Jarred Tinordi knew it. Everyone else did too. The 2011-12 London Knights were stacked.
But even all of the expectation didn't take away from the celebration, when Tinordi's club captured the 2012 Ontario Hockey League Championship, before falling one win short from claiming that year's Memorial Cup as the top team in the Canadian Hockey League.
Tinordi captained the Knights that season, his second and final run with the team, before beginning his professional career with the Montreal Canadiens organization. He's made stops in Hamilton, Phoenix, Tucson, Wilkes/Barre Scranton, Milwaukee, and now, Nashville, since his junior hockey days, but he still looks back at his time spent in London, Ontario, as a place that delivered some of the best moments of his life, particularly in the spring of 2012.
"That was an awesome year," Tinordi said via phone from his home in Michigan, where he's been spending his time during the pause to the NHL season. "We knew we had a good squad, and then heading into the playoffs, we had made quick work of the rest of the league, really. We won the OHL, and then playing for the Memorial Cup, that was a really cool experience."
The Memorial Cup may not dominate the headlines in the sporting landscape of the United States, but in Canada, determining the top junior club in the country garners plenty of attention. There are four participants - the winning team from the Ontario Hockey League, the Western Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, as well as the host city of the tournament, a club from one of those three leagues.
As an American, Tinordi admits he didn't realize the scope of the Memorial Cup Tournament until he became a participant himself. Those 10 days in May of 2012 spent in Shawinigan, Quebec, showed him what it was all about.
"Everyone on my team, for the most part, was pretty much Canadian, and that's like the cream of the crop besides the Stanley Cup," Tinordi said. "Winning the Memorial Cup, and Major Junior Hockey up there in general is a huge deal to those to all those kids… Being able to play against all those teams from different leagues, all the league winners essentially, was really cool. They're the best teams of every league in Canadian Junior Hockey, and it was pretty special."
Countless NHLers have faced off as teenagers for the rights to be called Memorial Cup Champions, and those Knights were no different. Names like Vladislav Namestnikov, Max Domi, Bo Horvat and Andreas Athanasiou were all teammates of Tinordi's that season, as was a familiar face.
The Knights acquired Austin Watson from Peterborough at the 2012 OHL Trade Deadline, and the power forward played an integral role in London winning the OHL title, while being named playoff MVP.
"He was awesome," Tinordi said of Watson's play that spring. "When we brought him in, and with his game and his style of play, that was especially more important in junior hockey for us at the time. Our team had great skill, we had scoring, we had everything, but he brought that edge and that shot blocking, and I think that really put us over the top. He was awesome for us."
Tinordi wasn't bad either, and the 6-foot-6 blueliner was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star Team, along with Watson, by the time the tournament had concluded. The Knights fell in overtime to Shawinigan in the final game, a heartbreaking defeat at the time, but there was still reason for the Knights to hold their heads high at season's end.
"I'm proud of that time in my hockey career," Tinordi said. "Being on a winning team like that, and going through some of the things we went through, those are all things that you use as you get older, when you look back. I was proud to be a part of that group and proud to be a part of that team. We were definitely a pretty special team."
Currently a member of the Nashville blue line, Tinordi has appeared in a career-high 28 NHL games with the Preds to this point in the season, a welcome landing spot after grinding it out in the American Hockey League since the start of the 2016 campaign.
He's been through plenty of highs and lows over the past decade as a pro, but in just about every situation that has come up in his career, Tinordi can look back at his time with the Knights - especially that Memorial Cup run - for some guidance.
"I've been on a lot of good teams, and I've been on a lot of bad teams, but you just really know the difference of what that feeling in the room was like, that preparation for a game [with the Knights]," Tinordi said. "[Every game we went into], we knew we were going to win if we played the way we should play, and we knew exactly what that game entailed as far as how we needed to play. It was just a mindset.
"You can look back and remember what we had with that team. You just had a feeling that you were going to win every game, and I think that's something that you take with you, how you carry yourself and how you prepare and things like that. They're just all the tools that you use. If you're on a bad team and struggling a little bit, you think back to those moments and try and turn things around a little bit in that way, and it all helps."