The Vancouver Gaints are hoping to host the Memorial Cup in Tyler Benson's 17-year-old season. (WHL.ca)
The process of naming the host of the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup is underway. The Vancouver Giants, Victoria Royals and Red Deer Rebels have officially put their names in the hat to host the prestigious tournament.
At first glance, Vancouver seems to be the favourite to win the bid for a handful of reasons.
The Pacific Coliseum’s large capacity of 16,281 people gives the Giants a major edge. The Royals’ barn, Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, holds 7,006 people and the Rebels’ rink, the ENMAX Centrium, holds 7,000. The ability to sell over twice as many tickets than one’s competition goes a long way in any business.
The 2013 Memorial Cup is a blatant precedent to show a team’s arena capacity can be the be-all and end-all in the bidding process. The CHL awarded the tourney to the Saskatoon Blades largely because the Credit Union Centre’s capacity of 15,195 stood head and shoulders above the arenas of the other two bidders, the Rebels and Kelowna Rockets. At the time of the bids, there was no indication to suggest the Blades would ice a better product than the Rebels or Rockets the following year.
But on the flip side, the Saskatoon precedent may also work against Vancouver. How Lorne Molleken’s Blades struggled out of the gate with a 3-7-0-0 record and were swept by the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first round of the playoffs should make the CHL think twice about letting a big barn sway them in one direction. In addition, the major junior league didn’t like how the tourney appeared poorly attended on television because there were well over 6,000 empty seats in some games.
Nonetheless, the Giants proved in 2007 that they have a big enough fan base to successfully host the tournament. They set records for the highest total attendance (121,461) and the highest average attendance (13,496) at a Memorial Cup. The organization also put together a quality hockey team as they beat the Tigers in the championship game to win the tourney.
It’s tough to say which of the three teams will ice the better squad in 2015-16 at this point. Every year several relatively unknown players blossom into stars and players with loads of skill struggle to fulfill their potential. In addition, many trades will happen between now and the 2016 trade deadline.
So with that said, here’s a basic look at some foundational pieces that each team hopes to be able to count on two years down the road.
All indications suggest Vancouver will have an elite cornerstone forward – Tyler Benson, the first overall pick of the 2013 bantam draft. Ty Ronning and Alec Baer seem to have the potential to develop into quality top-six forwards, too. They do, however, lack a 1996-born star forward at the moment.
With it being very unlikely that Colorado Avalanche prospect Mason Geertsen will return for his overage season, Dimitry Osipov appears to be the Giants’ best candidate to run their 2015-16 back end. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Russian took significant strides forward in his game last season as a rookie. He showcased immense strength and good mobility despite his bigger stature.
Red Deer may have the best 1-2 punch of all three teams. Avalanche first-round pick Conner Bleackley is a top-notch first-line centre and Carolina Hurricanes first-rounder Haydn Fleury has the potential to be the WHL’s best rearguard two years down the road. But there is always the chance one or both of the 1996-born players could make an early jump to the NHL in their 19-year-old seasons.
Beyond Fleury and Bleackley, 1997-born Adam Musil seems to have what it takes to develop into a first-line forward. The 6-foot-3, 193-pounder, who’s the brother of Edmonton Oilers prospect David Musil, scored 11 goals and 29 points in 60 games in his rookie season last year. Grayson Pawlenchuk, a 1997-born winger, also garnered some attention as a rookie with seven goals and 19 points in 44 games.
Tyler Soy, the eighth overall pick of the 2012 bantam draft, showed flashes of a future superstar in his rookie season with the Royals, scoring 15 goals and 30 points in 65 contests.
On the back end, Victoria has three 1996-born players: Joe Hicketts, Ryan Gagnon and Jake Kohlhauser. They also have high hopes for 6-foot-3, 215-pound blueliner Chaz Reddekopp, who was the 13th overall pick of the 2012 bantam draft.
Watch out for Brandon
Even though the Brandon Wheat Kings didn’t bid to host the Memorial Cup, their elite young foundation indicates they may take part in the tournament.
The Wheat Kings will have a top-notch offense built around New Jersey Devils first-rounder John Quennville, Florida Panthers second-rounder Jayce Hawryluk, Nolan Patrick, an early favourite to be the top pick of the 2017 NHL draft, and top 2014 bantam pick Stelio Mattheos. On the back end, meanwhile, top 2015 NHL draft prospect Ryan Pilon and Kale Clague, the sixth overall pick of the 2013 bantam draft, appear to be a solid 1-2 punch in the making. They also might already have their starting goalie as 1996-born Jordan Papirny had a very strong showing in the 2014 playoffs.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen
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