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Petes and Remparts open Memorial Cup

Canadian Press

5/16/2006 3:00:53 PM

The host Moncton Wildcats aim to be the first team from the Atlantic region to win the Canadian major junior hockey championship, and home-ice advantage could help them do it.

The Wildcats have won their last 11 games in the friendly confines of the Moncton Coliseum.

The 88th Memorial Cup tournament, a 10-day gathering of future NHL stars, begins when the Peterborough Petes take on the Quebec Remparts on Friday night. The Wildcats face the red-hot Vancouver Giants on Saturday.

There were 58 teams hoping to get this far and only the fortunate four made it.

The team that wins the Memorial Cup will take it to a place it has rarely or never been. Peterborough last won the national title in 1979, Quebec hasn't come out on top since 1971, and Moncton and Vancouver are taking their first stabs at going all the way.

Moncton was No. 1 in the final national rankings.

Coach Ted Nolan remade the Wildcats roster after being hired last year, and the former NHL coach of the year is back in the Memorial Cup tournament for the first time since leading the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the title 13 years ago.

 Eight players were brought in via trades. Chief among them were defenceman Keith Yandle, the Phoenix Coyotes prospect who scored 25 goals and led all Canadian major junior blue-liners with 84 points during the regular season, and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Philippe Dupuis, who led Moncton in scoring.

Five of Nolan's eight defencemen were new to the team this season. On top of all their offensive thrust, the Wildcats also were the QMJHL's top defensive team. Josh Tordjman, undrafted by NHL teams, has been at his best in the nets.

Latvian forward Martin Karsums, a Boston Bruins prospect, scored seven winning goals in becoming the first European to win the league playoff MVP award.

The Wildcats are 16-5 in the post-season. They are hoping that Edmonton Oilers prospect Stephane Goulet, a 51-goal scorer during the regular season who missed the league final with a knee injury, will have recuperated in time to help them win the Memorial Cup.

Quebec took Moncton to six games in the QMJHL final after finishing with only one fewer point than the Wildcats during the regular season.

The Remparts, coached by goaltending legend Patrick Roy, is led up front by QMJHL scoring champion Alexander Radulov, a 2004 first-round pick by the Nashville Predators who scored 61 goals during the regular season. The Russian left-winger has amassed 55 points in 23 playoff games.

Radulov, Yan Ouimet and Mathieu Melanson give the Remparts one of the top forward lines in the country.

American rookie Angelo Esposito, who'll go high in the 2007 NHL entry draft, and goalie Cedric Desjardins are other key components for the Remparts. Desjardins went to the tournament last year with Rimouski.

The last QMJHL team to win the Memorial Cup was Rimouski in 2000 in Halifax.

Peterborough swept away 2005 Memorial Cup champion London to get to Moncton, and coach Dick Todd's players have a knack for winning close games. All four against the Knights were decided by one goal, including two in overtime. The Petes have won all eight of their post-season overtime contests.

Peterborough is 16-3 in the post-season. Calgary Flames prospect Daniel Ryder led the way offensively with 15 goals and 31 points, earning OHL playoff MVP honours, and Florida Panthers goaltending prospect Dave Shantz has been outstanding.

Todd expects to reinsert into his lineup defenceman Kyle Raftis, who broke a wrist in the second round of OHL playoffs.

Vancouver is coached by former NHL coach Don Hay, who coached the Kamloops Blazers to the national title in 1994 and in 1995.

The Giants have won 12 in a row and are 16-2 in the post-season. They haven't lost since April 7.

The defence corps might be the best in the tournament. Led by Mark Fistric, a Dallas Stars prospect and Giants captain, Vancouver allowed only 24 goals in its run to the WHL title.

Undrafted 20-year-old goalie Dustin Slade has a sparkling 1.31 goals-against average. Up front, Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Gilbert Brule, whose 16 goals and 30 points in the post-season earned him the WHL playoff MVP nod.

Owner Ron Toigo bought the players Armani suits to wear to the tournament.