When the puck drops on Friday night to open the 2013 Memorial Cup, two Blackhawks prospects and their respective teams will spend the next 10 days trying to reach the pinnacle of Canadian major-junior hockey.
Goaltender Mac Carruth, a 2010 draft pick by the Blackhawks, has nearly been here before: three consecutive trips to the Western Hockey League Championship Series with the Portland Winterhawks before finally hoisting the Chynoweth Cup last Sunday. Carruth finished his 2013 playoff run with a 16-5 record, a league-leading 1.63 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. His five shutouts place him second all-time in the WHL in a single playoff season.
Alex Broadhurst, a New Lenox, Ill., native, knows the taste of victory, having finished two consecutive seasons as a champion—last year with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL, and this year with the London Knights, who defended their Ontario Hockey League title after authoring a thrilling comeback in seven games over the Barrie Colts. Broadhurst ranked second on the team with 28 points (10G, 18A) in 21 postseason games; his five power-play tallies led the OHL during the playoffs.
It will be the first Memorial Cup experience for both players, and the stakes are high in this meeting of champions—junior hockey’s version of the Stanley Cup Final. Portland can tie a tournament record with their third win; it would be their first since 1998, Marian Hossa’s only season with the Winterhawks in the WHL. London last won it all in 2005, with Dave Bolland on the roster.
Catching up with Carruth and Broadhurst as they prepared to fly out to Saskatoon to take the biggest stages of their young careers, chicagoblackhawks.com chatted with both players about playoff intensity, team confidence and their tournament expectations.
What was going through your head during Game 6 of the WHL Final, when your team scored the empty-netter and you realized it was finally going to happen?
Carruth: I was trying to keep my cool. Even with 2 minutes left, I was thinking to myself, “Just stay in the moment,” things like that. Trying not to let an easy one in and ruin the moment for everybody. So I was trying to stay in the game until the final buzzer. And then obviously all of the emotions came out.
How good did it feel to get a bit of revenge on the Edmonton Oil Kings, the team that beat you in the Final last year?
There’s a sense of revenge there, for sure. They’re chirping at us during the series and letting us know that they won last year and they’re going to send us home again. It was good to beat those guys, and it’s a good rivalry for the future in this league. Our one game during the regular season was a really close game. Both games were weighted with a lot of importance; we wanted to send a message in the regular season and play it to the fullest. It’s a good rivalry going into the next couple of years in the WHL.
Are you guys keeping the beards for the Memorial Cup?
I shaved mine off the day after we got back. Unfortunately, I was the only one who could really grow one, so mine was the only one people noticed. We’re starting fresh; we’re looking at it as a whole new season. Everyone’s done the exact same thing we did as far as winning games, so no one really cares if you’ve won the Western Hockey League once you get there.
Is there any difference in how you approach a 10-day tournament like the Memorial Cup?
It’s a round robin rather than a seven-game series, but the dynamic of the seven-game series is still there, and you’ve still got to win four games to get the trophy. Unfortunately, it’s not the same team every night, it’s three different teams that you’re trying to beat. We have to go into it like it’s Game 7 every night and hope for the best.
What’s the confidence level of the team like right now?
We’re pretty confident. We’ve got a lot of young guys, plus three or four older guys who have been together since we got here. The younger guys are looking to the older guys for leadership, and the older guys are keeping calm. We’re keeping our heads up and looking for that next trophy.
What are you looking forward to the most at your first Memorial Cup?
Spending a week playing hockey with a close-knit team. It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s pretty businesslike once the games start happening, so I’m just looking forward to playing a few more hockey games.
There are a few more games to be played, but do you feel like you’ve had a successful season?
I’d say it’s a successful season for sure. I’d like to get four more wins under my belt and then call it a season. If we keep going like we’ve been going, we’re going to get there.
Has it been a whirlwind year for you, going from a USHL champion team to the reigning OHL champions and ultimately helping them defend their title?
Alex Broadhurst: Both years have been awesome experiences. Not many people can say that they won a championship in both those leagues. I’m very happy that I can say that I’ve done that, and now we’re on to the Memorial Cup, so hopefully we can win there too.
What was the mood in the locker room after falling behind to Barrie 3-1 in the final series? How was the team able to get back in it?
We went on a 24-game win streak, so we knew what it took to win and what it took to come back in games. No one was really giving up; we all knew we were going to win the series. That’s what good teams do, and we wound up coming out with a win. Winning Game 6 in their barn was huge, and coming back, we had momentum in our court. The other team had to be nervous.
You assisted on the game-winner in Game 7 with 1 second left in regulation. Take us through that last play, with time winding down.
I looked at the clock and there were about 10 seconds left when the puck entered the zone. One of their defensemen tried to rim it out, and I kept pinched against the wall, so the puck hit my kneepads and landed right on my stick. I saw a guy going to the net and tried to give it to him; it took a lucky bounce, hit a guy off the pass. Bo Horvat was standing backdoor and he just buried it.
What was it like on the bench as the play was being reviewed? Were there any doubts on your end about that being a good goal?
The only guy who knew it went in was the guy who put it in. I asked him a hundred times whether it went in. I was so nervous, and it seemed like it took them half an hour to look at it. Definitely the longest wait of my life. Horvat knew it went in and kept saying it was a goal, it was a goal, and sure enough, it was a goal.
What are you looking forward to the most at your first Memorial Cup?
I’ve never been a part of anything like this before. Obviously, the team from last year was a part of it and they were pretty successful. From what the guys have told me, it’s the best time of your life and you’ll never have more fun than that. I’ve never been to Saskatchewan, so that’ll be pretty cool. Just being at the tournament is an unbelievable experience and an honor.
Beards, keep or shave?
When the team won the Mem Cup in 2005, they all were clean-shaven, so we’re going with that.
Looking back on this season as a whole, what was the biggest adjustment you had to make after entering the OHL for the first time? Did anything surprise you about the playing style in this league?
The first step was proving myself to the team and to the coaches. The skill level and the speed in this league is top-notch. It took a while for me to get used to the speed, size and physicality, how much time I had with the puck. The guys who get drafted out of this league are always first-rounders, while in the USHL there are more young kids and late bloomers who are going on to college. This league is for guys who want to play in the NHL, so I had to get used to that right away.
How would you sum up your season so far?
I wanted to put up more points, but we’ve had a pretty successful season, and I can’t really complain when the team’s winning. I’m definitely happy with my season so far.
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