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London's dominance comes with great expectations at Memorial Cup


The 104th Memorial Cup is set to begin in Saginaw, Mich. on Friday with the entirety of the tournament available on TSN.

Ontario Hockey League champion London Knights, Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League champion Drummondville Voltigeurs, Western Hockey League champion Moose Jaw Warriors, and the host team Saginaw Spirit will compete for the right to be named the champion of the Canadian Hockey League.

With analysis from TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button, we will profile each team leading up to the tournament opener on Friday.


The London Knights were the best team in the OHL during the regular season, leading the league with a 50-14-4 record. 

They continued their strong play into the playoffs, only losing a total of two games en route to being named the 2024 J. Ross Robertson Cup Champions. London’s OHL playoff run was capped off by outscoring the Oshawa Generals 31-9 in the OHL Championship Series to complete the four-game sweep.

The Knights are a deep team that have stars in every position, leading to high expectations heading into their opening game against the Drummondville Voltigeurs in their first tournament game on Saturday.

Offensive Studs

The Knights offence stems from a good defence that involves all five skaters on the ice.

They have a ton of experience up front that includes seven NHL affiliated prospects and Sam O’Reilly, who is expected to be taken high in the 2024 NHL Draft in Las Vegas.

Kasper Halttunen made his presence felt in the OHL Championship Series, registering eight goals and 12 points, including two hat tricks. The Helsinki, Finland native recorded 17 goals in 18 games in the playoffs, which is a new league record by an import player.

The 6-foot-3 winger was drafted 36th overall by the San Jose Sharks in 2023 and recorded 32 goals and 61 points during the regular season, which was his first in North America.

“Halltunen has a big shot that can score from 40-feet out from the net,” said Button. “When a player can expand their scoring area like that it takes up a lot of oxygen from your opponent’s defence. It opens everyone else, but it creates more opportunities and forces the defence to have to defend more ice.”

Denver Barkey has been one of the key offensive catalysts for the Knights all season, leading the team with 35 goals and 102 points in 64 regular season games. In the playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers prospect quietly finished tied for third in postseason scoring with six goals and 27 points.

Button believes that Barkey’s temperament and maturity is a key factor into the Knights success this season and will do him well in his professional future.

“Barkey is wired to win,” said Button. “If you want to find him on the ice, find the guts of the action, whether that is a puck battle in the corner, in front of the net, or blocking a shot. He’s in the guys of the action everywhere and all the time.

“He is also such a secure person where he knows what he does is valued by [Knights head coach] Dale Hunter. He doesn’t have to worry about who else is getting attention and he’s just wired to do the things that his team needs to win.”

Deep Defence

London’s top-four defencemen feature Oliver Bonk, Sam Dickinson, Edward Jackson, and Isaiah George, who are all big, skate well and have great hockey sense.

All four players are 6-feet or taller and have the capability to make the right plays at the right time.

“The first thing I would say about their blue line is that it’s a really good and complete,” said Button. “They can all skate and think. There’s nothing easy when you go up against that blue line and because they’re all so smart and strong positionally they are really hard to break down.”

Bonk and Dickinson have been the leaders of the defensive corps, eating up around 20 minutes a night.

Dickinson is projected to be lottery pick in the 2024 NHL Draft and led the Knights defence in the regular season with 17 goals and 70 points. The 6-foot-3 right shot defenceman added four goals and 13 points in London’s championship run while only taking 12 minutes in penalties.

“He’s great at every single area of the game,” said Button. “Dickinson is a top pair pillar defensively, he’s territorial, and has superb body positioning.”

Last season, the Knights made it all the way to the OHL Championship Series where they would eventually lose to the Peterborough Petes in six games. While playing as a rookie, Dickinson had four goals and eight points and didn’t record a single penalty minute while playing 20 minutes a night.

“He plays the game with supreme confidence and assuredness,” said Button. “There’s no false bravado in his game. It’s just assured confident, purposeful play.”

Bonk is in his third season with the Knights after being selected 22nd overall by the Flyers in the 2023 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-2 right-shot defenceman finished behind Dickinson with 24 goals and 67 points this season and added seven goals and 16 points in the playoffs.

The Ottawa native stood out in the Championship Series against the Generals where he had three goals and eight points in the four-game sweep.

“Bonk is such a smart player, and his hockey sense is off the charts,” said Button. “You’re not going to see a lot of flash and dash from him, but you’ll see substance. If you go and just watch the games, you’ll see he rarely makes mistakes.”

Veteran Goaltending

Michael Simpson already had a taste of the Memorial Cup after leading the Petes to the tournament last season. 

The 6-foot-1 netminder had a 2.80 goals-against average with a .918 save percentage to help the Petes defeat the Knights in last year’s OHL Championship Series and was named the playoff MVP.

“Last year with Peterborough, he was a significant factor in the Petes making the Memorial Cup,” said Button. “Peterborough didn’t score a lot, and everyone had to max out their abilities to reach where they got.

“Simpson was the confidence builder in the net.”

Now, Simpson is on the London side of the ice after he was acquired in a trade in September.

He led the league in the regular season with a 2.61 GAA to go along with a .905 save percentage and 34-10-2 record. In the playoffs Simpson went 15-2 with a 2.59 GAA and .908 save percentage to return to the Memorial Cup.

“He’s been there and done that,” said Button. “When going against a good team, they usually get seven-to-eight scoring chances against you per game. If you’re not ready for those, your opponent gets more confidence that they can beat you.

“Simpson has a real sense of calm and understanding, he knows in the first game he’ll be facing a good team and he’ll be ready to stop them when they time comes.”

Player to Watch: Easton Cowan

The player who stirs the drink for the Knights is the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect.

Cowan won the Red Tilson Award as the OHL most valuable player after recording a 36-game point streak to end the regular season, the league’s longest since 1994-95. He finished seventh in league scoring with 34 goals and 96 points.

The 5-foot-10 winger rose his game in the playoffs, leading the league with 10 goals and 34 points, including three goals and 15 points against the Generals. He was also named this year’s playoff MVP.

“It goes without saying that Cowan is skilled, but it’s how completely dialled in he’s been [that’s made a difference],” said Button. “There are players who are more skilled an might get more points than him, but he’s a difference maker because he’s dialled in everywhere all the time.”

Cowan was selected 28th overall by the Maple Leafs in the 2023 NHL draft, which was a surprise to some prognosticators. The Mount Brydges, Ont., native had found his comfort zone on the ice in the second half of his first full season in the OHL, so he may have caught some by surprise.

However, Button saw glimpses of Cowan's capabilities in last year’s playoff run, which are now being highlighted on the CHL’s brightest stage.

“Cowan was the driver in last year’s playoffs too but he hadn’t taken the steps in his physical ability to assert his presence to a greater extent,” said Button. “He’s a driver in all facets of the game whether it be on offense defence, power play, penalty kill, or even emotionally.

“I know it’s only been a short year, but Cowan might end up being one of the 10 best players in the 2023 draft.”