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One team had 50+ days to prepare, another had four - but on Friday night in Saskatoon the London Knights and Saskatoon Blades hook up to open the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup....
Note: For much of the past two years Loosepucks has stuck to updates 140 characters at a time via Twitter, but at the Memorial Cup it takes much more than 140 characters to tell the story.
The stage is set for the 95th Memorial Cup with host Saskatoon Blades finally returning to the ice after being eliminated in the opening round of the WHL playoffs - swept at the hands of the Medicine Hat Tigers. The OHL champion London Knights captured the title Monday night with a dramatic seventh game victory over the Barrie Colts.
The Knights are back in familiar territory with many returnees from the 2012 Memorial Cup team that dropped the championship game in overtime to the host Shawinigan Cataractes. After having a full practice on Thursday, the Knights kept things fairly loose during a pre-game skate on Friday. Even hours before the opener Head Coach Dale Hunter could be found with his buried his Apple MacBook Pro - presumably analyzing video in preparation for the curtain raiser.
Hunter remained quiet as to who his starting goaltender would against Saskatoon. Depending on how you read his pre-game comments - one could take it as a hint Anthony Stolarz will get the call. But until the puck drops at 6:00pm MDT (8pm Eastern), the option to start Stolarz or Jake Patterson remains on the table. Patterson took over in Game Five of the OHL Championship Series and won three straight, bring the Knights back from a 3-1 deficit.
While it is often used as a hockey cliche, the opening ten minutes of the game will be very important. The Blades will have the home crowd behind them, and excited to finally play a game after 6 weeks of practice. A scoreless opening 10 minutes, or even a Knights lead, would put London in a good situation heading into the remaining action.
All eyes on Saturday
At most Memorial Cup tournaments, the opening game gets most of the attention while Game Two is often overlooked - that's not the case this year. Saturday's schedule sees the Quebec League Champion Halifax Mooseheads take on the Portland Winterhawks, champions of the Western Hockey League. That game will feature the top three players eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft in Portland's Seth Jones, and Halifax linemates Nate MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. Combine that with Mooseheads goalie Zach Fucale being the top-rated goalie for the draft, and this one should be a scout's dream - with fans in for some very entertaining hockey.
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