Maybe it’s a coincidence that Dylan Strome, Mathew Barzal and Thomas Chabot are all at the Mastercard Memorial Cup playing prominent roles for their teams.
Heading into the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championships, they were appointed leaders of Team Canada, Strome earning the C with Chabot and Barzal serving as assistant captains.
While there are many more players on the Saint John Sea Dogs, Seattle Thunderbirds and Erie Otters who came through for their teams to win their respective league championships, Strome believes the captains’ Memorial Cup presence may be a sign that they were named team leaders on Canada for a reason.
“We have leadership qualities that guys like and listen to,” said Strome, playing in his second season of captain of the Otters.
“Obviously Chabs and Barzy are tremendous players, MVPs of the playoffs for both of them and they’ve got great teams around them to support them … People follow leaders and for whatever reason, it worked out well for all of us in the playoffs this year.”
For all of them, it’s their first and most likely only chance at winning a Memorial Cup since they’re all poised to begin their professional careers next year, having been drafted in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Strome went third overall to the Arizona Coyotes, Barzal was next off the board when the New York Islanders selected him 15th and Chabot was drafted three spots later by the Ottawa Senators.
They each enjoyed a short stint with their NHL teams before ultimately being sent back down for one more year of junior.
Strome was the last one sent back midway through November and when that happened, he got an encouraging text message from Barzal as they each looked ahead to the World Juniors, where Canada fell to the United States in the championship game decided by a shootout.
Chabot felt the loss made every player want a league championship or a Memorial Cup run even more.
“I think those guys are just so talented,” he said. “After we lost at the World Juniors, every single guy was really hungry and excited to get back with their team.”
Chabot earned World Junior MVP honours after recording 10 points (four goals and six assists) through seven games.
He was also named defenceman of the year in the Q and followed with playoff MVP honours after he recorded 23 points (five goals and 18 assists) and sparked the Sea Dogs to a 16-2 run.
Barzal posted 25 points (seven goals and 18 assists) over 16 games and was named WHL playoff MVP after recording at least a point in all but one game, the deciding game of the final.
Strome was second to teammate Alex DeBrincat in OHL playoff scoring with 34 points (14 goals and 20 assists) in 22 games.
When the Otters and Thunderbirds faced off Saturday in a 4-2 Erie win, Strome and Barzal exchanged a few hacks early on, displaying a competitive edge.
Chabot hasn’t had the chance to face any of his Team Canada cohorts yet, but will do so Monday night against the Otters and the following night against Seattle.
All three players have gone through the pain of making it far into the playoffs, but coming up short of a title.
Barzal and the Thunderbirds made it to last year’s WHL final before falling in five games to the Brandon Wheat Kings while Strome and the Otters were OHL finalists in 2015 when they lost to that season’s Memorial Cup champions, the Oshawa Generals.
Like his pals, Barzal brought up another reason as to why all three players could be in a position to contend for a national championship.
“Whenever you have Stromer or Chabot on your team, you have a pretty good chance to win,” Barzal said. “They’ve each had a heck of a season and it’s going to be fun competing against them here.”
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