The Hamilton Bulldogs are ready to defend the Memorial Cup, while Matthew Tkachuck (Calgary Hitmen) and Brendan Lemieux (Everett Silvertips) will make their CHL debuts as the puck will drop for the 2016-17 Canadian Hockey League season on Sept. 22 on Trio Plus with a double-header. Game 1 sends the Saint John Sea Dogs to Erie, PA, to face the Otters, while in game 2, Brendan Lemieux will make his long-awaited CHL debut as the SIlvertips face the Portland Winterhawks at the Moda Center. HTN Communications will begin their coverage the next night (Sept. 23) when Matthew Tkachuck makes his CHL debut as the Calgary Hitmen welcome the Quebec Remparts to the Saddledome. Because of the unbalanced schedule, the rematch between Everett and Hamilton (the two teams that played for the Memorial Cup) takes place twice in 2017 in Everett (Jan. 7) and Hamilton (Mar. 9). Here are the top-5 teams to look out for as we head to the beginning of a new season for the CHL.
- Everett Silvertips (Last Season, 39-21-8; lost to Hamilton Bulldogs in the Memorial Cup Finals). Meet Brendan Lemieux. The last name should sound familiar to you. Brendan is the son of former NHL right winger Claude Lemieux, and if he's anything like his dad, the Silvertips struck paydirt. With a loaded squad heading into the upcoming season (including Aaron Ekblad, who had 85 points for the Silvertips last season), the team need more weapons, and they got it. This team is definitely the one to watch.
- Calgary Hitmen (Last Season: 36-27-5; lost to Everett Silvertips in the Wesern Conference Semifinals). Not to be outdone, the Hitmen weren't concerned with keeping up with the Silvertips, they were more interested in overcoming them. And the signing of Matthew Tkachuck gives the Hitmen more fire power to get through the long haul that is the season and the playoffs. Like Brendan, Matthew comes from a family with high prestiege. Matthew is the son of U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Keith Tkachuck. And if he's like his dad, whoever plays against Calgary better be on the lookout for him.
- Portland Winterhawks (Last season: 44-17-7; lost to Calgary Hitmen in the Western Conference Quarterfinals). One thing you don't want to do is face a team that is angry. The Winterhawks have been waiting since April 3rd to play again after letting a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Hitmen squander and them going home. Needless to say, Hakeem Shannon was pissed. "Put the S in front of Hitmen and you get my opinion on them. We let them come back and beat us. That is inexcusable," Shannon said after the game. Hakeem won't have to wait long. The Hitmen will play in Portland on Oct. 1.
- Hamilton Bulldogs (Last season: 44-19-5; Won Memorial Cup) Hamilton has won 3 Memorial Cup titles in 4 appearances in the Finals, and Playoff MVP Darius Miller is already looking for another one. Led by Carlos Hunter the Bulldogs have been the only winners of the Northeast Division. No other team comes close, but as hard as it is to win a Memorial Cup, the Bulldogs can be a witness to tell you that it's even harder to repeat.
- Saint John Sea Dogs (Last Season: 45-14-9; lost to Hamilton Bulldogs in the Eastern Conference Finals) "Always the Bridesmaid, never the bride." That pretty much describes Saint John in a nutshell. Despite having a fantastic leader in Semario Johnson, and a fantasitc head coach in Tyrone Smith, the Sea Dogs can not get over the hump. That hump being: Hamilton. For three straight years, and four of the last 5, Saint John's season ended at the hands of Hamilton. That "monkey on their back" is pretty much now the size of King Kong.
So, what will happen this upcoming season. You just have to stay tuned to find out. Season starts Sept. 22.