It has been a terrific year for Blue Jackets prospect Kerby Rychel, but the sting of this Memorial Cup defeat won't go away anytime soon.
He was drafted No. 19 overall by Columbus in the 2013 NHL Draft after another outstanding season with the Windsor Spitfires, the team co-owned by his father Warren. He represented Team Canada at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Sweden, and was traded mid-season from a struggling Windsor team to the Guelph Storm, a club that quickly rose to powerhouse status in the Ontario Hockey League.
Guelph sped through the OHL playoffs en route to winning the Robertson Cup, and didn't lose a single game in the MasterCard Memorial Cup - until they met the Edmonton Oil Kings in the final on Sunday afternoon. The Oil Kings prevailed in a 6-3 final at Budweiser Gardens in London, winning their first Memorial Cup title since 1966.
Edmonton, which had perhaps the toughest road to get to the Memorial Cup (a Game 7 in the WHL Final followed by a triple OT win in the Memorial Cup semifinal), fell behind two times early in the final but kept bouncing back.
Rychel set up 2014 NHL Draft prospect Robby Fabbri with a beautiful pass just over a minute into the game, giving the Storm an early 1-0 lead that they've become accustomed to having. It's wasn't often that Guelph trailed in this Memorial Cup, and it took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission - and the break couldn't have come at a better time for Edmonton.
Whether it was heavy legs at the start or the relentless pressure from Guelph, the Oil Kings didn't have it in the first period but their second period was much different. They scored three times in the second period to take a 4-2 lead, and if not for a few bounces one way or the other, it could have been a much wider margin entering the final period.
In what was his final game in junior hockey, Rychel was fantastic but Guelph couldn't come up with one final rally. Rychel finished with two assists, and set up what was (at the time) a huge goal for the Storm early in the third period to get within a goal at 4-3.
Phoenix Coyotes prospect Henrik Samuelsson had himself a day, tallying five points (two goals, three assists) and netting his pair of goals in the third period. He scored minutes after Guelph closed to 4-3 to restore Edmonton's two-goal lead, and applied the final touches with an empty-netter inside the final 90 seconds of regulation.
Latvian forward Edgars Kulda, who will re-enter the NHL Draft in a few weeks, was named tournament MVP with four goals and seven points in five Memorial Cup games. He ended the season ranked No. 145 on NHL Central Scouting's final draft list, but you have to think his stock was boosted with a fantastic tournament.
As for Rychel, it's looking like professional hockey is on the horizon for the 19-year-old power forward. He was one of Guelph's best players in the postseason, scoring 11 goals in the playoffs to go along with 34 goals in the regular season.
Rychel scored 40 goals twice in his junior career (both with Windsor) and this season, he tallied 32 points in 20 postseason games.