For Kraken prospect Jagger Firkus, the biggest hockey games of his promising career started Friday night. He and his Moose Jaw, SK, teammates, champions of the Western Hockey League, played in the opening game of the 2024 Memorial Cup inside a Saginaw, MI, arena bursting with a capacity crowd of 7,600, most decidedly not pulling for Firkus to continue his red-hot postseason scoring.

Moose Jaw lost 5-4 after falling behind 4-0 host team Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League to kick off round-robin play in the storied tournament that decides an overall winner among Canada’s top-three juniors leagues, the WHL, OHL and Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League. It is Moose Jaw’s first time reaching the Memorial Cup mecca in the Saskatchewan franchise’s four-decades history. Let’s skate through a few details about the upcoming week of round-robin games (including a tiebreaker game if necessary) that will determine which two squads play a winner-takes-all game on June 2:

Canadians Leaning In

All of Canada will be tuning into the 104th edition of the Memorial Cup, first established as a way for junior hockey to honor fallen Canadians who fought in World War I. The current three-league champions format has been in place since 1972.

Moose Jaw and Saginaw will be joined by the OHL champion London Knights and QMJHL title-holder Drummondville Voltigeurs. London is making its sixth appearance in junior hockey’s final four since 2005 and winners of two Cups in that span. The other competitors would all be first-time winners.

The three championship squads on hand have already made history: Each one swept their league’s respective finals, which has never been accomplished before. As for Saginaw, selected as 2024 hosts a couple of seasons ago, the Spirit are well-rested and healed up from a playoff run that ended with a third-round defeat to London. Consider Saginaw, which won the OHL West Division with a 50-16-4 for 102 points, supremely motivated and qualified.

Firkus has scored 14 goals and added 18 assists for 32 points in 20 postseason games to date, delivering at clutch moments and games in the WHL playoffs. Only London’s Easton Cowan (No. 28 overall, 2023, Toronto) has more postseason points (10 G, 24A), while Knights teammate Calum Ritchie (No. 27 overall, 2023, Colorado) has 30 points himself (8 G, 22 A). Misa tallied Misa tallied 75 points in 67 regular season games, then 11 more points in the playoffs to date.

Geography Lesson

This is the first time the Memorial Cup will be played in the U.S. since 1998 when the WHL Spokane Chiefs hosted. The first time the Cup tourney was on U.S. ice? 1983 in Portland (the Winterhawks won it).

Kraken Prospects at the Memorial Cup

In just three years of draft classes and free-agent signings of undrafted players, 2022 second-rounder Firkus (No. 35 overall) joins three other Kraken prospects who have played in the Memorial Cup: 2021 third-rounder Ryan Winterton and undrafted free agent Logan Morrison were teammates on 2022 OHL champion Hamilton that made it to the Cup final that season. Tucker Robertson, selected in the fourth round of the 2022 NHL Draft and now rostered at AHL Coachella Valley, played in last spring’s Cup tourney for the Peterborough Petes (the CHL all-time leader in Memorial Cup tourney appearances with 15).

One for the Ages, Many over the Ages

Host Saginaw’s roster includes 17-year-old Michael Misa, who, like future NHL stars John Tavares and Connor McDavid, plus Kraken prospect Shane Wright in 2019 and Chicago rookie Connor Bedard in 1920, joined the OHL as a 15-year-old under the “exceptional status player” designation.

The intertwined history of the Memorial Cup and the NHL stands as tall as a 104-year-old as a Canadian western red fir. Famed NHL goalie and now New York Islanders head coach Patrick Roy has won at the Memorial Cup twice as a coach: Last season behind the bench for Quebec Ramparts and back in 2006 in his first year as Ramparts coach. He coached 13 seasons with Ramparts total in two stints with three years as coach of the Colorado Avalanche.

The list of NHLers who have hoisted the Memorial Cup is long, including any number of Hockey Hall of Famers and/or future Hall of Famers such as Sidney Crosby, Roberto Luongo, Marian Hossa, Jarome Iginla and Doug Gilmour, who played for seven NHL franchise and who scored Cup-winning goals at the Memorial Cup tournament and to clinch the Stanley Cup for Calgary in 1989. Gilmour pulled off his heroics for his junior squad as a 16-year-old.

There are many more names who have won Memorial Cups and starred at the NHL level: Matthew Tkachuk, currently looming as a key player for Florida in the Eastern Conference final of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Edmonton Oilers forward and Memorial Cup champ

Evander Kane is looking to help his team become the first Canada-based Stanley Cup winners since Montreal in 1993 after winning it all as a WHL rookie in 2007.

Other names of note and maybe impress a friend or three who will be rooting for Firkus to make the list: Taylor Hall (twice named MVP), Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Richards (rare winner of Cups in CHL, AHL, NHL), PK Subban. Shea Webber, Claude Giroux, and Nazem Kadri, among many more.

When Firkus, Moose Jaw Play

After opening play Friday, Firkus and his WHL-champion teammates will play back-to-back games against London on Monday and Drummondville on Tuesday. Any need for a tiebreaker game will be on May 30, with a June 1 semifinal between two teams to determine which squad faces the No. 1 seed as determined by the round-robin competition. The title game is June 2, and all games are available on NHL Network (all times Pacific):

May 24 – Moose Jaw vs. Saginaw, 4:30 p.m.

May 25 – London vs. Drummondville, 1 p.m.

May 26 – Saginaw vs. Drummondville — 4:30 p.m.

May 27 – London vs. Moose Jaw — 4:30 p.m.

May 28 – Drummondville vs. Moose Jaw — 4:30 p.m.

May 29 – Saginaw vs. London — 4:30 p.m.

May 30 – Tie-breaker (if necessary) — 4:30 p.m.

June 1 – Semi-final — 4:30 p.m.

June 2 – Final — 4:30 p.m.