by Joe Tasca on 04/02/13 at 07:00 PM ET
For the fifth straight year, the MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts will enter the tournament through the back door.
Not since the 2008 Kitchener Rangers has the host team of the national championship won their league prior to the tournament’s commencement. What felt like a long, 31-day wait for last year’s hosts, the Shawinigan Cataractes (who became just the second team in tournament history to win it all after going through the tiebreaker), pales in comparison to the 51 days off for this year’s hosts, the Saskatoon Blades.
The Blades were unceremoniously swept in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs, marking the first time since the 2001 Regina Pats (whose head coach, ironically, was also Lorne Molleken) the tournament hosts failed to make it out of the first round.
There's absolutely no excuse for a Memorial Cup host to lose in the first round, nevermind be swept. Saskatoon's defeat is particularly shocking considering the team had peaked going into the playoffs, having won 18 consecutive games late in the season. To boot, Medicine Hat pulled off the upset despite losing all four regular season matchups with the Blades.
Not surprisingly, Saskatoon's inability to win a single playoff game has prompted many columnists to once again question the Memorial Cup format. Most writers seem to believe it would be virtually impossible for the tournament to be a profitable venture without a host team because the local fans wouldn't be interested, and consequently, wouldn't attend the games. Others believe a playoff flop shouldn't be allowed to compete for Canada's top junior hockey championship.
Neate Sager ponders the possibilities:
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 presentation. 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.
Unfortunately, Sager's assessment couldn't be more accurate. But the fact that the Memorial Cup format will never be changed doesn't mean it isn't incredibly unfair. The purpose of the tournament is to showcase the best junior hockey clubs in Canada. Including a team that was swept in the opening round of its league's playoffs is a terrible injustice, and it weakens the legitimacy of the event.
Should Saskatoon manage to win the Memorial Cup tournament this spring, the team's victory will forever be tainted by the inescapable impression that it didn't belong there in the first place.
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About Tasca's Take
Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.
Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.