Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mem Cup final truly battle of the best

Halifax, Portland at apex of CHL

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SASKATOON -- The Halifax Mooseheads and Portland Winterhawks have been at the apex of the Canadian Hockey League all season, so it's only fitting that the powerhouse clubs will meet in the MasterCard Memorial Cup final.

The teams will play for the CHL title today in a showcase game that will feature not only the best clubs in junior hockey, but also the top prospects ahead of next month's NHL draft.

"We can't wait. We played our last game on Tuesday and if we could play it this afternoon, right now, we're ready," Halifax coach Dominique Ducharme said Saturday. "To be playing in that last game, that was what we wanted to do and that's where we wanted to be so now it's time to make the most out of it."

Portland defenceman Seth Jones and Halifax centre Nathan MacKinnon are the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. Although both have the ability to be gamebreakers, Winterhawks coach Travis Green says his focus isn't on the hype surrounding the potential top picks.

"I don't look at it as a MacKinnon-Jones thing at all. It's Portland-Halifax," Green said. "They've got a lot of good players other than MacKinnon. He's obviously a really good player, Jones is a great player, but it's coming down to our team against their team and nothing more than that."

MacKinnon, who is friends with Jones off the ice, says it's too simplistic to suggest the game will come down to the two players.

"I want to play really hard against him and he's going to play really hard against," he said. "It's going to be a team thing going on out there. Both of us have deep teams and a lot of talented players so it's not going to be a Nathan versus Seth kind of thing."

Another Moosehead, forward Jonathan Drouin, considered the third-best North American prospect, was named CHL Player of the Year Saturday.

The Mooseheads, who lost just six games in the regular season and once in the playoffs as the CHL's top-ranked team before earning a bye right to the final of this tournament with a 2-1 record, are looking to become the third straight team from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to win the Memorial Cup after Saint John in 2011 and Shawinigan last year.

The Winterhawks, meanwhile, had similar success in the Western Hockey League, finishing No. 2 in the rankings, but had a tumultuous campaign off the ice. The team had to deal with the season-long suspension of coach and general manager Mike Johnston for transgressions that included financial perks for players and their families.

"After the sanctions we played with a chip on our shoulder. With Mike gone we definitely used that as fuel throughout the rest of the season," Portland centre Taylor Peters said. "If we win this it just shows that nothing can stop us."

Winterhawks right-winger Ty Rattie, who leads the tournament with five goals, says his team deserves to be in the final after a trying campaign.

"It's kind of surreal. Everything you went through and especially our team this year, all the ups and downs we had. It's a cool feeling," he said.

The Mooseheads and Winterhawks are two highly offensive clubs that can score in bunches. Halifax beat Portland 7-4 in the round robin portion of the tournament, but neither side is putting much emphasis on that result.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2013 B4

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