While most of the Philadelphia Flyers’ current prospects are done hockey for the year and are focusing on preparation for the team’s July development camp, there are two who are still going – and are preparing to play on junior hockey’s biggest stage.
Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings and Philippe Myers of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies are both with their respective teams in Red Deer, Alberta for this weekend’s start of the 2016 Mastercard Memorial Cup, the annual four-team round-robin tournament that pits the champions of Canada’s three major junior leagues – the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – against one another and a fourth host team to determine Canada’s junior hockey champion.
It’s no small feat. Consider for a moment how difficult it is to win the Stanley Cup. Then take that achievement and add another four-team tournament onto the end of it, and that’s what it takes to win the Memorial Cup.
“I think it’s one of the hardest tournaments to win,” Provorov said. “To get here you’ve got to win your league first – all four rounds of the playoffs. It’s a totally different tournament. You have to approach each game like it’s a Game 7.”
Brandon qualified for the fifth time in its history, but it’s only the third time the Wheat Kings have qualified by winning the WHL championship – they’ve hosted the tournament twice. This year’s title came in five games over the Seattle Thunderbirds, a hard-fought series that avenged Brandon’s loss last year in the WHL finals to the Kelowna Rockets.
“We flew from Seattle the next day and we had a lot of fans show up to welcome us home,” Provorov said. “That was pretty special. Somewhere around 2000 people showed up. It was pretty nice. We had one night to celebrate and after that we turned the page and started to get ready for the Memorial Cup.”
For as happy as the city of Brandon was to see its team make the big tournament, it’s been an even bigger achievement for Rouyn-Noranda.
The team from a town of 41,000 people seven hours north of Montreal won its first ever league championship this season after finishing in 11th place last year. It hadn’t even been to the QMJHL final since 2008, when it lost to a Gatineau team led by one Claude Giroux.
“We've been striving for this all year,” Myers told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “To finally have all our work pay off, it feels great. It was a great team effort and everybody has been on the same page.”
Flyers fans have known about Provorov since he was selected with the seventh overall pick in last year’s draft. But equally intriguing is Myers, who was also eligible for that draft but made it through all seven rounds without being selected. The Flyers invited him to training camp and were impressed to the point that they signed Myers to an entry-level contract.
He went on to have a breakout season with Rouyn-Noranda, one that moved him onto TSN analyst Craig Button’s top 50 prospect list. Button told the Inquirer that Myers probably would have been a first-round pick this year if the Flyers hadn’t snapped him up last fall.
Regardless of the outcome, both players are picking up invaluable experience in playing high-stakes hockey. Provorov has done it two years in a row now.
“It was our goal to win the championship and get to the Memorial Cup right after we lost last year in the finals,” he said. “We knew what it was going to take to get back to the finals and win it, and I think the experience from last year helped us a lot. Just playing through injuries and adversity and stuff like that. All the experience helped us definitely this year.”
The tournament starts Friday night with the OHL champion London Knights taking on the host Red Deer Rebels. Brandon and Rouyn-Noranda face off on Saturday night. Round-robin games continue through Wednesday, with the semifinal scheduled for Friday the 27th and the championship game for Sunday the 29th.
Below is the complete round robin schedule, including broadcast information on the tournament. Check back to Philadelphiaflyers.com throughout the week for updates on the tournament.
ROUND ROBIN SCHEDULE
All games can be viewed on the NHL Network
May 20:London Knights (OHL) vs.Red Deer Rebels (host city) 8:00 pm EST
May 21:Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) vs.Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL) 7:00 pm EST
May 22:Red Deer Rebels (host city) vs.Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL) 7:00 pm EST
May 23:Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) vs.London Knights (OHL) 8:00 pm EST
May 24:Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL) vs.London Knights (OHL) 8:00 pm EST
May 25:Red Deer Rebels (host city) vs.Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) 8:00 pm EST