Dustin Tokarski backstopped the Chiefs to a Memorial Cup berth. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
We’re gearing up for the Memorial Cup, but the field is already set: Belleville, Gatineau, Spokane and the host Kitchener will be squaring off in Southern Ontario.
In the meantime, congratulations to the Humboldt Broncos of Saskatchewan, winners of the Jr. A RBC Cup, while the St. Louis Bandits are NAHL champs with their Robertson Cup victory.
1. Dustin Tokarski, G – Spokane Chiefs (WHL): When Spokane met the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the WHL final, Chiefs goaltender Dustin Tokarski was prepared.
“Realistically, we thought it was going to be a battle,” he said.
Thanks to Tokarski’s play between the pipes, not to mention Spokane’s solid all-around defense, the Canes were swept unceremoniously out of the championship, while the Chiefs are booking their tickets to the Memorial Cup and sizing up the competition.
“I’ve been checking the websites,” Tokarski said, referring to the research he has undertaken.
If the other teams are smart, they’ll read up on Tokarski, whose 1.38 goals-against average and .944 save percentage were both bests in the Dub playoffs. The young keeper attributes a lot of the success to the fact he and his team can play anywhere.
“We were the best road team in the league this year,” Tokarski said. “Game 7 against Tri-City, sold-out barn, we came out with the win.”
And Tri-City didn’t exactly have a slouch in its crease, either; Tokarski’s competition in that series was another outstanding draft-eligible goalie, Chet Pickard. True to form, three of the games went into double-overtime and another in overtime. The first two double-OT games were 1-0 finishes.
“It was fun; it was a blast,” Tokarski said of the showdown. “Chet’s a great goalie and you want to play against the best.”
For now, the Spokane goalie is playing his best and though his focus is on the Memorial Cup, the draft is right around the corner, which likely will be a satisfying day for the youngster.
“Things went well this year,” he said. “I’d be ecstatic to be chosen by anyone at any time.”
Draft eligible in 2008.
2. Patrick Wiercioch, D – Omaha Lancers (USHL): Wiercioch was a highly touted recruit coming into this campaign, but injuries conspired to slow him down in the regular season. With all cylinders firing in the playoffs, however, Wiercioch found his stride, posting up 11 points in 14 games en route to a Clark Cup championship. Wiercioch is committed to Wisconsin next year. Draft eligible in 2008.
3. Ville Leino, LW – Jokerit Helsinki (Fin): Ah, the rich get richer. As if Detroit needed any more firepower, the Wings will enter next season with the services of Finland’s player of the year. Leino tallied 77 points in 55 games to earn the coveted Golden Helmet. Signed by Detroit as a free agent in 2008.
4. Fabian Brunnstrom, LW – Farjestads BK (Swe): Dallas may lose the Western Conference final, but they beat Detroit in the Brunnstrom sweepstakes. Sweden’s most coveted late-bloomer will be deep in the heart of Texas next year, but will the Wings get the last laugh with Leino? Signed by Dallas as a free agent in 2008.
5. Matt Beleskey, LW – Belleville Bulls (OHL): Captain Beleskey put the Bulls on his back in the OHL final against Kitchener, scoring the overtime winner in Game 4, then netting two (including the game-winner) in Game 6 before falling in the series finale. Drafted 112th overall by Anaheim in 2006.
6. Blake Wheeler, RW, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA): The long-time Gopher has gone pro, which means Phoenix has a month to sign him. Wheeler finished tied for eighth in WCHA scoring this year with 35 points in 44 games, tops on Minnesota. Drafted fifth overall by Phoenix in 2004.
7. Joe Colborne, C – Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL): So for the scouts out there who don’t like this kid, let’s go to the scoreboard: He led his team to a league title, followed by a Doyle Cup win over the Penticton Vees, then went undefeated in the RBC Cup before running into the dazzling goaltending of Taylor Nelson and losing by a single goal in the final. Am I missing anything? Draft eligible in 2008.
8. Stefan Ulmer, D – Spokane Chiefs (WHL): At 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, this Swiss-born Austrian defenseman needs to hit the buffet line, but thanks to a late birthday, he’ll have at least another year in the Dub to do just that. His plus-15 in the playoffs was tops among blueliners. Draft eligible in 2009.
9. Paul Byron, C - Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): Buffalo sure doesn’t mind if they’re small. The Sabres signed 5-foot-5 sparkplug Nathan Gerbe recently, but they also have the 5-foot-9, 144-pound Byron doing big things in the Q. He trailed only teammate Claude Giroux in playoff scoring with 32 points in 19 games. Drafted 179th overall by Buffalo in 2007.
10. T.J. Oshie, C, North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA): After signing a deal Tuesday, the Oshie era has finally begun with the first round pick leaving the plains and heading for The Loop next season. Drafted 24th overall by St. Louis in 2005.
11. Nick Spaling, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL): Belleville gave the Rangers all they could handle in the OHL final, but Spaling’s power play goal in the second period proved to be the backbreaker as Kitchener took the title in seven games. Spaling tallied 30 points in 20 playoff games. Drafted 58th overall by Nashville in 2007.
12. Drayson Bowman, LW – Spokane Chiefs (WHL): With 20 points in 21 games, Bowman tied with Ondrej Roman for the team lead in post-season scoring. Drafted 72nd overall by Carolina in 2007.
13. Matthew Pistilli, RW – Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL): With a hat trick in the final win over Rouyn-Noranda, Pistilli continued his excellent post-season, which now sees him with 28 points in 19 games. Draft eligible in 2008.
14. Robert Bortuzzo, D – Kitchener Rangers (OHL): Bortuzzo has made his presence known in the playoffs, despite a late injury. He led the league with a plus-18 rating and even chipped in eight assists in 18 games. Drafted 78th overall by Pittsburgh in 2007.
15. Brett Morrison, C – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL): The Huskies were finally beaten – and consistently at that – by Gatineau, but you can’t take away the run the team had. Morrison led all Huskies forwards with 26 points in 17 games. Drafted 151st overall by Anaheim in 2007.
The Hot List, a weekly roundup of minor league, junior, college and high school players we’re excited to one day see in the NHL, appears every Tuesday, only on thehockeynews.com.
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