The Halifax Mooseheads won the 2013 Memorial Cup in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on Sunday night to become Canadian Hockey League champions after a hard-fought 6-4 victory over the Portland Winterhawks. It was perhaps a fitting finish to one of the more memorable seasons in junior hockey.
In addition to the two teams squaring off for Canadian junior hockey supremacy, the Memorial Cup final was a head-to-head-to-head matchup of NHL Draft prospects that included Portland's Seth Jones and the dynamic duo of Halifax, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. All three did well for themselves.
The night belonged to MacKinnon, however, as he put on an absolute show. He scored three goals and added two assists as his line accounted for all six Halifax tallies. It was a huge statement from MacKinnon, who was rated No. 2 behind Jones in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings.
Drouin had a five-assist night, showing why he might be the best play-making winger to enter the draft since Patrick Kane. Jones had a goal himself and played mostly well defensively, but his performance will be overshadowed with his team's loss in the championship game.
Also of note from the game, the solid goaltending of Halifax's Zachary Fucale, the consensus No. 1 goaltender for the draft. He made 34 saves to help his team maintain momentum at key moments.
The game started about as well as Halifax could hope, jumping out to a three-goal lead after the first 20 minutes. The Mooseheads' top line of Drouin, MacKinnon and Detroit Red Wings prospect Martin Frk were on the ice for all three first-period goals. MacKinnon gathered some extra momentum for Halifax with a nifty shot from distance to make it a 2-0 game as shown in the video above.
In the second, Portland turned it up a couple of notches to mount a comeback. Nicolas Petan, who might sneak into the tail end of the first round of the draft, scored the first for Portland, finishing a perfect feed from St. Louis Blues first-rounder Ty Rattie. Jones got into the act next, showing off some of his high-end offensive ability, converting on a nice feed from Rattie in tight to cut the deficit to 3-2 late in the second period.
In the third period, Halifax turned it up again to start the period. Once again, it was MacKinnon stepping up in a big situation. His fantastic individual effort on the forecheck made it 4-2. Halifax then took a 5-2 lead after a terrific play started by Drouin, who showed off his creativity when he flipped the puck all the way to a hard-charging MacKinnon. Though MacKinnon's shot was stopped by Blackhawks prospect Mac Carruth, Sharks prospect Konrad Abeltshauser finished the chance.
Portland did stage a valiant comeback late, however. Forward Brandon Leipsic scored with 5:28 remaining in regulation to make it 5-3. Then, with Carruth pulled for the extra attacker and just 1:16 remaining on the clock, Rattie fired a wrister inside the left post to bring the Winterhawks within one.
Portland continued to threaten, but MacKinnon scored an empty-net goal from distance to complete his hat trick and seal the title for Halifax.
MacKinnon was named the tournament's MVP after finishing Memorial Cup play with an incredible 13 points in four games. He was joined by Rattie, Frk, Abeltshauser, Penguins first-round pick Derrick Pouliot and Fucale on the all-tournament team.
Much will be made of MacKinnon's performance, but that doesn't necessarily decide what will happen when Colorado steps up to the podium at the draft. It's a fantastic finish, however, and a great last impression to give scouts.
The same goes for Jones and Drouin, who both performed extremely well throughout the Memorial Cup.
The final decisions, however, will be made based on each player's entire body of work over a long season. MacKinnon will steal the headlines, and his hype machine will regain some steam after the last several months have been dominated mostly by Jones. One week might not alter the order of where they are selected, and even Drouin should not be counted out as an option at No. 1.
The Avalanche have a very difficult decision at No. 1, but it is an enviable position to have the choice of any of these three. The Florida Panthers at No. 2 and Tampa Bay Lightning at No. 3 are almost as lucky, as all three players have potential to be high impact.
Now the on-ice portion of the NHL draft evaluation season is over. All that remains is the NHL's scouting combine, May 27-June 1 in Toronto, and teams' individual interviews with players before the final decisions will have to be made.
The 2013 NHL Entry Draft will be held June 30 in Newark, N.J.