If Europe has the highest earning NHL gaming competitor in World Champ Eki, Canada boasts the most highly decorated.
Going into the NHL 19 competitive season, Matthew "YungGren" Grenier already cemented himself as one of the best players in the game, with a NHLGWC season one grand finals appearance to his credit.
He will try to get back to the grand final, which will be held in Las Vegas on June 18, when he tries to become two of the eight qualifiers to advance through the Canada regional final, which will be held at Sportsnet's studios in Toronto.
This year, many NHL clubs around the league presented esports tournaments, most of them open to competitors across North America. Gren took full advantage.
"I'm much more motivated this year compared to last year due to how (the 2018 NHLGWC) ended for me, I want to prove to everyone that I can win it all," Gren said.
Gren's first victory took place in a suite at Scotiabank Arena during a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild. It was fitting the Wild were involved, considering Gren's next feat would take place in Minnesota.
There, at the Mall of America, with thousands watching, Gren found himself in the final against a familiar foe.
Last year, Josh "Josh Fearless" D'Eri, also a 2019 NHLGWC regional finalist, was highly regarded as the best player in the hockey video game community. With years of consistent elite play and victories over all the top one percent of competitors, "J-Fear" seemed poised to collect all the trophies and prize money. However, J-Fear was one of the most notable omissions from NHLGWC season one. Before that, he met Gren in the final of the 2018 Ed Snider Cup in Philadelphia.
"I was coming up into the scene and [J-Fear] was the one person who everyone thought was the best in North America," Gren said. "We chirped online before the tournament, and he won Game 1 (of the best-of-5 series). Right after winning, he threw up a '3-0' sign. [But then] I reverse swept him, winning the series 3-1."
Fast forward to Minnesota, where it's Gren and J-Fear again in the final. Gren seems to have J-Fear's number, knowing how to play against him, trying to secure another victory and claim top prize.
Until that point, J-Fear hadn't won a major NHL in person tournament (also known as a "LAN", for Local Area Network). The respect is still there, as J-Fear is always in the top 5 of the TDI NHL esports player power rankings. He placed third in the Jets tournament, second to Gren in Minnesota, and fourth in Washington.
Finally, in one of the last tournaments of the season, an online-only competition organized by the Chicago Blackhawks, J-Fear earned a victory (and $2,500 in the process).
"Now we get along and have both grown up a little bit, but still I know he wants to beat me more than anyone," Gren said.
There is a very real chance that Gren and J-Fear, who are still regarded as the best of their class in NHL 19, will clash in the Canadian Regional Finals. Each would need to make it out of the top 8, setting up an epic semifinal.
But that's certainly not a guarantee, not with the rest of the field looking to make a statement. They include a couple of familiar faces and many new ones:
Harley "Sitful" Sitko: A 2018 GWC finalist who was also a finalist at the Wild event on the XBOX side. Sitful was also one of two competitors to have a perfect win/loss record in open qualifying, with the least goals-against. To qualify for the Canadian Regionals, he had to defeat miviens, the 2019 Montreal Canadiens NHL esports tournament champion, in a battle that required overtime. He will face Karl "Mg x Nuclear" Caslib, who won many of his qualifying games by three goals, and also secured an impressive best-of-3 series win against returning competitor JerDubz in the seeding matchups for the regional draft.
Jeremie "Thalup34545" Dube (also known as JerDubz): A 2018 GWC Canadian Regional finalist. When talking about playing in a tournament of this magnitude with television cameras everywhere, he said, "Last year, I didn't manage the pressure. It kind of overwhelmed me, and my performance was affected by this. This year, I know what I have to do." JerDubz meets J-Fear in the quarters.
There is in fact a second Jeremy Dube in the tournament (with the first name spelled slightly differently), who goes by xDubz17. He is certainly the most physical player in the Canadian regionals, averaging a massive 21.6 hits per game in qualifying, a total almost double that of the next highest competitor (while still staying in the bottom four in penalty minutes).
He will face Ryan "RyanVince19" Vince in the top 8, the No. 1 seed in the region, which afforded him the right to draft Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, the best player in the game. An 18-year-old from Brantford, Ontario, Vince's strategy to prepare for the tournament will be "eat, sleep, game."
YungGren's first test in the tournament will be Sean "mrdeezy" Jackson, the oldest competitor in any region. A 37-year-old from Sudbury, Ontario, Jackson is an underground miner currently off of work, giving him ample time to prepare for the tournament. mrdeezy says this is his first full year of playing Hut ("... so I'm doing alright"), but has been playing the EA Sports Hockey titles since the first one, "NHL Hockey" in 1991 (the cover athlete? Glenn Healy).
Canadian Regional Finals Rosters
NHL teams chosen by competitors to represent:
Ryan "RyanVince19" Vince -- Montreal Canadiens
Matthew "YungGren" Grenier -- Tampa Bay Lightning
Karl "Mg x Nuclear" Caslib -- Vancouver Canucks
Joshua "Josh Fearless" D'Eri -- Toronto Maple Leafs
Jeremie "ThalUp24535" Dube -- St. Louis Blues
Harley "Sitful" Sitko -- Carolina Hurricanes
Sean "mrdreezy" Jackson -- Detroit Red Wings
Jeremy "XDubz17" Dube -- Pittsburgh Penguins
PREDICTIONS FROM THE EXPERTS:
Justin "Regs" Reguly (@regs_84), 2018 NHL Gaming World Championship Canadian Regional Finalist, Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals NHL esports tournament champion: "I think we have a much stronger bottom side of the bracket compared to the top. I think we definitely see a joshfearless vs. Gren semifinal that goes the full three games. On the top side, other then Sitful, we have many new names and players who haven't experienced the lan atmosphere, and therefore I think sitful will come out on top from that side of the bracket.
"Gren has gotten the best of Josh on lan, but I feel this time Josh wants it more than anyone. Therefore, I will have to give the 2-1 edge to Josh, winning the third game in OT."
Michael "miviens" Viens (@miviens), NHL 19 competitor, 2019 Montreal Canadiens NHL esports tournament champion, 2018 Ed Snider Cup champion: "My favorite to win the Canadian regionals is joshfearless, not only because of his experience in the big scene, but he has proved to everyone in the last two months that he is on top of his game. He qualified with a team overall under the average of all the other opponents he faced, so that proves a point. I think he is ready for his kryptonite yungren. But my heart is with the 2 jeremie/jeremy dube, because we are from Quebec."
Sydney "LeavyTV" Blimbaum (@LeafyTV), NHL 19 competitor & streamer: "A lot of new faces at the Canadian regionals year which I think will make for an interesting tournament. However, my picks to make it through are two "veterans," Gren and Sitful. Gren made it through his online qualifiers without dropping a game, beating notable players like Jaf, Bouch, and regional competitors Dubz and Nuclear. He has shown tremendous skill and consistency this year, winning the Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild team tournaments, in which he competed against some of the best players in North America.
"I think his greatest obstacle in this regional will be Joshfearless, who has also had a great deal of success in tournaments this year, most notably in the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild team tournaments. Josh competed in the online qualifiers with a HUT team that was much worse than those of most other competitors (as HUT is not his game mode of choice), which may have contributed to his lower seeding. It will be interesting to see if his results differ now that his team is similarly skilled to everyone else's. On the other side of the bracket, Sitful is back and just as incredibly skilled and creative as he was last year. Obviously he did not get the result he was hoping for at last year's regional, but I like his chances this year. Of the players on his side of the regional bracket, he is the only one to have competed at a LAN tournament this year, taking second place at the Minnesota Wild tournament, of course in addition to his experience in the 2018 GWC.
"Lastly, my 'dark horse' pick would have to be Nuclear. He's more so known just from the HUT leaderboards and not in competitive vs. play, which usually does not get players too much respect. Since he is a west-coaster, a bulk of the competitive community would never match with him online, and I think it is unknown how good he really is. I definitely think he is capable of surprising a lot of people at regionals."
Johnny "TheOohwayy" Monopoli (@TheOohwayy), NHL 19 content creator: "I think Canada will be much closer than Europe's regional. We will see a lot more game 3s and hopefully a few overtimes. Surprisingly, none of the games went to OT in Europe; the closest was Eki's goal against Domi with eight seconds left.
"On the top half of the bracket, I think it's nearly anyone's game. I'm going to take the winner of Sitful and Nuclear. Sitful has some LAN experience, having played under the bright lights at last year's GWC and this year's Minnesota event. He has alien thumbs; he does some things on the sticks which don't seem real. If he plays well defensively, he should be able to book his ticket to Vegas. Nuclear provides a wildcard option; he is the only player of eight to be from the west coast. He may have a surprise element in his game, as no players have played against him at close to zero ping.
"The bottom half of the bracket is going to be insane. I'm assuming JoshFearless and Yung Gren will get through the first round against JerDubz and mrdreezy. However, a skilled JerDubz being a former GWC regionalist might cause Josh problems. Josh and Gren have gone head-to-head multiple times, with Gren taking all of the LAN events (Snider Cup, Philadelphia 2018 and Minnesota Wild 2019). A series win over their fierce rival would be almost as important to them as going to Vegas or winning prize money.
"It will be a joy to watch two of the top five players in the world (personal opinion via my TDI power rankings), with possibly two of the biggest personalities (alongside JohnWayne and Miviens) in the Competitive NHL Gaming Community. I've picked Josh to get the job done twice against Gren, and both times he came up short. I think the third time is the charm. This will be the closest series of the tournament if it happens. Final prediction: Sitful runner up, Josh Canadian champion."
Tyrus "Hanek" Rehannek (@HanekGoat), NHL 19 competitor and content creator: "In my opinion, the two that will make Vegas is Gren and Sitful with the way the seeding and brackets work. I think Josh has a chance, but Gren has had his number on LAN. Whoever wins that series will qualify first. On the other side, Sitful has put in a lot of work this year, and I think he's remodeled his game to be more effective and I think he will actually make it to Vegas this year."
Matt "Bones" Giffen (@BonesOnDemand), NHL 19 insider and content creator: "On the top half of the bracket, Sitful is the clear favorite for me. I've had the pleasure to play on a 6s team with Sitful for over a year, so I really know what he can bring to the table. His drive to win is unmatched; you'll see why during the Canadian regionals.
"The bottom half will display one of the greatest rivalries known to the NHL Community, YungGren vs. Joshfearless. They are both extremely talented players that have been at the top for years. Gren's been playing better this year than last and has transitioned into playing competitive 6s on defensive that has elevated his game to the next level. I have Gren finishing on top of the Canadian Regional over Sitful."
Dustin "TheClapperton" Wade (@TheClapperton), NHL Community Manager
Gren will finish first and book his ticket to Vegas after defeating They_Speak_Of_Me (Josh Fearless) in a quadruple overtime thriller with the game-winning goal coming from Loui Eriksson of the Canucks.
Nicole "Fool" Bruna (@LZRFool), NHL GWC season one Grand Finalist
This is a tough one. Lots of new names out there this year. I'm excited that others will be able to experience what I got to experience last year. My picks would be YungGren and RyanVince. The easy choice is YungGren as he's got the experience of what it takes to make it to Vegas. (Also I'm not there to give him any losses). I'm also choosing Ryan as he's surprised me with his performances and I'd like to see an up and comer make it to Vegas. I'm supporting Jerdubz and XDubz this weekend so I'm hoping they prove my predictions wrong.