The London Knights are your 2016 Memorial Cup champions. It wasn’t much of a surprise, as the juggernaut Knights finished their season on a 17-game winning streak, culminating in a 3-2 overtime win in the Memorial Cup final over the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Despite the star-studded Knights defeating the #1 ranked team in the CHL in the Huskies, the well-balanced team from tiny Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec still had a season to remember.
After placing 11th in the league the year prior, the Huskies were expected to build on their playoff appearance, led by Ottawa Senators prospect Francis Perron and 2015 Boston Bruins pick Jeremy Lauzon. However, the Huskies raced out to a quick start and never looked back, finishing the season on a 14-game winning streak and capturing first place in the QMJHL standings in a landslide. Along the way, the Huskies finished first in the league in goals scored and second in goals against, in large part thanks to the stellar play of their overage goaltender, Chase Marchand.
After being picked up off of waivers from the Victoriaville Tigres prior to the season, Marchand initially split time with Rouyn-Noranda’s draft-eligible backup Samuel Harvey. However, as the season went on, Marchand captured a larger percentage of the Huskies’ starts with his strong play, as Harvey was inconsistent in his second full season in Rouyn-Noranda. The Huskies surpassed all expectations, as they only lost nine times in regulation and finished the season as the top-ranked team in the entire Canadian Hockey League (CHL). Along the way, Marchand captured the Jacques Plante trophy as the goaltender with the best goals-against average, cementing himself as the Huskies’ starter entering the QMJHL playoffs.
Road to the President’s Cup
The Huskies entered the playoffs as the league’s #1 seed, kicking off the playoffs against the 8th-seeded Drummondville Voltigeurs. The Huskies, who set a franchise record for points in a season, made quick work of the Voltigeurs, sweeping the lesser Drummondville team while outscoring them 33-4.
Marchand wasn’t much of a household name entering the playoffs, with much of the focus on the Huskies surrounding captain and QMJHL scoring champion Francis Perron and midseason addition Timo Meier, a 2015 first round pick of the San Jose Sharks. However, it was during the Huskies’ second round playoff series against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada that Marchand established himself as a playoff darling, only allowing two goals in the five-game series victory for the Huskies. Along the way, Marchand established a new QMJHL shutout streak record, going 223 minutes and 23 seconds without allowing a goal, leading the Huskies to a dominant 14-2 goal differential against a strong Armada team.
Marchand’s video game-like numbers took a bit of a hit in the third round, as the Huskies faced off against the Moncton Wildcats and their diminutive superstar, two-time QMJHL scoring champion Conor Garland. Despite pacing the league with 129 points in the regular season, the Huskies’ strong defensive effort led by Marchand held the 2015 Arizona Coyotes draft pick to just two goals and three points in their six-game series.
Marchand’s incredible run continued in the championship series against the Shawinigan Cataractes, led by high-flying forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Dmytro Timashov. Marchand, however, was up to the task, as he allowed just nine goals in the series as the Huskies defeated Shawinigan in just five games. Marchand, who had bounced around with three different teams in the previous two seasons, finished the playoffs with an astounding six shutouts in just 15 games played. In a league whose alumni includes NHL stars Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, and Roberto Luongo, Marchand set QMJHL playoff records with a 1.35 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage.
— Brad MacCharles (@TheGoalieEmpire) May 14, 2016
As the newly-crowned President’s Cup champions as the best team in the QMJHL, the Huskies booked their ticket to Red Deer, Alberta to take on the host Rebels, OHL champion London Knights, and WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings for a shot at capturing the Memorial Cup. While Rouyn-Noranda headed to Red Deer as the #1 ranked team in the entire CHL, the London Knights’ superstar trio of Christian Dvorak, Matthew Tkachuk, and OHL Most Valuable Player Mitch Marner had carried the OHL champions to a 13-game winning streak to close out the OHL Playoffs.
The Huskies opened the tournament against the Wheat Kings, who had captured the WHL title on the strength of CHL defenseman of the year Ivan Provorov and likely 2017 1st overall pick Nolan Patrick. Despite falling well behind the Wheat Kings in shots and possession time, the Huskies were able to carry a 3-1 lead into the first period thanks to the stellar play of Marchand. In total, Marchand tallied an impressive 38 saves on 41 shots in a 5-3 victory for Rouyn-Noranda.
Marchand and the Huskies fell to the Red Deer Rebels in a surprising upset from the underdog host team, but the Huskies were thoroughly outplayed by a much stronger team and struggled to get shots on the relatively weaker Rebels squad. And while Marchand displayed a valiant effort behind a lackluster defensive display, he conceded five goals on 38 shots in a disappointing 5-2 loss for the Huskies. Marchand had by far his weakest game of the tournament against the London Knights two nights later, as eventual Memorial Cup MVP Mitch Marner and his London teammate popped five goals by Marchand on just 25 shots, forcing them to win a semifinal rematch against the Rebels three days later to reach the championship final against the undefeated London Knights.
Despite being the top ranked CHL squad for the majority of the season, the Huskies entered the final as underdogs against the Knights, who had earned a bye to the final by winning all three of their preliminary round games. Despite the Knights’ top line occupying the three top spots on the Memorial Cup scoring list, including Mitch Marner’s jaw-dropping 13 points in three games, Marchand and the Huskies pushed the Knights to an overtime game before conceding the winning goal to Matthew Tkachuk. Despite the loss, Marchand made over 30 saves for the fourth time in the tournament and kept his team in the game with several timely saves.
Potential NHL Future
Marchand is in a unique spot due to his late birthday in December 1995. First eligible for the draft in 2014, Marchand’s play did not warrant an NHL Draft selection in 2014 or as a draft re-entry in 2015. At 20-years-old, despite his record-breaking postseason run, Marchand is unlikely to hear his name called among the 210 players selected in the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo.
It’s become increasingly common in recent seasons to see undrafted players out of the CHL capitalize on strong postseason performances by parlaying them into tryouts, and eventually contracts, with an NHL club. Marchand’s teammate and one of the Huskies’ most reliable defensemen, Philippe Myers, went unselected in his first season of draft eligibility last year. However, he was invited to the training camp of the Philadelphia Flyers and earned himself a contract with a strong showing. The starting goaltender for last season’s Memorial Cup champions, Ken Appleby of the Oshawa Generals, earned himself an invitation to two NHL camps after capturing the Memorial Cup’s Most Outstanding Goaltender.
Marchand appears to be one of the hottest goaltending prospects in the game right now, and with a lack of elite goaltending prospects available for this year’s draft, Marchand could be an under-the-radar signing following the draft. Teams lacking goaltending depth such as the Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Edmonton Oilers could take a long look at Marchand after the record-setting postseason he experienced this season.
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