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Keep the Format: The Spitfires Deserved to Win the Cup

By Kristopher Bras on June 02, 2017

The Windsor Spitfires went 4-0 to become the seventh non-league championship winning host to go on to win the Memorial Cup. (Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

On Sunday, the Windsor Spitfires became the seventh host team to win the Memorial Cup without winning its respective league championship. The win has many criticizing the format, some even spouting off that the Spitfires didn’t deserve to win—but that’s nothing but a lot of hot air.

The Memorial Cup format changed in 1983 to include a host team, predetermined by the CHL. That very year, the Portland Winterhawks won the tournament, despite being ejected from the WHL finals by Lethbridge that spring. 

Since then, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (1993), the Ottawa 67’s (1999), the Kelowna Rockets (2004), the Vancouver Giants (2007) and the Shawinigan Cataractes (2012) have also done it. And every one of those teams deserved to win. They may not have won the OHL, WHL or QMJHL league championships, but they did win the most important tournament in junior hockey—the Memorial Cup. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but that’s not an easy thing to do.

The Spits hadn’t played a game of hockey in 44 days when they opened against Thomas Chabot and the Saint John Sea Dogs. Yes, the layoff helped them, but they still had to find their game in a hurry against a stacked team that included a broad who’s who of future NHLers. The 44 days were just one factor among many.

Many point to Windsor’s long rest period as a difference maker in the finals, but the Otters didn’t look outmatched or tired—it was a fairly even game in which the Spitfires got a better performance from their goaltender. C’est la vie, as they say in Quebec.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that the Spitfires did win because they were rested. So what? To suggest that they didn’t deserve to win is awfully presumptuous. None of the teams ‘deserve’ to win. The Erie Otters had a great OHL playoff, and they deserved to win to the OHL championship. Nothing more. 

To “deserve” the Memorial Cup, you have to win the Memorial Cup. Yes, the host can sometimes have an advantage over other teams, but let’s be clear—the championship winners have a few things going in their favour as well. Furthermore, the tournament is supposed to be hard by default. It’s one of the most difficult trophies to win in sports (along with the RBC Cup, but that’s another blog). 

To say that a team doesn’t ‘deserve’ to win is a slippery slope, one that has led to other post Mem Cup ugliness. For example, the London Knights were derided for going 0-3 in the 2014 Memorial Cup, scoring just four goals to the 13 against. Opposite tournament result, same criticism: that the team didn’t deserve to be there. The whining was nothing but ditch rhubarb then too.

The tournament works best with four teams, and unless Canada’s major junior landscape is due for a major realignment, the current format works best. I like the idea that a team of misfits—in true Walt Disney fashion—can be granted a chance to win a tournament in which they are largely out of their depth. This is a kids game, after all. 

Still, the Spitfires were no bunch of castoffs. They may have had some tough injury luck throughout the season, but they were put together to compete for the Memorial Cup, which they did. Mission accomplished.

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By Kristopher Bras| June 02, 2017
Categories:  Major Junior|Events
Keywords:  OHLWindsor Spitfires

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