At Least Two Cups Will Visit Manitoba
WINNIPEG, MB – If the Nashville Predators find a way to upset the heavily favoured Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL’s championship round, the Stanley Cup will make a visit to Manitoba.
However, regardless of who wins the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup or the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, there will be a Manitoban bringing the Cup home for a visit.
For the Stanley Cup to come back to the province, Winnipeg’s Colin Wilson and Binscarth’s Cody McLeod, both members of the Predators, will have to find a way to win it. Last year, Eric Fehr brought the Cup home to Winkler after the Penguins won the championship, but Fehr was traded to Toronto before the 2017 Trade Deadline so there is no longer a Manitoban on the Penguins roster. In 2015, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks brought the Cup to Winnipeg.
Still, it’s a guarantee that both of North America’s minor pro hockey trophies will make a visit, if the players choose to bring the Cups home.
In the Kelly Cup (ECHL) final, Winnipeg’s Johnny Lazo of the Colorado Eagles will face Winnipeg’s Kelly Zajac of the South Carolina Stingrays.
Lazo, 28, is a North End star who played with the Triple A Midget Thrashers, went on to the WHL’s Tri-City Americans and won CIS (now U SPORTS) championships at the University of Alberta before pursuing a pro career. He usually comes home to Winnipeg to work at NRG’s hockey camps at Seven Oaks Sportsplex in the summer.
Zajac, 28, the brother of New Jersey Devils star Travis Zajac, played with Salmon Arm in the BCHL, moved on to Union College and played almost five seasons in the AHL (14 games with the Manitoba Moose), before joining the Stingrays. He reached the ECHL final last year, as well.
In the AHL’s Calder Cup, Winnipeg’s Dylan McIlrath and the Grand Rapids Griffins will face Winkler’s Byron Froese and Oakbank’s Brett Howden and the Syracuse Crunch.
McIlrath, 26, a big defenseman, played City Midget with the Warriors and then went to the WHL to play with Moose Jaw. He was selected in the first round (10th overall) of the 2010 NHL entry draft by the New York Rangers and after an up-and-down career with New York, he was dealt twice in 2016-17 – first to Florida and then later to Detroit. He has played games with five teams this season – the Rangers, Hartford Wolf Pack, Florida, Springfield Thunderbirds and Grand Rapids Griffins.
Froese, 27, has been a bit of a wanderer this season, as well. The former High School Hockey League player who went on to play Triple A midget with Pembina Valley and then a couple of seasons with the Everett Silvertips, has been a bit of a journeyman this season as well. He started with the Toronto Marlies, played four games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, was traded to Tampa Bay and played two games with the Lightning before being sent to Syracuse. He has played for two teams in the NHL, four teams in the AHL and two teams in the ECHL in a six-year pro career.
And Howden, 19, was a first round (no. 27 overall) draft pick of the Lightning in the 2016 NHL draft. He played Triple A midget with the Eastman Selects, went on to become a star with the Moose Jaw Warriors, has played plenty of Team Manitoba and Team Canada (U-18) games and has now played five regular season games and three playoff games with the Crunch.
The Stanley Cup final begins Monday in Pittsburgh. The AHL’s Calder Cup championship round begins Friday night in Grand Rapids. And the ECHL’s Kelly Cup final begins Sunday (tonight) night in Colorado.
Scott Taylor, MyToba Sports
Photos courtesy Game On Magazine