By Liam Staples

Now that time has passed since we saw the hosts Saginaw Spirit be crowned the 2024 Memorial Cup Champions, I felt it was only appropriate to reflect on the ten-day experience in Saginaw, Michigan at the 2024 CHL Memorial Cup presented by Dow.

The atmosphere sitting in the crowd watching all four teams compete was an experience like none-other. This was the first Memorial Cup appearance in franchise history for the Western Hockey League Champions Moose Jaw Warriors. And the Drummondville Voltigeurs first appearance since 2009 and the first appearance since winning the Memorial Cup in 2016 for the Ontario Hockey League Champions London Knights.

The Memorial Cup was quite the event to experience for the first time traveling to Saginaw, Michigan. The community rallied behind their hometown Spirit showing their support with beautiful painted murals, posters on street posts, advertisements on billboards and outside of local restaurants all across the city. The Dow Event Center, home of the Saginaw Spirit, was the place to be in Michigan during this ten-day event.

Live music, delicious food trucks, fans tailgating, and street hockey games were all going on outside the arena before every game. The legendary Grind Line consisting of Kris Draper, Joey Kocur, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty, from the Stanley Cup winning Detroit Red Wings teams in the late 90’s to early 2000’s were all in attendance getting fans excited for the event and shared their experiences playing in Detroit and touched upon the impact of hosting a monumental hockey event like the Memorial Cup will have on hockey in Michigan. Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby are still currently involved with the Red Wings organization as Draper is the current Director of Scouting and Maltby is a Pro Scout.

The attendance was full of hockey personnel with NHL General Managers (saw Utah GM Bill Armstrong), scouts, and players (former CHL players and a few USNTDP players) all at the event. A fascinating partnership that deserves mentioning was the community art contest that was held for school children in the area. The artwork was designed around the theme “United We Soar” promoting the valued relationship between Canada and the United States, being an American city hosting the Memorial Cup and celebrating the achievements of everyone involved in the tournament that led them to where they are today. The selected winners of the contest had their artwork printed on game tickets and posted along the walls of the hallway from the Spirit’s dressing room to the ice surface.

My time away from the rink was spent exploring the city of Saginaw. I explored a few hiking trails in the area, most notably at the Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan. The Dow Gardens is a 110-acre botanical garden with a canopy walk, unique bridges and walking trails. Fun fact, in 1899, Herbert H. Dow and his wife, Grace A. Dow built their estate on the property, Herbert Dow went on to create the Dow chemical company which was a main sponsor of the 2024 Memorial Cup.

Most notably, one of the top tourist attractions in the Great Lakes Bay Region is Frankenmuth, Michigan, approximately 20 minutes south of Saginaw. Frankenmuth is famous for its Bavarian culture and architecture as the community was settled by German immigrants in the late 1800’s. The historical and art museums in Frankenmuth are a must-see. One of the top tourist destinations in Frankenmuth is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, promoted as the “World’s Largest Christmas Store”, the store carries everything Christmas related you can think of; ornaments, decorations, lights, trees, wreaths, nativity scenes, clothing, Christmas cards, wrapping paper, you name it.

The Memorial Cup kicked off with the host Saginaw Spirit taking on the WHL Champions Moose Jaw Warriors. The hosts jumped to a quick lead and never looked back, winning their first game 5-4. Moose Jaw made a push late in the second period and carried over the momentum into the final frame led by their stars Seattle Kraken Prospect Jagger Firkus, Pittsburgh Penguins Prospect Brayden Yager, Buffalo Sabres Prospect Matthew Savoie and Columbus Blue Jackets Prospect Denton Mateychuk, who tallied for a combined nine points in the hockey game.

The OHL and QMJHL Champions kicked off their tournaments against each other with the OHL Champions London Knights earning the win with a 4-0 victory thanks to a two-goal effort from Knights forward Ruslan Gazizov. Philadelphia Flyers Prospect Oliver Bonk was named Player of the Game with a goal and assist in the hockey game.

Saginaw and Drummondville met for their second game of the tournament. The Voltiguers scored their first two goals of the Memorial Cup climbing to a 2-0 lead over the hosts. Saginaw battled back squaring the game 2-2 before a late go-ahead goal by the Voltigeurs late in the second period. The Spirit kept pushing and were rewarded with two goals in the third period to win the game 4-3.

London battled Moose Jaw in their respective second games. A game filled with tons of elite talent and skill across the ice, the offence was in full force. In a game, many were expecting London to dominate and just overpower Moose Jaw, the Warriors secured the first goal of the hockey game. The Knights found their groove thanks to another goal by forward Ruslan Gazizov, the Knights opened the floodgates eventually commanding a 5-2 lead. Just six seconds after London jumped to a 5-2 lead, Moose Jaw scored from a shot well far out to make it a 5-3 game. A very entertaining fight between London forward Max McCue and Moose Jaw defender Caleb Parker sparked more adrenaline into the game setting up for an exciting third period. The camera angles of the scrap captured by the TSN broadcasting team were incredible, the camera work of the fight became a huge talking point in the hockey world and I highly recommend watching it on YouTube. Moose Jaw pushed for the equalizer in the third but the Knights defense stayed strong earning them the victory.

In the final set of round-robin games for Moose Jaw and Drummondville, both clubs were sitting winless, requiring a victory or else they were going home out of the tournament. The teams started the game out playing cautious, figuring each other out and playing safe taking minimal risks to avoid making a potential mistake. Moose Jaw climbed to a 3-0 lead as the game started to open up a lot more. Drummondville stormed back with three unanswered goals to tie the hockey game. Drummondville was surging offensively looking to score the goal ahead goal. Moose Jaw Warriors forward and Kraken Prospect Jagger Firkus took a very unnecessary and undisciplined roughing penalty by shoving a Voltigeurs player on the bench.  Moose Jaw defender Aiden Ziprick scored the eventual game-winning goal while short-handed, killing off Firkus’ penalty. Ziprick scored two goals all season, the first was in the final game of the WHL regular season and now in the Memorial Cup to send his team to the semi-final. Warriors goalie Jackson Ungar was named player of the game, he made 49 saves on 52 shots in the game.

The highly anticipated round robin matchup between two undefeated teams with the winner advancing straight to the Memorial Cup final while the other must battle through Moose Jaw for a shot of redemption for the Memorial Cup. Forward Alex Christopolous got the Spirit on the board first with a controversial goal after the puck ricocheted off his foot before sliding into the net, the Knights appealed for a kicking-motion, but the goal stood. NHL Draft prospect Zayne Parekh was called for a four-minute-high sticking penalty, San Jose Sharks prospect Kasper Halttunen scored on the power-play with a nice toe-drag release shot. The Spirit and Knights were deadlocked at two goals apiece late in the third period before Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Easton Cowan scored the game-winning goal for the Knights to push them into the Memorial Cup final. In a moment when his team needed him most, Easton Cowan shined, stepping up big for his team, just like all star players are required to do in big moments, Cowan was the deal breaker and scored the big goal for the Knights. 

The semi-final game was set between the host Saginaw Spirit and WHL Champions Moose Jaw Warriors. The hosts Saginaw were looking to punch their ticket for a re-match with London in the final while Moose Jaw were aiming to find glory like the 2009 Windsor Spitfires team, who won the 2009 Memorial Cup after falling to a 0-2 record in their first two round-robin games. The first period was tightly contested, Saginaw scored first with a goal by Ethan Hay however, Moose Jaw forward Jagger Firkus replied with a goal of his own. Saginaw scored the eventual game-winning goal early in the second period off a shot from Spirit captain Braden Haché. It appeared Moose Jaw’s tank was empty, the players were out of gas, they struggled to create offence and could not withhold the attacking push by the Spirit. Saginaw defeated Moose Jaw 7-1 to advance to the final, setting up a rematch with the London Knights.

The stage was set for an all-OHL Memorial Cup final between the OHL Champions London Knights vs the hosts Saginaw Spirit. This was the first all OHL Memorial Cup final since 2017 when the host Windsor Spitfires defeated OHL Champions Erie Otters. The Knights were favoured to win the Memorial Cup as they were seen as a complete team filled with skill, speed and grit throughout their lineup. They had the experience of losing in the OHL finals a year prior to Peterborough. With their core still in tack, the Hunters made a deal to acquire OHL champion goalie Michael Simpson from Peterborough last summer to help backstop the Knights for their expected playoff run. The Knights had the best record in the OHL finishing with 104 points, just two points more than Saginaw. London won 7 of their 11 meetings against the Spirit this year, outscoring the Spirit 43-36 in those 11 games.

Saginaw were a team also filled with NHL prospects and carried players with skill throughout their lineup. In a winner take-all final anything can happen. The crowd for the Memorial Cup final was electric, it felt like the Dow Event Center was split in half, first you would hear fans cheering on the Saginaw Spirit then chants cheering on the London Knights would break out. Heading into the final, you knew the first goal was going to be very important.

The Spirit could not have drawn up a more perfect start to the final.

Saginaw was creating chances early, efficient with their puck movement and not allowing London to set up offensively. Montreal Canadiens prospect Owen Beck opened the scoring in the final midway through the first period. Frustration was starting to boil over for the Knights, being heavily outshot by Saginaw, San Jose Sharks prospect Landon Sim received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a check to the head on Spirit defenseman Zayne Parekh. Parekh had to leave the ice to receive medical treatment but returned to the hockey game. Saginaw punished London for the major penalty with another goal by Owen Beck.

Nashville Predators prospect Joey Willis increased the Spirit lead 3-0 over London. By the end of the second period, Saginaw was out shooting London 24-6.

The Knights were able to trim the deficit to 3-1 with a goal by Kasper Halttunen on a wrister over the Spirits shoulder. The Knights were slowly starting to come alive then Easton Cowan scored a goal to bring the Knights within one off a nice assist from Sam Dickinson and Oliver Bonk. Less than five minutes later, 2024 NHL Draft eligible prospect Sam Dickinson scored to tie the game on a beautiful shot top corner in the slot.

The momentum in the game completely shifted. The Knights took over, still being heavily outshot by Saginaw, London was still in the hockey game and carried all the momentum and confidence. Saginaw withheld the Knights late attack most notably with an important timely save by Spirit goalie Andrew Oke on Easton Cowan late in the third period. The atmosphere was tense, the final had everything a hockey fan could expect; lots of goals, a late comeback push, key timely saves and end with a game-winning one goal game. The game was looking like it was going to end in overtime, before Vancouver Canucks prospect Josh Bloom, playing in his final game as an overager, poked home the loose puck in the Knights crease with less than a minute to play giving Saginaw a 4-3 lead.

London was the team Saginaw could not solve all season, finishing two points behind London in the regular season standings, losing the season series, losing to London in the conference finals, losing in the final minutes in the round-robin and having their three-goal lead erased in the Memorial Cup final, it seemed impossible for London to lose but Saginaw continued to battle and managed to get the goal they needed to defeat the Knights in the final.

Saginaw Spirit forward Owen Beck was named MVP of the 2024 Memorial Cup while London Knights forward Easton Cowan finished first in points with 8 points in 4 games.

A major storyline heading into this year’s Memorial Cup was the top two ranked draft eligible players in the CHL going head-to-head between Zayne Parekh and Sam Dickinson.

2024 NHL Draft eligible Zayne Parekh finished the Memorial Cup with 1 goal, 4 assists for 5 points in 5 games. Parekh performed well at the Memorial Cup. He was a key contributor offensively for the Spirit in the tournament. The extra time off after being eliminated by London in the OHL playoffs benefited Parekh as it provided additional time to recover from injury he suffered earlier in the OHL playoffs. I thought Parekh was excellent in using his feet to exit the zone when under pressure. His lateral skating ability along the blueline opened up shooting lanes and his creativity with the puck was evident through his deceptive passes. Parekh was a targeted player by the opposition, he handled physicality fairly well, he made some mistakes in the defensive zone as a result from physicality, it is an aspect that needs to be eliminated moving forward but his skating, hockey IQ and offensive threat are the strong suits of his game which will make him a valuable top prospect for the NHL club that drafts him.

2024 NHL Draft eligible Sam Dickinson of the London Knights finished with 2 goals, 2 assists for 4 points in 4 games. Dickinson had an excellent performance in the Memorial Cup. Dickinson was a key piece to the Knights defensive core. Observing Dickinson all season leading up the Memorial Cup, his game elevated as the pressure mounted and he earned more trust from his coach Dale Hunter. In all four of London’s games Dickinson was on the ice playing every situation, even-strength and on special teams. Standing at 6’3” he skates extremely well for his size, excellent on his edges to protect the puck, plays with poise, no panic threshold and completes smart passes to create offence. At 195 lbs, Dickinson has the physical element in his game too. He closes his gaps quickly and eliminates space from his opponents. He finishes his checks and clears the front of the net through effective box outs and timely stick lifts. Dickinson was highly dependable playing a lot of minutes on the Knights blueline, minutes he earned through hard work on the ice. He helped ignite the Knights comeback in the Memorial Cup final recording the primary assist on Easton Cowan’s goal to bring London within one. Only a few minutes later Dickinson scored the game-tying goal on a wrist shot from the slot. Dickinson stepped up on the big stage, although the result did not go in his team’s favour, he had an excellent Memorial Cup.

Sam O’Reilly of the London Knights, a draft eligible prospect in 2024, was another prospect who may see his draft stock rise after the tournament. Sam O’Reilly was another player that improved as a player as the season progressed. O’Reilly performed well in the Memorial Cup finishing with 1 goal, 3 assists for 4 points. His lone goal of the tournament was one for the highlights. He took advantage of his opponent standing flat footed and made a nice move to the net before roofing the puck over the goalie’s shoulder, O’Reilly saw the goalie in his butterfly and knew he needed to elevate the puck to score. Watching O’Reilly play he uses his hockey IQ so effectively. He is a player that competes and does the little things right that leads to success for his team. O’Reilly recorded the primary assist on Cowan’s game winning goal to send London to the Memorial Cup final. His assist was very subtle but extremely important. O’Reilly is collecting a pass from teammate Oliver Bonk, as the puck approaches, he makes a timing stick lift on Saginaw forward Matyas Sapovaliv, this allows the puck to arrive to his stick cleanly and enter the o-zone, O’Reilly completes a pass into space to an area only Cowan can get to, beating his opponent to the puck, creating a high danger scoring chance that London capitalizes on to win the game. Watching the game, Cowan gets a lot of credit for the winning goal, which he fully deserves but the play can not happen without the play seconds before from O’Reilly. Playing for a London Knights team stacked with NHL prospects, O’Reilly similar to Easton Cowan and Oliver Bonk, was a high pick in his OHL draft and did not play for the Knights in his OHL rookie season however, he used his time in the OJHL to continue to develop as a player and push for a spot on the Knights roster the following season. As the Knights move forward next season with a few key departures from their lineup, I fully expect O’Reilly to become the next player up, similar to Cowan was this season and help lead the charge offensively for the Knights.

Michael Misa was the eighth player in the CHL granted exceptional status, drafted first overall in the 2022 OHL Draft. After winning the bid to host the 2024 Memorial Cup, Misa and Zayne Parekh, who was also drafted by Saginaw in the 2022 OHL Draft, became the draft pieces Saginaw wanted to build their Memorial Cup team around. Heading into the Memorial Cup, eyes were on Misa. Michael finished with 5 assists in the tournament, highlighted by a 3 assist effort earning player of the game against Drummondville in the round-robin. Coming off a regular season with 75 points, 29 goals and 46 assists in 67 games while accumulating 11 points in 17 playoff games, it was exciting to watch Misa live up close. Misa plays on the wing, he has solid hands with the puck and likes to create offence using his speed. He is a very talented skater, he only requires a few strides to reach stop speed, plays great on his edges and moves laterally very well with the puck. He is a pass first playmaker. Observing Misa throughout the tournament, I can notice his high potential. He showed glimpses of his skill with the puck, creating quick looks for his teammates and looking to generate speed through the neutral zone. I would like to see him shoot the puck more. It will be interesting to watch Misa entering his third season in the OHL, if he can add more strength to his body and implement what he learned from the playoffs and Memorial Cup and develop to become the number one guy offensively for the Spirit next season. Watching him at this year’s Memorial Cup, he was an important piece to the Spirit’s roster but he was outshined for minutes and production by the NHL prospects on his team but, as the majority of the players will be moving on with their hockey careers, Misa will be given a larger role on the team and highly dependent upon to create offence next season. Misa is not draft eligible until the 2025 NHL Draft. He is currently projected to be a top five selection in his draft class. Winning can be added to Misa’s scouting profile as he has now won the OHL Cup and Memorial Cup.

For a more in-depth analysis of the 2024 NHL Draft Class, get your hands on the comprehensive DraftPro 2024 Draft Guide now!

In the 2024 Draft Guide our team ranks the top 224 NHL Draft eligibles, provides well-written profiles on the top 224 names for this year, includes in-depth prospect features, looks at the NHL’s top 50 drafted prospects coming down the pipe, dives into what each NHL team has in the prospect cupboard and what their draft needs are, provides a comprehensive look at the 2025 NHL Draft with profiles on the top 32, provides a top 32 ranking on the 2026 NHL Draft with profiles on the top 10, and so much more.