Monday, May 28, 2012

The Perks of Playing Host

Last night, the Shawinigan Cataractes won the Memorial Cup on home ice, defeating the London Knights in overtime. It was the second straight season the QMHL has won the Memorial Cup and the ninth time the host team has won the Memorial Cup. In the 1982-83, the Canadian Hockey League said they would expand to a four-team tournament, including the three league champions and a host team. Now, the caveat in the early years is that the teams had to make it far enough to qualify to play in their own barn.

Only once since 1983 did only three teams play and that was in 1987 when the OHL decided to hold a "Super Series" between Oshawa and North Bay. Oshawa won the series, as well as beating North Bay in the OHL Finals, thus making only three teams for the Memorial Cup.

While some people believe hosting the Memorial Cup gives that team an unfair advantage or is a silly objective; the number really don't support that theory in the long run. Here's some fun facts before my take.

Number of Memorial Cup Tournaments with Host Teams: 29
Number of Host Teams to Win Memorial Cup: 9
Number of Host Teams to Win Memorial Cup, but not their League: 6
Number of Host Teams to Win Their League: 7
Number of Host Teams Who Didn't Participate: 3 (1988 Chicoutimi Sagueneens [DNQ]; 1990 Hamilton Dukes [Disbanded mid-season]; 1991 Beauport Harfangs [DNQ])

So, when you look at it, 31% of the team who host the event, which isn't horrible, but it's not like the trend is a big deal or something to be considered silly. A more surprising stat could be the teams who hosted that didn't win their league-- because what has happened at some times in the past is that when a team get selected to host, a lot of NHL teams would talk to the Major Junior teams that their prospects belong to and ask for them to be traded to the host team because they would be with a competitive team and be seen in meaningful games. It would also help the team in gaining attendance if premier prospects are on the roster.

Though the idea of having a host team is a little bit interesting, especially when you see that Shawinigan, who was the second seed in the QMJHL, didn't make it past the second-round of the playoffs. Even though they did play exhibitions against some decent talent during their break, the fact they had more of a rest than other teams could have played to an advantage. They may not have been as good as the other teams, but rested legs would play crucial to a tournament like this.

Even so, the host team is a valuable status symbol for teams. With the big business that Major Junior hockey has become across North America, to get the event would be big for the local economy and national exposure of the city. If a "small" town gets the event, it's a huge boom and get the fans into the whole event, if they wouldn't be already. It centralizes the game and has the focus in one place rather than having it going back and forth between cities. However, it's just a thing that could work for Major Junior hockey and not professional leagues.

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