The Memorial Cup is a junior ice hockey club championship trophy awarded annually to the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) champion. Each year the champions from three CHL member leagues; the Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), along with a host team, compete in the Memorial Cup Tournament. The OHL's Windsor Spitfires are the defending champions, having won the 2009 Memorial Cup in Rimouski, Quebec.
Known originally as the OHA Memorial Cup, it was donated in 1919 by the Ontario Hockey Association in honour of the soldiers who died fighting for Canada in World War I. From its donation in 1919 until 1971, the Memorial Cup was awarded via a series of playdowns to the junior hockey champion of Canada. The Canadian Amateur Hockey Association moved to the current tournament format in 1972 when it divided Junior A hockey into two tiers, naming the Memorial Cup as the championship of the Major-Junior rank. Sixty teams across the CHL's three member leagues are eligible to compete for the Memorial Cup, representing nine provinces and five American states.
The Memorial Cup, originally the OHA Memorial Cup, was donated in 1919 by the Ontario Hockey Association (the precursor to the Ontario Hockey League) as a memorial to the Canadian dead of World War I. It was awarded to the junior hockey champions of Canada. It started as an East-versus-West format, where the George Richardson Memorial Trophy champions from the East would play the Abbott Cup champions from the West.
From 1919 to 1928, the Memorial Cup Final was a two-game total goals affair between a champion from Eastern Canada and a champion from Western Canada, both of which were determined through a series of playdowns under the auspices of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. In 1929, the Memorial Cup Final became a best-of-three series.
In 1934, when the junior hockey teams were further divided between Junior 'A' and Junior 'B', the Memorial Cup served as the Junior 'A' championship trophy, and the Sutherland Cup became the Junior 'B' trophy. From 1937 the Memorial Cup was a best-of-five series, and in 1943 reverted back to a best-of-seven series.
For the 1971–1972 season, the Junior 'A' rank was further split into the Major Junior rank and a second-tier rank (referred nowadays as Junior 'A'), with the Memorial Cup serving as the Major Junior championship trophy, and the Manitoba Centennial Trophy, and later the Royal Bank Cup, serving as the second tier championship trophy.
In 1972, the Memorial Cup was contested between three teams: the champions of the three leagues of the Canadian Hockey League: the President's Cup Champs (WHL), J. Ross Robertson Cup Champs (OHL), and the President's Cup Champs (QMJHL). From 1972 to 1973 these three teams played a single round-robin (two games each), with the top two teams advancing to a single-game final. A semi-final game was added in 1974. In 1977 the tournament was expanded to a double round-robin (four games each), with no semi-final. The tournament was held at a pre-determined site which was rotated among the three leagues.
The 1983 Memorial Cup tournament saw the inclusion of a fourth team, the team hosting the event, which was done to boost tournament attendance. The first tournament under this format was held in Portland, Oregon, and marked the first time that an American city hosted the Memorial Cup. The host Winter Hawks also won the Cup that year, becoming the first American team to win the Memorial Cup. The four teams played a single round-robin (three games each). If two teams are tied for third place, then a tie-breaker game is played on Thursday, followed by a semi-final game between the second and third-place teams and a final between the first-place team and the semi-final winner. The site of the tournament continued to be rotated between the three leagues. This is the format that continues to be used today.
If the host team also wins its respective league championship, the Memorial Cup berth reserved for the league champion is instead awarded to that league's runner-up. This was the case in 2006, when the Quebec Remparts lost to the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL Finals. However, since Moncton was hosting the Memorial Cup that year, Quebec was awarded the QMJHL berth to the Memorial Cup tournament. The Remparts went on to win the Memorial Cup that season, the first time that a team has won the tournament without qualifying as the tournament host or as the champions of their respective league.
In the history of the cup, there has only been one major mishap with the cup itself. A replica trophy, which is the one teams are presented with on the ice after the game, broke apart while Spokane Chiefs captain Chris Bruton tried to hand it off to a teammate after being presented the cup on the ice at the 2008 tournament. The crowd started heckling after the replica cup broke apart, while the Spokane Chiefs took apart the trophy and shared it around with teammates. The official cup is currently held at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
It is considered one of the hardest trophies to win in sports, as there are currently 60 teams competing each year to make the tournament, and a player has a maximum of five years to win it due to age restrictions.