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It was a case of the well-rested versus the team rolling right on through to the 2014 MasterCard Memorial Cup. And in the end the QMJHL champs were just one-notch better than the host club....
A goal by Detroit Red Wings draft pick Anthony Mantha, and a 51 saves by Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Antoine Bibeau was enough for the Val D'Or Foreurs to beat the London Knights 1-0 in the opening game of the tournament Friday. London came out strong but could not capitalize on their chances - limited by Bibeau's play and maybe some rust after a 34-day break.
The atmosphere at the rink appeared to show a group that was a little nervous at first. But once the hometown team was introduced, the sold out crowd was into the game. Throughout the night there was a sense of tension though, waiting to be released by a London goal - that never came. It was the first time London had been shut out on home ice since Owen Sound beat London in the 2011 OHL playoffs.
For Val D'Or, it may have seemed like another playoff game. They captured the QMJHL championship Tuesday night. They were forced into a short celebration as the team travelled to London Wednesday.
Outside of Budweiser Gardens has been turned into a festival scene. An entire city block of Talbot Street has been closed and partially covered by a tent. Inside, numerous exhibits include chances to try your skill at shooting or goaltending. In front of the Covent Garden Market is the FanFest display with numerous CHL and NHL trophies. Local organizers have put together a rivals forum in FanFest prior to games to discuss some of the great rivalries around the Ontario Hockey League.
Prior to Friday's opener, the London Knights vs. Sarnia Sting was the focus of the rivalry discussion. Former Sting Patrick Desrochers and Ryan Hare (who finished his career in London) were joined by Knights grads Gene Chiarello and Matt Clarke - alongside Michael D'Orazio who played in London for two seasons before wrapping up his career playing in the Memorial Cup for Mississauga in 2011. The chat was moderated by yours truly and long-time London radio man Pete James.
Overall, there is a strong Memorial Cup atmosphere around the city, but maybe a slight notch down from the 2005 event. But that was a 'perfect storm' of a Knights franchise on the rise that culminated with that year's championship. The NHL lockout was also on, so it was the only hockey around.
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