Jake DeBrusk is one of them. Growing up in Edmonton, his eyes have always been set on the tournament.
But after two seasons with Swift Current of the Western Hockey League, DeBrusk was still searching for his first Memorial Cup appearance. And early this season, with the Broncos struggling, it seemed like he would have to wait another year.
Things changed quickly, however, and suddenly DeBrusk had a spot locked up.
Two days after Christmas, the Bruins draft pick was traded to Red Deer, which as the host of the tournament, automatically received a spot, along with the winners of the WHL, Ontario Hockey League, and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Debrusk, who was picked 14th overall by the Bruins at last year’s NHL Draft.
“That’s the first thing I thought of when I got traded. That’s what every junior player plays for. Can’t wait to get started, just really excited, and just [trying to] enjoy the experience. I’m going to have fun with it, leave it all out on the ice and see what happens.”
The 98th Memorial Cup begins Friday with Red Deer battling the London Knights of the OHL. WHL champion Brandon and QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda (along with Bruins prospect Jeremy Lauzon) face off on Saturday.
(Full schedule and television information is below.)
The tournament caps a year of transition and adversity for DeBrusk, who battled injuries for the first time in his career, as well as a new team in a new environment.
The 19-year-old forward still performed well, tallying a combined 21 goals and 44 assists between Swift Current and Red Deer. The production, however, dipped a bit from last year when he notched 42 goals and 81 points in 72 games.
“I came back a little bit too quick [from injury],” said DeBrusk, whose Rebels fell to eventual league champion Brandon in the semifinals of the WHL playoffs.
“It really affected my on-ice performance. I [also] transitioned as a player. Last year, I obviously put up a lot more goals than I did this year, but I find that I’m a better player – still as dangerous on the ice – especially in tournaments like this I’m really trying to showcase that.”
The trade to Red Deer was a turning point for DeBrusk. While he felt he was rounding into form with Swift Current, the change of scenery prompted him to see the game a bit clearer.
As the year progressed and DeBrusk was not scoring at the pace he had in previous seasons, he began to realize that in order to become a better player he had to be stronger in other areas if he wasn’t finding the back of the net.
And that’s why, despite the decline in goals, DeBrusk feels he is a better player now than he was at this time a year ago.
“I think the trade really helped me, I think it put me in a position to succeed,” said DeBrusk. “This year I learned how to play all three positions. I played more of a PK role as well. I played power play, PK, all three positions; I feel like I’m on all sides of the puck, going up against top lines regularly in both Swift Current and here.
“I want to be a hard player to play against. I was always told, ‘When you’re not putting the puck in the net, you can’t get scored on.’ If I can shutdown the other team’s best player, and maybe the puck doesn’t go in for me, it’s still a job well done. It’s just more about being better than the guy across from you every night.”
DeBrusk is eager to display his improvements at the Memorial Cup, as well as this July at Bruins Development Camp, where last summer DeBrusk gained invaluable experience competing and learning from his fellow prospects.
DeBrusk is hoping to soak things in even more this year, now that the post-draft whirlwind has settled down.
“This summer’s going to be huge for me,” said DeBrusk. “Last summer was kind of in and out, there were lots of things that were going on. It was really crazy. This summer I’m really looking forward to training again and getting back into it.”
DeBrusk was also at Boston’s training camp last September, where he had the opportunity to watch firsthand how players like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand prepare for a new season.
“The biggest thing that helped me was just the program, seeing guys like Bergeron and how they are on the ice – Marchand, especially. I could go down the list,” said DeBrusk.
“I just want to be like them. It was a really cool experience. It was kind of mind-boggling at first – a dream come true.”
For now, though, DeBrusk is chasing another dream, one that ends with him holding the Memorial Cup.
(All times EST)
Friday, May 20
Red Deer vs. London, 8 p.m. (NHL Network)
Saturday, May 21
Brandon vs. Rouyn-Noranda, 7 p.m. (NHL Network)
Sunday, May 22
Red Deer vs. Rouyn-Noranda, 7p.m. (NHL Network – tape delay, 8 p.m.)
Monday, May 23
Brandon vs. London, 8 p.m. (NHL Network)
Tuesday, May 24
Rouyn-Noranda vs. London, 10 p.m. (NHL Network – tape delay, Wednesday 5/25 at 11 a.m.)
Wednesday, May 25
Red Deer vs. Brandon, 8 p.m. (NHL Network – tape delay, 9 p.m.)
Thursday, May 26
Tiebreaker (if necessary), 8 p.m. (NHL Network)
Friday, May 27
Semifinal, 8 p.m. (NHL Network)
Sunday, May 29
Final, 4:30 p.m. (NHL Network)