Host Pats meet Bulldogs with Memorial Cup final berth on the line
Winner to play Acadie-Bathurst in championship game on Sunday
After a tightly contested round-robin that featured five one-goal games, as well as the elimination of Western Hockey League champion Swift Current Broncos, the semifinal of the 100th Memorial Cup gets underway on Friday night (10 p.m. ET) between the Hamilton Bulldogs and host Regina Pats.
With no top-ranked team qualifying for the tournament, it's been as unpredictable as expected.
The Swift Current Broncos and Regina Pats wrapped up the round-robin portion of the tournament on Wednesday night.
A Swift Current win would have sent the Hamilton Bulldogs straight to the final. But the Pats had something to say about that.
Pats finally get revenge
Fifty one days after their heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Broncos in the first-round of the post-season, the Pats finally got even with their WHL counterparts.
Colorado Avalanche prospect Nick Henry scored a hat trick, and Sam Steel assisted on five of Regina's six goals in a 6-5 victory.
RECAP: Steel and Henry push Pats into Mastercard Memorial Cup Semi-Final. Details and highlights here: <a href="https://t.co/3jU7aNAGQ1">https://t.co/3jU7aNAGQ1</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JoinTheRegiment?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#JoinTheRegiment</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MMC100?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MMC100</a> <a href="https://t.co/R1CTd3r7P4">pic.twitter.com/R1CTd3r7P4</a>—@WHLPats
Steel has been spectacular in the tournament, scoring 11 points in just three games. That's two better than Titan forward Jeffrey Truchon-Viel, who has nine points in the same amount of matches.
Regina and Swift Current have seen more than enough of each other this season; they've played 14 times since October.
The Pats will now look ahead to their next opponent in the way of a fifth Memorial Cup title: the Hamilton Bulldogs.
<a href="https://twitter.com/BulldogsOHL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BulldogsOHL</a> vs <a href="https://twitter.com/WHLPats?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WHLPats</a> in <a href="https://twitter.com/MCMemorialCup?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MCMemorialCup</a> semi-final Friday night.<br><br>READ > <a href="https://t.co/J8m3NyYLm9">https://t.co/J8m3NyYLm9</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BulldogsAssemble?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BulldogsAssemble</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MCMemorialCup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MCMemorialCup</a> <a href="https://t.co/6L9xQBUd1D">pic.twitter.com/6L9xQBUd1D</a>—@BulldogsOHL
Solid round robin for Dogs
The Bulldogs were no pushovers in their first-ever Memorial Cup tournament, losing their first game before winning the next two in back-to-back nights.
They'll have an opportunity to get some revenge of their own in Friday night's semifinal.
In the opening game of the tournament, the Bulldogs lost a nail-biter to the Pats, 3-2.
Despite leading twice in the game, Henry scored with less than a minute left in regulation to give Regina the win. Of course, Steel had one of the assists.
Hamilton bounced back after the loss, though.
The Bulldogs won both of their next two games against Swift Current and Acadie-Bathurst — both by one goal.
While no player has stood out statistically throughout the first three games, Marian Studenic was the hero against the Broncos on Monday night.
After waking up sick and barely being able to play, the New Jersey Devils' fifth-round pick scored the winner with just over two minutes left in regulation to give Hamilton a 2-1 win.
🚨 GOOOOOALL! 🚨 <a href="https://twitter.com/Studa_19?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Studa_19</a> puts the Bulldogs in the lead with 2 minutes left to play! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BulldogsAssemble?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BulldogsAssemble</a> <a href="https://t.co/Dt3QIoxwrH">pic.twitter.com/Dt3QIoxwrH</a>—@BulldogsOHL
This game shouldn't have been close. The Bulldogs peppered Broncos goaltender Stuart Skinner with an astounding 56 shots. But Skinner kept the WHL champions in it.
Hamilton rode the momentum into Monday's game against the Titan, where Robert Thomas continued to dazzle on junior hockey's brightest stage.
The St. Louis Blues' first-round prospect scored a goal and added an assist in a 3-2 win.
Offensive defenceman Benjamin Gleason and Ancaster, Ont.,'s Nicholas Caamano also chipped in with goals.
2 wins not enough
Even with the respectable 2-1 records, the Bulldogs and Pats didn't do enough to earn a bye to the final.
Instead, they'll play in the semifinal exactly a week to the day they faced each other in the tournament opener.
While the Bulldogs have thrived on low-scoring contests, it's been a different story for the Pats.
Aside from the 6-5 win over Swift Current, they dropped an 8-6 decision to the Titan. Their only relatively low-scoring game came against the Bulldogs.
If the Bulldogs want to book their trip to the final in front of a raucous crowd in Regina, their main goal will be shutting down Steel and Henry.
Along with Cameron Hebig, the three make up the most dangerous line in the tournament.
The trio have combined for 23 points in three games.
For Hamilton, they will fight to get past the only team they haven't beaten in the tournament. For Regina, its continuing to redeem itself after a disappointing playoff exit.
Only one will play for the 100th Memorial Cup on Sunday.