Thursday, May 17, 2012

Blueline Comparison at Memorial Cup

Four teams are preparing to face off against one another at the Mastercard Memorial Cup and the quality of their defensive units will go a long way in determining which club eventually wins the national title. 

Here's a look at how the rearguards in Shawinigan, London, Edmonton and Saint John compare. 

On this past Tuesday's show we tossed this subject around with our weekly guest, CHL Insider Sam Cosentino from Sportsnet. We began the topic off by pointing out a very interesting fact; all four teams are lead on the back end by a player who represented Canada at the 2012 WJC in Alberta.

The four are Shawinigan's Brandon Gormley (PHX), Nathan Beaulieu (MTL) from Saint John, Scott Harrington (PGH) of London and Edmonton's captain Mark Pysyk (BUF). (all pictured below)

"That's pretty cool that you have that, especially one from each team," said Cosentino before weighing the teams, "I like Edmonton's the best; I love their back end and have liked it all year and think it's one of the best I've seen in my seven years on the job."

Photo: Andy Devlin
The Oil Kings played much of the year with four mainstays, those being Pysyk, Keegan Lowe (CAR), import Martin Gernat (EDM) and key 2012 prospect Griffin Reinhart

Beyond those four Edmonton had somewhat of a rotation that began with rookie Ashton Sautner who showed a defensive reliability and maturity beyond his years. Ryan Dech, a 3rd round Bantam draft pick in 2008, played 40 games this season but missed nearly two months due to injury and lost his spot in the line up to Minnesota high school recruit Cody Corbett. Corbett joined the team at the very end of October and ended up dressing for 54 games. The fourth member of the rotation was 1st round Bantam draft pick Mason Geertsen who played in 34 games but has not seen the ice since March 3rd. 

Corbett struggled in the WHL final against Portland and was replaced by Dech who played well enough to expect the same thing happen at the Memorial Cup. 

Photo: Aaron Bell
"Then I go to the triumvirate of [Jared] Tinordi (MTL), Harrington and [Olli] Maatta of the London Knights," continued Cosentino, "Those three guys log a ton of minutes and they are all high end guys who bring a different element to the table. Tinordi is kind of the shot blocker, big body guy. Harrington is, to me, the best shutdown defender in the CHL and then Olli Maatta who has really picked up his offensive game in the playoffs."

The other three blueliners in London are Tommy Hughes, Kevin Raine and veteran Brett Cook.

Cosentino's next choice was the defending Memorial Cup champion Saint John Sea Dogs who, like London, appear to rely heavily on their top end more than Edmonton did for most of the season. 

Photo: QMJHL
"Their top four is fantastic; [Kevin] Gagné, [Pierre] Durepos, you have Beaulieu and Charles-Olivier Roussel (NSH) and then I think it drops off a little bit with [Ian] Saab and [Jason] Seed after that," said the Sportsnet analyst.

Finally, Cosentino looked to the defensive corps of the Shawinigan Cataractes. 

"They are probably the most underrated in this group," he said, "Gormley and [Morgan] Ellis are two outstanding players and guys who really treat their careers here in Major Junior as professional and to me it won't be long before both of those guys play in the NHL."

Photo: Jonathan Roberge
Ellis was a 2010 4th round selection by the Habs who hold the rights to three defencemen in this year's edition of the Memorial Cup.  

"Then you have [Jonathan] Racine and [Jonathan] Narbonne who are a nice 3-4 group," Consentino continued, "They are very underrated and I think Shawinigan will be that way until Friday night and about 10 minutes before the opening game just because no one has really heard much from them this year, they were beat out in the second round so they're kind of the forgotten team."

Overall though, the longtime colour analyst for Sportsnet believes that it's a close call but that the WHL representative's depth has them at the head of the class. 

"They are pretty evenly matched but I give Edmonton a bit of an edge over the other three."

The action starts Friday night when the Oil Kings square off against the Cataractes while London and Saint John begin their tournament on Saturday. All games will be broadcast on Sportsnet and potentially online as well although i have not been able to get full details or confirmation just yet.             

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