacher with his experience,” said Clouston. “I think this is going to be his eighth Memorial Cup. It’s going to be invaluable.”
As for who’s the early favourite in this tournament, pick a team, as there are no bad choices – though Seattle, with its deep roster featuring 10 players drafted by NHL teams, is a solid choice.
Roy, though, says don’t overlook Kamloops, which was eliminated by Seattle in six games in the WHL’s Western Conference final.
“I watched some of their games against Seattle,” Roy said of the Blazers. “I thought they played really well; could have been a Game 7. Both goalies were very good.
“We look forward to that challenge. Their fans are going to be right behind them and we have to be ready for the storm at the start of the game. It will be a nice challenge for our group.”
Clouston said, yes, the hometown crowd will help, especially after not having played a game since being eliminated on May 8 in a 4-2 loss to Seattle in Game 6.
“The start will be incredibly important for us,” he said. “We’re going to have to work our way into it and make sure we’re ready to go early.”
Saturday’s game will pit Peterborough (35-29-2-2, 74 points) against Seattle (54-11-1-2, 111 points). Game time is 3 p.m. PT.
“All these teams are very, very good. You’re going to have to be at your best every night,” said Wilson. “Seattle has had a phenomenal season, and everybody around has taken notice of that. They’ve done a great job there, a great organization.
“A very tough task to start, but you know what? We’re going to go out and do what we do. We will go and be ready for the game, as I’m sure everyone else will.
“Every game is going to be a tough battle, but we’re looking forward to it.”
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