Four teams from across Canada have descended on Saint John, New Brunswick to compete for the “Stanley Cup” of Major Junior hockey, the Memorial Cup.
Made up of the three champions from the leagues that make up the CHL (WHL, OHL and QMJHL), along with the host team, the tournament is a showcase of young hockey players in a best-on-best tournament.
Adam Dennis, the general manager of the North Bay Battalion has a little bit of experience playing in the tournament, as he played for the Memorial Cup in 2004 with the Guelph Storm, and won it all in 2005 with the London Knights.
“It really is such a special tournament because you’re not just competing 20 teams, but 60 teams across Canada and you only really have a three-or four-year window to get there,” he explained. “I feel so fortunate to have been on teams that went there twice and they were two totally different experiences.”
Dennis for his part, had a strong regular season with Guelph as he won 33 games in the regular season, and added 15 more in the playoffs. His play in the post season picked up as well, going from a 2.50 goals against average and a .907 save percentage to a stingy 1.99 goals against and .919 save percentage.
“When I went with Guelph, it was a wild playoff in the OHL and we weren’t the favourite going in to the playoffs. We knocked off the London Knights who was ranked number one pretty much all year so that was an accomplishment in itself and I remember being so over the moon to win the OHL championship, then wait a sec, we have to go play against three championship teams and the Kelowna Rockets.”
The eventual Memorial Cup champion Rockets featured a roster that had future NHLers in Josh Gorges, Blake Comeau, Troy Bodie, Kyle Cumiskey, DJ King, and former Montreal Canadiens captain Shea Weber.
“We went out and lost three games,” Dennis said. “The first one was a tight 1-0 loss to the Rockets, the second we lost to the Medicine Hat Tigers 2-1, and before you know it, what was a championship season you are now down 2-0 and fighting for your lives. We ended up losing the third game and getting knocked out and it happened really quick.”
Yet, the fact that the team won the OHL championship even after losing at the Memorial Cup was not lost on the young netminder.
“It’s funny because you win a championship and it’s the whole summer you get to enjoy that,” he explained. “It was definitely strange because you go through the highs of winning an OHL championship which is not an easy thing to do, and you quickly hop in a plane and go across the country and play a tournament against the best. Certainly, it was a roller coaster of emotions.”
“We got back after losing and had our championship parade and that’s when you realized ‘ok, the year was not a failure and it was a great season and we earned that chance’ and it’s a tournament and whenever you are in a tournament, anything can happen and you need to understand it and be ready for the moment.”
For the future Troops GM, Dennis began his title defence with the Storm, but was traded to the aforementioned Knights in a trade deadline move that sent Ryan MacDonald and three draft picks to Guelph. From there, Dennis did his best DJ Khaled impression and all he did was win. In 16 regular season games with London, he won 12 of those games, posting a 1.50 goals against and a .951 save percentage. For those that don’t follow hockey stats, those are absurd numbers. In the playoffs, he continued his winning ways, picking up 9 wins in 11 games, and a 2.10 goals against with a .934 save percentage.
“I was traded to London who were hosting the 2005 Memorial Cup. They were a team that had built off the team from the year before and were a powerhouse. They began the year on like a 30 plus game winning streak. Corey Perry, Rob Schremp, they had a number of first round players, world junior guys, and I was lucky enough to be traded there are the trade deadline. Dan Girardi and myself were on that previous Guelph team and now together in London, and Dan Fritsche was acquired at the deadline too.”
As one of the few players on London that had Memorial Cup experience, Dennis says there was one goal.
“The fact that the team was hosting, the OHL championship was on the agenda but that team was so focused on going the full distance to the Memorial Cup and winning it, going through the front door. It was a special group to be a part of and to do it as a host city, had my whole family there was even more special.
"It was certainly the best hockey moment of my career, and one that I will never forget. It was special to A, be in that tournament, but to win it and you feel like you have put yourself in hockey history which is pretty cool.”
This year's Memorial Cup is being played between the WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings, OHL champs Hamilton Bulldogs, QMJHL champions, the Shawnigan Cataractes, and the host Saint John Sea Dogs. For Dennis, who got an up close and personal look at the Bulldogs in the OHL playoffs as they knocked out North Bay in the Eastern Conference final, he likes their chances.
“If they can get a healthy roster out, they have as good a chance as any. They are a team that took us to school in the conference finals, and there are things we took note of and how their roster is constructed and they are built for this moment.”
“I expect them to do well and, in any tournament, anything can happen. Even that Guelph team that I was a part of that went 0-3, two weeks later we could have been 4-0 and won the tournament. That’s how good the team was and how good the tournament is, so it should make for exciting hockey and certainly, Hamilton can beat anyone there.”
As a player, climbing the mountain and winning the tournament is one thing, but to now have the chance with how North Bay is constructed for the future, the chance to do it as an architect of the team is a big pull for the former Knight.
“It’s why my family and I moved to North Bay,” Dennis stated.
“We wanted to be a part of a team and a part of a community and when you are a part of any team, you want to win every year. We’re lucky enough in our business to go after a championship every year and the Memorial Cup is a special one to go for."
Dennis hopes to experience another hockey bucket list moment as an executive with the Battalion.
“The fact that I have reached that pinnacle as a player, I would love for the City of North Bay to experience that, and I would love my family to experience that, I think it is such a special trophy," he said.
"I think it’s a great goal to have, and it’s an easy trophy to chase."