Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Cup: The format still stinks

Sportsnet renewing its television deal with the Canadian Hockey League meaning there's no chance of overhauling the outdated format for the Memorial Cup.

As awesome as the Windsor Spitfires' win for a town and a team, the fact remains it's a tournament where, as super-commenter Dennis Prouse put it, "all you need is a 1-2 record to make the playoffs."

You know what this means, though? In the big picture, there was a point behind the booing at the Rimouski Colisée yesterday. You just have to believe it wasn't being vented at the teenagers on the Kelowna Rockets, but at the highers-up such as CHL president David Branch, who refuse to ditch the overly drawn out, outdated format since it's a cash cow (and TV ratings were up from last season, but here one could point out that's not saying much since a U.S. team represented the WHL in 2008).

Regan Bartel, Kelowna's play-by-play man, stuck up for his guys, and there's not a word there that's wrong. Teenaged players should not be booed, but the adults who left them hanging in the wind should:
"... I was a little turned off by the reaction of the crowd at the Colisée over the booing every time the Rockets touched the puck. The booing was the result of the fans belief that the Rockets threw Tuesday's game against the Spitfires when they had a chance to eliminate them from the tournament. Essentially it looked like the fans are blaming the Rockets for the demise of both Rimouski and Drummondville. Windsor would beat Rimouski in the tie breaker before eliminating Drummondville in the semi-finals. To say the Rockets threw the game is laughable."
Obviously, that game was on the level. This was no repeat of the stunt Mike Keenan pulled at the 1980 tournament, when his Peterborough Petes lost the last game of the round-robin so they could face Cornwall instead of host Regina in the final. (That debacle prompted a change in format.)

In this case, Windsor was the No. 1-ranked team. Kelowna probably had trouble getting motivated to play their final round-robin game since there was nothing at stake for them, since they were assured a spot in the final. Each Québec team had a chance to oust Windsor in win-or-go-home match and didn't get it done.

The point is the Canadian Hockey League has a problem if customers perceive that it could be to a team's advantage to dump a game. Meantime, the fact a team does not need to win the majority of its round-robin games and can still win the championship is kind of chintzy.

The rub is that in 1980, as Gregg Drinnan related in a great retrospective on the '80 debacle, Branch's predecessor, the late Ed Chynoweth and the other powers-that-were had the humility to realize bad policy could lead to bad results.
"We were lucky for eight years under this system ... There's no sense moaning over what's happened now. Everybody coming into this knew the rules, knew the pitfalls and whatever. It's just unfortunate that this had to happen in our league's turn as host and in the host team's own city.

"Still, we (in junior hockey) do recognize that we do get ourselves into some great holes with the way we conduct ourselves at times."
More Drinnan:
"Brian Shaw, the WHL's chairman of the board, added: 'We, as adults, have put the youngsters in a precarious position because there is a loophole or two in the formula as we know it.

" 'The format, as it stands, is all right as long we put in a modification to prevent a recurrence of what happened Friday night. This formula is the best to bring together competitors from across Canada.

" 'There was a suggestion to go back to an East-West final, but we're involved with the education of our players. We don't want them out of class for the length of time it would take. With the present round-robin taking exactly one week, they don't miss too much school.' "
You wouldn't hear that kind of candour today, even with the increased lip service major junior hockey pays to education. Everything is tamer than it was 30 years ago. Tamer players, tamer fans, and certainly a tamer media. Thank goodness for those Spitfires:


Anonymous said...

The Mem Cup needs to be formatted the same way as March Madness. Take the league/conference/division winners then have a panel determine "at large" bids. Have a 16, 8 or 4 team single elimination tournament played at 4, 2 or 1 site across the country. Very easy fix that would boost TV ratings and sponsorships and eliminate all the current flaw. Because of this the revenue would not be solely from tickets but also TV bids, etc.

Anonymous said...

N0 i would not want a march madness format for many many reasons.There are some chl teams that do not do well attendance wise but do well on the ice.In some cases they may not be able to afford a march madness type set up.Now if they did it regional meaning teams would not have to travel acrosse the country.As regional set up may work but no not a march madness format would do more damage then good.