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What's the Memorial Cup? Bittner, other Hawks find out

Canadian kids grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL — and the Memorial Cup while they are juniors.

Portland Winterhawks center Taylor Peters remembers watching Vancouver when the Western Hockey League Giants played host to the Cup (and won it) in 2007.

But this week, as the 2012-13 WHL champion Winterhawks prepare for their turn in the Memorial Cup (Friday through May 26 at Saskatoon), they sport 10 players from the United States and two from Europe, all of whom may not have even thought of the Memorial Cup before coming to Portland.

Take Paul Bittner, a rookie forward from Crookston, Minn. He had just heard of the Canadian Hockey League two years ago, and it wasn't until he signed and visited the Hawks during the 2012 WHL finals that he heard the words "Memorial Cup."

"I had to ask, what is the Memorial Cup?" he says. "Everybody thought I was dumb.

"From what I've been told, it's a holiday, the Memorial Cup in Canada."

That "holiday" gets serious for the Hawks on Saturday, when they play their Memorial Cup opener at 4 p.m PT against Halifax.

"I'm pretty excited to be playing in it as a 16-year-old, representing Minnesota and the Portland Winterhawks and this great event," Bittner says. "I'm excited to see what happens."

Bittner and fellow rookie forward Keegan Iverson played extensively as the WHL finals with Edmonton swent on, especially after Presten Kopeck went out with a wrist injury.

Veteran Taylor Peters centers for the rookies, when not centering for checkers Adam De Champlain and Joey Baker.

Peters says that the playing time Bittner and Iverson got in the Edmonton series shows that Portland coach Travis Green "has a lot of faith in them."

Adds Peters: "For 16-year-olds, 'Bitts' and 'Keegs' have been playing really well."

Says the 6-4, 195-pound Bittner: "I feel like I'm becoming more and more comfortable in the playoffs. I feel like I played more in the finals than I did in the regular season."