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Saskatoon Blades’ presence in Memorial Cup should put tournament in its place

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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When he was in Mississauga, Cameron deftly explained how league playoffs are more significant (Getty Images)

When Dave Cameron spoke about the value of winning a league championship vis-à-vis winning the Memorial Cup, more people should have listened.

It's just windmill-tilting to try to convince anyone that the Memorial Cup is anything other "major junior hockey's greatest prize." Broadcasters don't exclaim, "The [insert winning team's name] have won the [league championship trophy]!" They would say, "They're going to the Memorial Cup!" So people are right on some level to view the Blades being in the year-end tournament despite failing to win a single playoff game is being taken as a personal affront.

The format isn't changing any time soon. The best way to reconcile the fact the Blades are four wins away from the Memorial Cup, even though they were blown away in four in the first round, is to reflect back to what Cameron said two springs ago as coach-GM of the 2011 host Mississauga Majors.

"If I had my choice between the two, I would take the OHL championship," Cameron, now an Ottawa Senators assistant coach, told Sportsnet in May 2011. "That's how valuable I think it is."

"I think the Memorial Cup's more of a crapshoot," he added. "Sudden death games and you really don't know the opposition as well."

Would that it could just be presented as such, but the CHL's sponsors aren't throwing their money behind an event that should be treated with less prestige than the league championships. It might be a 'relax, you'll live longer' deal, though, if you compartmentalize and think of the Ed Chynoweth Cup in the WHL, the J. Ross Robertson Cup in the OHL and the President's Cup in the QMJHL as what really matter to players, coaches, organizations and diehard fans.

The Memorial Cup is as much for the CHL, an umbrella organization, its national sponsors, and an audience demographic who might only watch juniors at Christmastime and in May, as it is for the stakeholder. It really is a cashcow consisting of three league champions and a host franchise who is there to help goose attendance and fill the seats. Chalk that up to the age-old conundrum from the late Peter Gent's North Dallas Forty: "Every time I call it a business you call it a game and every time I call it a game you call it a business."

Perhaps the CHL has sufficient national-level sponsorship that it could do away with the host team and hold a play-in event between league runners-up. One pet suggestion is that the host team should have to win at least two playoff rounds to assure a place in the field. If it doesn't, it hosts a four-team, single-elimination playoff involving three of the second-round losers.

But the CHL also knows that having every seat filled in the arena for 10 days is a challenge. Swathes of empty seats hurt the TV presentationy. The highers-up in hockey are risk-averse and territorial at the best of times. Any scenario whereby the host franchise could face being bumped out of the Memorial Cup is never going to fly. So the choice is either rail against it and ramp up your blood pressure or accept that sports never works on a rational basis. I choose to take the path of least resistance, kind of like the Blades did against Medicine Hat.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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