No, the Memorial Cup Formant Doesn’t Need to Be Changed

If the COVID-19 pandemic offered junior hockey fans anything, it was a brief two-year reprieve from the constant chatter of changing the format of the Memorial Cup, where fans search for ways to remove the host team from the competition after every win.

Since 1983, the Memorial Cup tournament has been comprised of the winners of the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Western Hockey League, and a host team. This year, the host team, the Saint John Sea Dogs, happened to be eliminated in the first round, but by virtue of being the host team, they had a secure spot in junior hockey’s biggest club-team tournament.

Since the host team began participating in 1983, there have been 37 tournaments played, not including the one currently underway in Saint John. In that time, 10 host teams have won the tournament, making up 27 percent of the champions. However, only seven of those hosts won the tournament without first winning their league, meaning that historically, the host has only won 19 percent of the time when they take the free pass.

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Of course, when the host team wins the league, it means the runner-up gets a spot in the Memorial Cup. Only once has the runner-up ever won the tournament, coming when the Quebec Ramparts won in 2006. If you include the runner-up into the “undeserved champion” category people have created to describe the Memorial Cup champion that didn’t win their league, you only have about 22 percent of winners. Given the structure of the tournament, each team has a 25 percent chance to win, and historically, the host comes in well below that mark. But yet, every time the host wins, fans around the country cry foul, suggesting they be taken out of the tournament entirely.

But now that the host team has been guaranteed a spot for nearly 40 years, is there ever a chance of it going back? Would it make sense to find an alternative? Is there anything that could be done to dangle the carrot over the host’s head to incentivize them to do better in their league? These are all fair questions, but the reality is that taking steps that could eliminate the host team before games are played could be damaging to both the host, and the CHL overall.

Raivis Kristians Ansons (55), and Philippe Daoust, Saint John Sea Dogs – Via the Saint John Sea Dogs on Twitter

Junior hockey is a very local thing. Fan bases are not large, nor do they span across the province, let alone the country. It’s a very different thing compared to the NHL, and many people who tune into the Memorial Cup because they have nothing better to do on that night might not completely understand that. You can’t compare this tournament to something like the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup, where fans travel across the country regardless of who is playing. Interest is driven by the hometown team, and removing them from the tournament could have unintended consequences.

The Memorial Cup relies heavily on the local fan base of the team to buy tickets, and in nearly every single instance, they are happy to do that just to have a chance to watch their favourite team compete for the highest honour in junior hockey. With some of these host cities lacking in hotel space, they don’t have a choice, and Saint John is a great example of that.

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Sure, the hardcore junior hockey fans will buy tickets no matter who is playing, but can we say with certainty that those casual fans will come out if the hometown team isn’t there? During the regular season, the Sea Dogs averaged 2,643 people in attendance, while in the Memorial Cup, they have been well in excess of 4,000 every night. There is a noticeable boost in attendance when the Sea Dogs are one of the teams, however, as both of their games so far have cracked 5,000. As of Saturday morning, the Sea Dogs games have averaged 5,133 people in attendance, while games that don’t include the host have averaged 4,733, a jump of nearly 10 percent.

This, in theory, doesn’t seem terrible if you clipped the host. The attendance is fine in games without the Sea Dogs, this year, so why keep them? One of the important things to remember is how the ticket packages work. Although you can buy single-game tickets or smaller packages, you could get packages that included the entire tournament for $390 plus fees in the second deck, or $460 plus fees in the first deck for this tournament in Saint John. By comparison, to buy a single ticket to the Memorial Cup Final, which is now standing room only, would run you $103.50 plus fees. The economical choice for the Saint John locale was the full tournament package, aiding the attendance to games that don’t include the Sea Dogs.

Again, you have to ask how many of those fans would be willing to drop that kind of cash, especially in a world where it costs nearly $100 to fill a small car with gas, on tickets to a tournament that their favourite team isn’t even playing in. It could possibly lead to increased issues selling tickets to the event, and could lead to small crowds, something the Canadian Hockey League should have no desire to show off to the rest of Canada and the world. This, of course, would lead to reduced revenues from the event for the host, and that opens another can of worms.

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The host of each Memorial Cup isn’t just handed out at random, teams make their bids, and the league selects from what they have received. There are standards for the host’s facilities, and we have seen numerous occasions where a team is turned down because of their arena. That most recently happened just this year, when Kelowna was passed on as a host for the 2023 Memorial Cup, and it was instead awarded to the Kamloops Blazers. The Rockets released a statement the night of the announcement, saying the arena underwent an audit that found “significant deficiencies that needed to be upgraded for the facility to meet the CHL standards for hosting the Memorial Cup.”

In order to host the tournament, teams and their cities routinely put a lot of money into their arena, including the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds who made one million dollars worth of upgrades to the Sault Memorial Gardens before they even knew they would be the hosts. That tournament was never played thanks to the pandemic, and Sault Ste. Marie wasn’t named the host anyway, but it still outlines the understanding that money needs to be spent to secure the bid.

Memorial Gardens, home of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – Bob Davies Photography / SaultSports.com

The tradeoff for that money spent, of course, is the revenue from the tournament. But that’s where things get more complicated, especially considering the previous point regarding ticket sales. As it stands right now, the combination of the revenue and a chance for the hometown team to compete for the Memorial Cup make it worth it, but with both of those compromised without the host, how willing would teams be to invest?

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There is way more than what meets the eye for this issue. Yes, it can be frustrating to see a team that got a “free ticket” to the Memorial Cup take home the trophy, or take away chances from the league champions, but it’s important to remember that these league champions already have a ring on their fingers. This tournament is unpredictable, and that’s one of the things that makes it so much fun.

Having the host take part is important. It allows the community to latch on and fall in love with the team, and hopefully the league if the impression left can be long-lasting. Let’s leave the tournament how it is, and enjoy the week and a half of some of the top junior hockey talent in the country facing off against one another. Host or otherwise, this is a tournament that the players, staff, and fans won’t forget any time soon.


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8 thoughts on “No, the Memorial Cup Formant Doesn’t Need to Be Changed”

  1. It’s garbage and the Sea Dogs just won the “championship” after losing in the first round of the playoffs as they were gifted a spot in the tournament as hosts. They had 39 days off (no injuries to worry about or fatigue from a gruelling run to win their respective league championship and actually EARN the right to play for the Memorial Cup), AND they even fired their head coach a month ago and came in with a brand new “interim” coach for the tournament.

    Either the CHL needs to place more prominence on the 3 league Championship finals and accept that the Memorial Cup is a gimmicky tournament, or they need to revamp the host team consideration immediately. To see the Sea Dogs skating around the rink with the Memorial Cup while “We are the Champions” is blasted in the arena (didn’t even discuss the fact that they are ALSO gifted home ice advantage for the entirety of the tournament) is pathetic. They are the furthest thing from ” Champions”. This would be like having a “host” team for the Stanley Cup and having them come in fresh with no injuries and giving them home ice advantage, oh and if you want to hire a new coach, fill your boots.

    There are so many better ways that this could be done while holding credibility. I get that the economics of the CHL are far different than the NHL, but again there are better ways to run this tournament. To see the tears of the Bulldogs tonight after the loss in the final to the home team Sea Dogs, after all they battled through to get to this point, and with their Captain in a leg brace and unable to play due to injury (yeah, he didn’t have 39 days off), mixed with the Sea Dogs celebrating like they just won the Stanley Cup, is a joke. Even the Commissioner’s comments during the trophy presentation when he said “there are 60 teams in the CHL, and only 1 is left standing”, it is ridiculous. Bottom line is that the Sea Dogs lost in the first round of the playoffs 4 games to 1, and tonight they are being celebrated as “Champions”. It is just plain wrong, and it happens all too often as your article has outlined….22% of the time.

    Perhaps this is more pertinent to look at! In the last 4 years that the Memorial Cup has been handed out, in EVERY ONE of those 4 years, the host team was in the FINAL! AND IN 2 OF THOSE 4 YEARS (INCLUDING THE SEA DOGS TONIGHT), THE HOST TEAM HAS WON THE MEMORIAL CUP!

    2017 – Windsor Spitfires lose in the first round of the playoffs. They had 40 plus days off before “hosting” the Memorial Cup on home ice and they won the tournament and were crowned as “Champions”. (sounds familiar doesn’t it?)

    2018 – Regina Pats lose in the first round of the playoffs. They had 45 days off before “hosting” the Memorial Cup on home ice and made it all the way to the Final, before thankfully losing to Acadie-Bathurst. The Regina Pats are my home team and I was glad they lost the game, as they didn’t even deserve to be there!!!

    2019 – Halifax Mooseheads lose 4 games to 2 in the QMJHL Finals to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (the top ranked CHL team for 4 months during the regular season). Yet with the Mooseheads “hosting” the Memorial Cup on home ice in front of their hometown fans, they actually had a shot against this same Huskies team in a 1 game showdown on home ice to determine who the “Champions” would be, as they too made it to the Final as tournament “hosts”. Thankfully the Huskies won, but it begs the question…..how could the Mooseheads be eliminated by the Huskies in 6 games weeks earlier, but yet now have a 1 game showdown on home ice where they could be deemed “Champions” and the Huskies the “runner ups”???

    2020 – no Memorial Cup (Covid19).

    2021 – no Memorial Cup (Covid19).

    2022 – see above (Sea Dogs lost in the first round of the playoffs, “host” the Memorial Cup and are crowned “Champions”). Champions don’t go down 4-1 in games in the first round of the playoffs. End of story.

    AGAIN, 4 YEARS IN A ROW THE “HOST” TEAM HAS PLAYED IN THE FINAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME. 3 OF THOSE 4 TEAMS LOST IN THE FIRST ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS. AND TWO TEAMS THAT LOST IN THE FIRST ROUND OF THE PLAYOFFS “WON” THE MEMORIAL CUP AND WERE CELEBRATED AS “CHAMPIONS”. I’m sorry, but most people would realize this is a huge issue. In the last 4 years of the Memorial Cup, the “host” team has appeared in 100% of the Final games, and have won 50% of the Cup Finals.

    1. Kyle, I can appreciate the passion, but pointing out that the past 4 tournaments have seen the home team have some success doesn’t erase the slew of problems that would come without them.

      There’s one thing I will agree with you on. The host team shouldn’t be known as the CHL champion if they win the Memorial Cup and don’t win their league. That tag should go to the runner up in that case. I would disassociate the Memorial Cup with the CHL champion. That idea comes courtesy of Steve Clark, the Niagara IceDogs commentator.

      That being said, there needs to be an incentive to host the tournament. We should also acknowledge that the past handful of years have been odd. The hosts are always built for deep playoffs runs, but for whatever reason, those haven’t happened. I trust that trend will eventually correct itself sooner rather than later.

      You can look at the attendance for this tournament where games didn’t include SNB this year. I’m just not sure how selling tickets would go without the home town team, and in a system where you have to bid for the right to host (often including arena upgrades that come at a nice cost) teams would be willing to invest at the same rate they are now.

      There should absolutely be more emphasis places on winning each league, but that exists for the true junior hockey fans. The Memorial Cup isn’t the end all be all the casual fan would like to believe. The Bulldogs are going to go home, get their rings, and have a parade. That team will be enshrined into Hamilton history, and they will almost certainly be brought back in 20-30 years to celebrate their accomplishments.

      So yes, the tournament *is* gimmicky. If you have ideas that could convince me the host isn’t needed, I would love to hear them. But until then, I can’t see a world where things change in this regard.

      Have a good night!

  2. I appreciate your reply! However, the “slew” of problems you mentioned that would come from NOT including a “host” team would only exist under the current tournament format. I completely agree with you that to have a host site set a few years in advance and expect to have good attendance without the host team playing games would not play out well for the CHL. That is the reason the host team came to be in the first place in the early 80’s. HOWEVER, that again is only based on the assumption that no changes would be made to the format in general.

    The NHL’s Stanley Cup is played every single year on home ice for the final two teams standing, the teams that earned a right throughout the attrition of the playoffs to battle for the “Championship”. Nobody could argue that the Stanley Cup is a higher profile event than the Memorial Cup, not only in attendance at the games, but also with the media presence and the overall attention paid to the Stanley Cup Final. The NHL could never know until the end of the two Conference Final Championships where the FInal games will be played, so why is it that the CHL needs to plan the Memorial Cup location 2 years in advance? It simply makes no sense.

    If the CHL wants to maximize attendance numbers and the overall exposure of the Memorial Cup, then why would they not reward the teams that played their way into the tournament by allowing them to have home ice advantage and “host” the tournament? In my mind having a team that loses out in the first round of the playoffs only to “return” to battle it out for the Memorial Cup 6 weeks later is not going to result in the best attendance numbers, and will always lead to this same debate…..that being, “do they even deserve to be there?”.

    The other side of that coin is that you have a team like Hamilton (or the other two league champions that earned their way to the MC) that played in front of their hometown fans throughout the playoffs, and then they are sent away to some host city to play for the most coveted trophy in junior hockey. That is why I said that the league championships should hold more prominence, but they truly don’t. The Memorial Cup is marketed as the ultimate prize to win in the CHL and that is fine, but to gift a host team the chance to win it is wrong, especially based on the results in the last 4 years. You may say that the last 4 years will correct itself over time, but what if it doesn’t? Independent of that, now the host team has won the Memorial Cup 11 times in 38 years, which is 29% of the time. That is nearly 1/3rd of the “Champions” being the host team, and as we have discussed the results in the last 4 years are even more concerning. How credible is this? I am not the only one calling for change here.

    As far as incentive to host the tournament, how about winning your way there as they do in the NHL playoffs? As for building upgrades, let’s face it….only select markets could ever imagine to host the MC the way they run things now. Swift Current and secondary markets could never dream of hosting the Tournment. The NHL doesn’t have arena investment requirements to “host” the Stanley Cup Finals. Teams in the NHL have a requirement to ensure their arenas are adequate and up to date and it is in their best interests to ensure they are competitive. Look at the Moose Jaw Warriors, they built a brand new arena 10 years ago for over $60M and will NEVER host a Memorial Cup Tournament.

    Anyhow, back to the focus of this reply which is how the format could be changed. How about if across the 3 league champions, whichever team had the best regular season record hosts the tournament? That would mean that this year Hamilton would have hosted it. Notably this year in game 7 Hamilton set an OHL record for the highest attendance ever to watch a league finals game with 11,779 fans in attendance! Would it not be rewarding to those fans to have the opportunity to see their team battle it out for the Memorial Cup? Would the attendance numbers not SMASH the 4,000ish per game in SJ? Which option would be better for the CHL as far as exposure goes? Imagine instead of seeing the Bulldogs fly away to SJ if the local fans got to see them battle for the Memorial Cup in their home arena! What a great story that would have been, and honestly the Bulldogs earned the right to battle on home ice to try to win a Memorial Cup in front of their own fans.

    In Hamilton you could have a 3 team round robin, OR if you wanted a 4th team, take the 3 finalists for the league championships and have them do a round robin ahead of the MC Tournament to see who plays in to be the 4th team. That would have been Windsor, Seattle, and Charlottetown this year. What a great event that would be for the CHL, and nobody could argue that having to win that Round Robin to make it to the MC after having been finalists in their respective league championship finals would not be worthy of being a Memorial Cup participant. Certainly it would be more respected than handing a first round playoff loser the opportunity to play for the “Championship” due to the fact that their city was hosting the annual event.

    That would also give the 3 league champions a bit of a break (and advantage) to get healthy and the 4th “play in” team could be a little fatigued coming into the tournament, which as a play in team would be perfectly fair.

    I know you will say what would happen if some small market team would end up hosting it under this scenario. I would ask first, what would be wrong with that? The local market would go CRAZY and it would be great to showcase junior hockey, whether that be in Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Sarnia, or any other secondary market. Why should they not be able to “host” such an event if they earned their way there and why should their local fans see them win a league Championship and then have to tune into TV to watch them in some preselected location to battle for the Memorial Cup with no home ice advantage? And let’s face it, the bulk of the fans are LOCAL fans. That is why the “host” team came into effect in the first place. So attendance would not be an issue. I think this would be a whole lot better than what we have seen in the last 4 years as outlined in my original post. I think it would grow the game, increase the credibility of the Memorial Cup “Championship”, and really see no concerns with it.

    This is one idea, there are others. But the essential question to me is why a “host” city is necessary? It is NOT necessary in my mind, and if people opened up their minds and realized this then they could come up with alternative scenarios and formats for this “Championship” Tournament.

    1. I totally get where you are coming from with the best record hosting the tournament, but this isn’t something that can be thrown together in a single week after the trophies are handed out I don’t think. If the host was to be eliminated all together, it would see teams flying across the country in a double round robin I would think. That idea is great on paper, but largely impractical for junior hockey teams, who run on a tight budget 9/10 years (in way too many cases).

      It’s a problem without an easy solution. But the turnaround time to set up this tournament and all of its festivities is simply too short to pick the host based on performance. There’s a lot of moving pieces, and it would take more than a week to get enough volunteers to make it happen to begin with.

  3. I respectfully don’t understand your logic here at all. For example, let’s look at the Edmonton Oil Kings and their playoff run this year. In round 3 they played against the Winnipeg Ice, which of course included travel to and from Winnipeg. In round 4 they played Seattle, which of course also included travel to outside of the country in Seattle, Washington. Ahead of both of these series, they had NO idea until they won the round that they would be advancing in the playoffs, nor did they know where they would be playing until the other rounds were decided. This is the way the playoffs work in all leagues for basketball, baseball, and hockey. This is the way the NHL Stanley Cup is decided as well, as until the final two teams are left standing, nobody knows where the finals will be played. When Edmonton beat Seatlle to win the WHL Championship, only when they won the series did they know they would be travelling to Saint Jean, and not until then would they have made any formal plans for travel. So what difference would it be to them as a team if at that point they made plans to travel to Hamilton and not Saint Jean? (in one of my earlier replies to you I had proposed a new format for the Memorial Cup Tournament that would have resulted in this year’s Cup being played in Hamilton). And for what it is worth, CHL teams are worth a heck of a lot more money than people realize. The Edmonton Oil Kings are worth over $50M! I simply don’t understand the budget concern of yours, as the changes I proposed would only result in the 3 league Champions travelling to Hamilton instead of Saint Jean. Travel would be necessary under both formats.

    The TRUE ISSUE here is that the CHL appoints “host” team years in advance so that they can have hundreds of volunteers working on the “FanFest” as it was called at this year’s Memorial Cup Tournament. Looking at the “events calendar” it would almost seem that the circus of events was more prominent than the hockey itself, or most notably crowning the “CHAMPION” of the CHL.

    This year’s FanFest included a “bike rodeo” for the growing community of cyclists near the host venue where you could “learn skills, decorate your bike, and prep your ride in the ‘bike tech tent’ during this family-friendly event”. Marketing material for the FanFest also highlighted that “Bash on the Bay will be ‘party central’ for the 2022 Memorial Cup presented by Kia! Imagine, nine events over ten days of pre- and post-game festivities with live music, food trucks, beer gardens and live game screenings for sold out games – all taking place in the unique and one-of-a-kind AREA 506 Waterfront Container Village”!
    Also included were nightly fireworks, ball hockey tournaments, concerts, guest speakers, outdoor mural painting, and parades. All great, but as a lifelong hockey fan the credibility of the game is more important to me than all of these events requiring volunteers working months in advance to set up.

    If you want to run a carnival of events at the expense of the credibility of the game that results in the Sea Dogs skating around the rink hoisting a trophy acting like they are the Champions of the entire 60 team CHL league, while singing “We are the Champions” after they LOST in the first round of the playoffs, then that is fine. Only the trophy itself should also take on a circus like theme, maybe a Clown’s head could be on the top of the trophy! But to continue to offer host teams that don’t deserve to be there in the first place the opportunity to be “CHL CHAMPIONS” only to ensure that all of these FanFest festivities can be planned months in advance is plain wrong, and any true hockey fan would agree to this. There are tons of people that are calling for the format to change, I am certainly not the only one.

  4. I’m not at all proposing that a double round playoff would be necessary. As stated in my earlier comments to have a single round robin between the 3 league Champions would work out perfectly fine. That would take less time than the current format to play out, and it would include a hometown team so ticket sales would be great. Again Hamilton had over 11,000 fans in a home game during the OHL Finals.

    If you wanted to add a 4th team, you could either have the 3 Championship finalists playoff, OR if timing was an issue you could bring the league finalist with the best regular season record and then those 4 teams would play in the tournament. That takes care of any timing concerns.

    As for the volunteers, again I highlighted that in my previous comment. The volunteers have nothing to do with the games themselves, all they plan is the circus like atmosphere around the games as explained earlier. All I’m proposing is that we lose the circus and focus on the hockey. Or continue with the circus and put a clown’s head on the trophy and celebrate it like the carnival the rest of the week is! But to continue to crown host teams as “CHAMPIONS” of the entire 60 team league and celebrate their “accomplishment” is just plain wrong. They don’t deserve to be there in the first place.

    Again, there are no “volunteers” for the NHL Stanley Cup, no “host” team, no bike rodeos or guest speakers, no mural painting or art exhibits! It is focused on the hockey as it should be.

    And I stand by my words that no true hockey fan could respect the Sea Dogs as CHL “CHAMPIONS”. That was not said to disrespect you in any way, and if you felt disrespected I certainly apologize. In your original article you even stated yourself that “Yes, it can be frustrating to see a team that got a “free ticket” to the Memorial Cup take home the trophy, or take away chances from the league champions”, and your position was that despite this frustration, there was simply no other format that could work for this Tournament.

    I have outlined a structure that I think would work great. We would lose the bike rodeos and all the other carnival like events, but it would return credibility to the Tournament and nobody could complain or be frustrated by seeing an unworthy team hoisting the Cup.

    I really enjoyed your article and will definitely review the site moving forward as it is great content! Again, I hope you understand my position and that I meant no disrespect to you in any way.

    Happy Canada Day!

    1. No harm, no foul! I can certainly appreciate you passion for junior hockey! We need more people to care like you do.

      Have a great night, and enjoy some fireworks and a few pops, or whatever else you’ve got planned tonight!

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