Would anyone be able to stop the London Knights?
That was the $64,000 question as the 2016 Memorial Cup began in Red Deer’s ENMAX Centrium, the first time the tournament had been held in Alberta since 1974 in Calgary.
The OHL-champion Knights came in on a 13-game winning streak, not having lost since the first round of the playoffs.
Trying to get in their way would be the Brandon Wheat Kings, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and the host Rebels.
London was making its fourth appearance in the tournament in five years, but had come up short in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The Knights served notice on May 20, when they got two goals and three assists from Mitch Marner, and two of each from Christian Dvorak, to open with a 6-2 victory over the Rebels.
The Knights went on to finish 3-0 in the round-robin. They beat Brandon, 9-1, getting three goals and an assist from Dvorak, and four assists from Marner. One night later, London dumped Rouyn-Noranda, 5-2. Marner had four more assists, with Dvorak getting a goal and an assist.
The Wheat Kings ended up 0-3 and eliminated after losing 5-3 to the Huskies and 2-1 to the Rebels on Evan Polei’s goal at 3:50 of overtime.
Red Deer, which also beat Rouyn-Noranda, 5-2, finished 2-1, while the Huskies wound up at 1-2.
On May 27, the Huskies scored a pair of power-play goals and bounced the Rebels, 3-1, in the semifinal.
The Huskies pushed the Knights in the final, too. But, in the end, London won it, 3-2, on two goals from Matthew Tkachuk, the second one at 7:49 of overtime.
Tkachuk gave London a 1-0 lead at 9:19 of the second period. The Huskies went ahead 2-1 on goals from Francis Perron, at 9:34 of the second, and Julien Nantel, at 9:13 of the third period. Dvorak tied the game at 15:49 of the third with his seventh goal.
Of the winner, Tkachuk said: “It actually might have hit off (Dvorak’s) back. It changed directions a little bit . . . doesn’t matter, we’ll both take it.”
Dvorak added: “I felt something hit me but I don’t really care, winning’s all that matters.”
Marner, who had put up 116 points in 57 regular-season games and 44 more in 18 playoff games, added 14 points, 12 of them assists, in Red Deer. He led the tournament in scoring, and he was saluted as the MVP.
London ran its winning streak to 17 games as it won its second championship — it also won by going 4-0 as the OHL champion and the host team in 2005.
“It’s hard enough to get here, but it’s a lot harder to win it,” London head coach Dale Hunter said. “To come here and win four straight is unbelievable, just like 2005.”
2016 London Knights:
Aaron Berisha, Daniel Bernhardt, Evan Bouchard, Brendan Burke, Brandon Crawley, Christian Dvorak, Alex Formenton, Jacob Graves, Chad Heffernan, Aiden Jamieson, Max Jones, Olli Juolevi, Owen MacDonald, Mitchell Marner, Chris Martenet, Nicolas Mattinen, Victor Mete, Tyler Parsons, JJ Piccinich, Cliff Pu, Kole Sherwood, Robert Thomas, Matthew Tkachuk, Emanuel Vella, Chandler Yakimowicz, Basil McRae (Manager), Dale Hunter (Coach).
NHL: After being named CHL Player of the Year, Marner went on to set a Toronto Maple Leaf record for most assists by a rookie with 42. Hunter played 20 years in the NHL for Quebec, Washington, and Colorado, amassing over 1000 career points.