Two of the OHL's top four offensive defenceman, including the first one to reach 90 points in almost a decade. A 16 year-old phenom destined for a top spot in next year's Draft. Six 20-goal scorers and three 30-goal scorers. The Windsor Spitfires were a dominant force during the regular season, and continued that run through the OHL playoffs. But things almost turned sour on the national stage.
OHL Quarterfinals- Windsor vs. Owen Sound
After finishing first in the league during the regular season with an incredible 57-10 record, the Spitfires looked to open the 2009 post-season with a bang. They did just that against the terribly mismatched Owen Sound Attack. The Spits averaged 6.5 goals per game in a series that mercifully ended quickly. However, despite that dominance, it was still the opposing goalie that managed to steal the show. 2009-eligible Scott Stajcer gave Owen Sound an opportunity to win every night, facing an average of 53 shots a nights- including 71 in Game 2. Blessed with excellent size at 6'3,Stajcer opened eyes in the NHL scouting community with his excellent athleticism, reflexes and attitude. 17 year-old Taylor Hall was the story of the series for Windsor; the 6'1, 190 lbs forward totalled 12 points in the sweep.
Windsor wins 4 games to 0
OHL Western Semi-Finals- Windsor vs. Plymouth
After proving their dominance in the first round, Windsor's ability to control the game was the talk of the CHL. However, the Plymouth Whalers obviously weren't listening. Despite finishing with 20 fewer wins during the regular season, the Whalers shocked Windsor in the opener, beating them 6-3 at home. Carolina prospect Chris Terry was the star of that game; Plymouth's top player over the past two years with 195 points in 121 games, the 19 year-old contributed 1-2-3 in Game 1, and six points in total against the Spits. Despite their early struggles, Windsor left no doubt as to who the better team was. The Spits scored eight goals in each of Game 2 and Game 3, winning 8-1 and 8-2 respectively. Key to those decisive victories was Toronto Maple Leafs 2007 third round selection Dale Mitchell; the 5'9 forward was at his very best during the series, collecting a point in every game enroute to a 13-point outburst.
Windsor wins 4 games to 2
OHL Western Conference Finals- Windsor vs. London
Across the entire CHL, no match-up was hyped more than Windsor versus the London Knights. Sparked by the acquisition of John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto from Oshawa at the OHL Trade Deadline, the Knights were considered the only team capable of skating with the Spits. And while Tavares and Del Zotto were certainly good during a widely entertaining five-game series that saw every single game decided by a goal, it was a different forward/defenceman combo for the Knights that came to the fore. 2008 first round selection John Carlson and 2009-eligible center Nazem Kadri fuelled the London attack. Kadri, considered something of a talented by flaky forward, out-shined Tavares with back-to-back-to-back multipoint games. Carlson, meanwhile, delivered nine points over the course of the series, but it was the Capitals prospect's physical game that stole the show.Diminituve Windsor rearguard Ryan Ellis also had his best series of the OHL post-season to date, collecting ten points.
Windsor wins 4 games to 1
OHL Finals- Windsor vs. Brampton
After finishing off London in fewer than six games, no one expected a series against the Brampton Battalion to last very long, and that turned out to be correct. Despite boasting perhaps the best two-way forward in the CHL in Cody Hodgson, the Spitfires opened the OHL Finals with a 10-1 win and never looked back. Taylor Hall wrapped up the league playoff scoring title and post-season MVP honors, registering nine points to finish with 36 in just 20 games. Hall's speed, tenacity, skill and love for the game generated legions of fans and interest in the young star. For Brampton, the biggest story was who didn't show up; the deadlytriumvirate of Hodgson, 2009 eligible Matt Duchene and New York Rangers prospect Evgeny Grachev combined for just six points the entire series.
Windsor wins 4 games to 1
Memorial Cup- Round Robin
With a collective record of 16-4 through the Ontario League post-season, things were going better than anyone could have expected for the Spits. However, it was that lack of an obstacle that may have contributed to early struggles- and an almost early demise.
Memorial Cup Game 1- Windsor vs. Drummondville
The Spits kicked off the 2009 MasterCard Memorial Cup with their first true on-ice test. Record-smashing offense from Yannick Riendeau and the superb play of 2009-eligible defender Dmitri Kulikov allowed the QMJHL's Drummondville Voltigeurs to coast through the first three rounds of the Q playoffs undefeated. Riendeau's 52 points in just 19 playoff games set a franchise record, and was the highest total of any player since Sidney Crosby's relatively tame 31 in 2004-05.
However, Game 1 was not the display of firewagon hockey many expected. In fact, none of the big guns on either side- Riendeau, Hall and Ellis- registered a point in the contest. This proved to be Windsor's downfall. While 2008 New Jersey selection Adam Henrique scored two huge goals- including the first of the contest with less than second on the clock in the second period- his heroics were not enough as the Spits fell 3-2 in OT. Key to the victory wasDrummondville goalie Marco Cousineau; a third round pick in 2008 by Anaheim, the deadline acquisition made 33 stops on 35 shots.
Drummondville wins 3-2 in OT
Memorial Cup Game 2- Windsor vs. Rimouski
The Spits had just one day to reflect on their loss to the Voltigeurs, as they played the host Rimouski Oceanic the very next night. While Rimouski was certainly better than many of the teams who have earned a spot in the final four by virtue of being host, they were easily handled by the Voltiguers in a 4-0 sweep during that league's semi-finals.
However, a long layoff allowed the Oceanic to rest some key bodies that were at less than 100% during the Q playoffs. While the Spits still fired 39 shots on net,defenceman Marc-Andre Bourdon (Phi 3rd, '08) and defensive forward Patrice Cormier (NJ 2nd, '08) held Windsor to few excellent scoring chances, and each contributed in a big way offensively. In particular, Bourdon's cool, confident puck movement and solid, solid own-zone play made him a standout, earning him 2nd star. Despie finally getting offense from Ryan Ellis (one goal) and Taylor Hall (two assists), the stunned Spits dropped their second consecutive game, 5-4.
Rimouski wins 5-4
Memorial Cup Game 3- Windsor vs. Kelowna
Due to their less-than-inspired efforts against the two Q teams, the Spitfires faced a must-win contest against the underdog-turned-best team in the country. TheKelowna Rockets survived what many considered to be a sure-lose series against the powerful Calgary Hitmen to advance all the way to the Memorial Cup. Your typical Western Canadian team, Kelowna's rugged style of play was matched by their ability to score at will with the game on the line. Not known as a team prone to giving up goals, the Rockets were a nightmare opponent for thestrugging Spits.
Kelowna looked to be up to their old tricks early on, holding Windsor to single-digit shots in the first period. However, the Spitfires didn't look to truly be in trouble until AdamHenrique's hooking penalty lead to a Rockets powerplay goal seven minutes into the second to give them the first goal and lead of the game. Suddenly, time and the style of play was against the Spitfires.
After nine minutes of frantic play, the normally creative and explosive Spits finally figured out how to solve Kelowna goalie Mark Guggenberger: traffic and tips. The quiet stick of Taylor Hall finally came to life as he deflected a point shot from goat Henrique. The shot would take on a Kennedy-esque magic bullet quality, pinballing off Guggenberger's cage and in with less than five to play in the second period
Inspired by the goal, Windsor came out hard to start the third period, generating a number of shots in the opening minutes. It wasWJC stand-out Ryan Ellis- whose clutch keep-in lead to the Jordan Eberle GTG - who came up with a special play of his own. After some slick perimeter puck movement by the Spits, Hall made a routine pass to Ellis on the point. A defensive breakdown by the normally sound Rockets gave Ellis a clear shooting lane and all the time in the world to load up. Ellis wouldn't miss, using his trademark wicked slapper to beatGuggenberger up high. Despite having almost a period to come back, the Rockets couldn't put one past 6'5 undrafted goalie Andrew Engelage, and the Spitfires picked up their first win of the tournament.
Windsor wins 2-1
Memorial Cup Game 4- Windsor vs. Rimouski
While not out of the woods yet, the Spitfires finally had the confidence that had buoyed them to unparalleled domination of the OHL. And while a re-match against Rimouski had the potential to rattle them- and almost did- it was Windsor's offense that saved the day. Trailing 3-2 heading into the third period, Dale Mitchell exploded for a hat-trick in 3:33 to give the Spits a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Flames pick Greg Nemisz would ice the win with a powerplay goal at 19:59 of the third period to give Windsor a truly gigantic win in round-robin play.
Windsor wins 6-4
Memorial Cup Tie-Breaker- Windsor vs. Drummondville
By virtue of a dead-locked 2-2 record in the Memorial Cup round robin, the Spits and Voltigeurs once again duked it out last night- this time in a game that meant a bearth in the Memorial Cup championship game. The Spitfires had the opportunity to once again erase a loss to an opponent, with the Voltigeurs perhaps holding an edge mentally. In addition, the hot stick of Yannick Riendeau had once again returned, as the winger netted six points in three games.
Many fans who get both a Sportsnet regional channel and CBC were likely torn last night; after all, the Detroit Red Wings managed to erase a 3-0 deficit in the second period just as this game was heading into its critical moments. And if you missed it, well, you missed a hell of a hockey game.
Windsor exploded for an early 2-0 on two late first period goals by Hall and 2007 Chicago 4th round selection Ben Shutron. However, Drummondville would counter in the next frame, the beautiful and effortless offensive lay of Riendeau powering the Voltigeurs to a goal one minute into the period and with one at the 15:10 mark. The third period, while scoreless, was a terrific display of domination by the Spits, as they fired 22 shots toDrummondville's three. However, Cousineau was equal to the task, forcing extra time.
However, like the NHL playoffs, overtime in major junior has not been overly long. That proved to be the case again last night when AdamHenrique crashed the net and knocked the rebound of a Taylor Hall shot past Marco Cousineau at 4:31 of first OT.
Memorial Cup Championship Game
It wasn't pretty, but the youthful Windsor Spitfires have persevered this spring, going from unbeatable to mortal to the biggest game many of them will play. From the star-making performance of Taylor Hall to the continued excellence of Ryan Ellis to timely goals and assists by Andrei Loktionov, Dale Mitchell, Grem Nemisz and of course Adam Henrique, the Spitfires have earned their place in a major junior championship game- and, with just one more win, perhaps major junior history.
The final game on the CHL sked will go tomorrow afternoon at 4:30 EST. Look for part two of this article- Kelowna's path to the Mem Cup- later today.