The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies triumphed on Sunday night in a rematch of the QMJHL Championship series, defeating the hometown Halifax Mooseheads in a thrilling comeback win to capture their first Memorial Cup title. Many players stepped up their games with junior hockey’s greatest prize on the line, including top prospects Noah Dobson, Antoine Morand, and potential 2019 first-round pick Raphael Lavoie.
However, it was unheralded Czech import Jakub Lauko who was arguably the Huskies’ best player throughout the tournament, as he tied for the tournament lead in points and assisted on the game-winning goal as Rouyn-Noranda completed the unlikely comeback against Halifax.
While the biggest names and top prospects often steal the spotlight on the biggest stage in the Canadian Hockey League, the one-and-done nature of the short tournament allows for any player to step up and cement themselves in the history books.
Here are a select few who etched their names into CHL history with unforgettable performances in the Memorial Cup.
Mitch Marner, London Knights – 2016
Mitch Marner, in his highlight-filled final junior season in 2015-16, capped off one of the greatest seasons in OHL history by capturing the Memorial Cup with the London Knights.
Marner, who had played a minor depth role in his rookie season when the Knights hosted the 2014 Memorial Cup, drove the bus for a Knights team that went wire-to-wire as the team to beat in the OHL and entered the 2016 Memorial Cup as a heavy favourite. Marner had a 2015-16 season to remember, capturing the OHL’s regular season and playoff MVP honours, as well as being named CHL Player of the Year.
The Memorial Cup proved more of the same for Marner, who had wrapped up a historically great OHL playoff run (18 goals, 44 points) and led the star-studded Knights to an undefeated run in Red Deer with an astounding 12 assists and 14 points in just four games.
While Marner has gone on to become one of the NHL’s preeminent young stars with the Toronto Maple Leafs, his performance in 2016 remains one of the biggest accomplishments of his career and stands as one of the greatest performances in recent Memorial Cup history.
Nathan Mackinnon, Halifax Mooseheads – 2013
Nathan Mackinnon has emerged as one of the top players in the NHL, finishing second in Hart Trophy voting two seasons ago and setting new career highs in goals and points this season. However, many Mooseheads fans have seen Mackinnon’s star potential for years, ever since he played a star role for Halifax between 2011 and 2013.
Mackinnon’s second season with the Mooseheads had failed to live up to the sky-high expectations of his rookie season in the QMJHL. He missed some time due to injury, failing to match his scoring totals from the season prior, and languished on the fourth line at the World Juniors while Canada limped to their first medal-less performance in over a decade.
In addition, teammate Jonathan Drouin had outshone Mackinnon at times during the season, leading to some rumours that the Avalanche were considering other options with their first overall pick.
However, Mackinnon seemingly turned his game up in the playoffs, putting together a dominant run with 33 points in just 17 games to help lead the Mooseheads to the QMJHL championship and a free pass to the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon.
Facing off against fellow top prospect Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks, Mackinnon showed off his dominant offensive ability, racking up seven goals and 13 points in the tournament to lead the Mooseheads to their first and only Memorial Cup championship.
Most notably, Mackinnon notched a hat trick against Portland in the final game of the tournament, showing his mettle in pressure situations and cementing himself as the first overall pick in 2013.
Dustin Tokarski, Spokane Chiefs – 2008
Just two goaltenders have captured the Stafford Smythe Trophy as Memorial Cup MVP in the last twenty years, with the Spokane Chiefs’ Dustin Tokarski being the last to do so in 2008.
The Chiefs, as one of the CHL’s only American teams, were consistently able to make the playoffs in a competitive WHL conference. However, the 2007-08 season proved to be their most successful, with a team record in points and wins leading to their second WHL championship in franchise history.
While the Chiefs had just five future NHL players on their roster, Tokarski proved to be the difference, notching historic playoff marks with a 1.38 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage (SV%) as the Chiefs dominated the Lethbridge Hurricanes to capture the WHL Championship.
Tokarski was even better in the Memorial Cup, as the Chiefs went undefeated in the round robin before shutting down the high-flying Kitchener Rangers in the final to win the Memorial Cup. Tokarski’s performance against the Rangers, who rostered the tournament’s top two highest scorers, stands as one of the best goaltending performances in the history of the Memorial Cup.
Despite the Chiefs taking the game 4-1, they were outshot by a more experienced and skilled Kitchener team 54-25. Tokarski made 53 saves, including 25 in a scoreless third period for the Rangers, and finished the tournament with an impressive .953 SV% to claim MVP honours.
Sidney Crosby, Rimouski Oceanic – 2005
The 2005 Memorial Cup featured a matchup between two of the most talented junior hockey teams in recent history. While most remember the tournament for the dominance of the Knights, who were recently named as the CHL’s Team of the Century, Sidney Crosby’s playoff and Memorial Cup run should be remembered as one of the greatest in CHL history.
Crosby’s 2004-05 saw him live up to the hype as one of the most talked-about prospects in junior hockey history. He notched an incredible 168 points and added 31 more in the playoffs, leading the Rimouski Oceanic to a QMJHL Championship while losing just one playoff game along the way.
The Memorial Cup was the first instance all season where a team showed the ability to hang with the Oceanic, as the OHL champion Knights handed Rimouski just their second loss in nearly four months to open the tournament.
However, Crosby’s brilliance helped the Oceanic bounce back from the loss. Crosby tallied six goals and 11 points throughout the tournament as Rimouski reeled off three straight wins to earn a rematch against the Knights. Not only did he pace the tournament in scoring, but he also helped his linemates finish second and third in the tournament in scoring.
While the Knights shut out Crosby and the Oceanic in the final to win the Memorial Cup, Crosby’s incredible effort throughout the playoffs and Memorial Cup certainly lived up to sky-high expectations.
The Memorial Cup, junior hockey’s biggest prize, is one of the biggest stages in Canada and is always under the spotlight during the annual tournament. Top NHL prospects get a chance to prove their mettle on the biggest stage, while lesser-known prospects have a chance to prove themselves against top competition and earn a shot with an NHL team. Who will etch their names into CHL history next year in Kelowna?
Joseph Aleong is an At-Large writer for THW from Toronto, Ontario. He is a graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Follow him on Twitter @josephaleong11