It’s a tough trophy to win.
In fact, it might be one of the toughest prizes to capture in sports.
But that’s what makes the Memorial Cup so special. It’s an opportunity for kids – 16 at the youngest, 21 at the oldest – to get that first taste of real hockey glory.
It’s tough to win, first of all, because hockey is a crapshoot, especially when you get into the playoffs. And unlike the NHL, NFL, NBA and other major sports league that hover around the 30-team mark, there are twice as many clubs going after the Memorial Cup.
The 67’s have won it twice, in 1984 and 1999, with the latter championship coming early in Jeff Hunt’s tenure as the club’s owner. It’s a memory that hasn’t faded much in the nearly two decades since.
“I said at the time that, other than the birth of my two kids, that 1999 win was the greatest moment of my life,” said Hunt. “It was an amazing experience, just seeing the way the city re-engaged with the 67’s. It was a magical, Cinderella year.”
The Canadian Hockey League championship is battled for by every team in the three leagues that make up the CHL – the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and the Western Hockey League (WHL). That’s 60 teams fighting to be three of the four left standing to compete in the round robin tournament (the host team automatically makes it).
On Saturday, the Memorial Cup will be back at the Arena at TD Place as part of its annual tour, while the game between the 67’s and Barrie Colts will be broadcast nationally on Sportsnet. The Cup’s presence will offer Ottawa’s current crop of Major Junior talent a look at what they’re battling for every game.
“Compare it to the Stanley Cup,” said Hunt when asked to describe why the Memorial Cup is such a hard prize to capture. “The Memorial Cup is basically like winning the Stanley Cup and then going to a tournament over in Europe and playing the best teams over there and having to win a round robin tournament.”
But when a team does manage to win, well, you can expect some strange things to happen in the ensuing celebration. And perhaps no part of the 1999 67’s win was stranger (and perhaps more ill-advised) than the decision – whom many say was made by then-captain-turned-NHLer Nick Boynton – to go for a celebratory dip in the Rideau Canal.
“I don’t know whose bright idea that was, but Nick was the captain so I guess we’ll blame him, or give him credit,” Hunt recalls. “I don’t think they really appreciated how, uh, inappropriate the canal is as a place to swim.
The 67’s and the Memorial Cup:
1977: A little over a decade into the club’s existence, the 67’s of the then-named Ontario Hockey Association, lost 6-5 to the WCHL’s New Westminster Bruins.
1984: The 67’s defeat the Kitchener Rangers 7-2 at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium to capture Ottawa’s first Memorial Cup. Coached by Brian Kilrea, the 67’s roster that year featured names like Darren Pang, Gary Roberts and Brad Shaw.
1999: Despite losing out in the OHL playoffs, the 67’s defeated the Calgary Hitmen 7-6 in overtime as the host team of the 1999 tournament, winning the Memorial Cup on home ice. Matt Zultek played the hero in that game as he scored the overtime winner to capture the championship. Also on that year’s winning roster were Nick Boynton, Brian Campbell, Henric Alfredsson, Mark Bell and Zenon Konopka.
2001: The tournament was hosted in Regina that year and was ultimately won by the Red Deer Rebels, who defeated the Val-d’Or Foreurs in the final. The 67’s qualified for the tournament but, like the host Regina Pats, failed to make it out of the round robin.
2005: Ottawa’s most recent appearance at the Memorial Cup also saw the team unable to make it out of the round robin. The 67’s qualified that season as the OHL runners up, as the London Knights, who also won the OHL Championship, were guaranteed entry as the host team. The Knights would go on to win the Memorial Cup, defeating Rimouski to capture London’s first Memorial Cup in its 40-year existence. The 67’s in 2005 featured players like Jamie McGinn, Bryan Bickell, Danny Battochio and Brad Staubitz.