2009 Memorial Cup Champions: Turning the Page on 1988

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2009 Memorial Cup Champions - Mickey Renaud's Jersey Front & Centre

It had no effect on the players, of course.  It couldn’t have – most of the guys wearing Spitfire sweaters today weren’t even born when it happened, so how could it have any effect on them?  Nonsense.  It did, though, have an effect on their fans.  I know that to be true.

“It” was the 1988 Memorial Cup Final game.  Two months ago, I wrote that the City of Windsor needed a Memorial Cup Champion more than any other place in this country.  The case that I laid out for a Rose City Champion included consideration of economic factors (heavily dependent upon the suffering North American auto manufacturing sector, Windsor has the worst unemployment in the country);  it included consideration of the tragic death of the team’s young captain last year (Mickey Renaud, from a hidden heart defect);  and it included reference to some dicey circumstances for the franchise itself (a notorious hazing incident and some ownership instability, along with the perennial struggle to get a new place to play in).   All of those things are true, and all of them make a compelling case for the Spitfires as Memorial Cup Champion.

But the factor that tipped the scales, in my humble (and biased) opinion, was the gut-wrenching history of the Spits in the Memorial Cup tournament.  After years of mostly disappointing teams (only one trip to the league final, in 1980), the Spits finally had a powerhouse team in 1988.   The one and only time the club had made it to the big dance in 1988, the team was a prohibitive favourite.  That team won 39 of its last 40 games.  It went undefeated – UNDEFEATED – in four rounds of the OHL playoffs (just imagine that).  It skated through the round robin portion of the Cup undefeated as well.  And it jumped out to a 3-0 lead over its opponent, the Medicine Hat Tigers.   Coached by Tom Webster (later the bench boss of the Rangers and Gretzky-era Kings – just prior to Barry Melrose’s Mullet –  in the NHL).  The Spits were a lock to hoist that Memorial Cup trophy that day;  I remember it.  I remember lusting after that moment on that day.  As a Spits fan, someone who had followed the team as a young boy since the inception of the modern franchise in 1975, it was finally going to be our turn to hold the trophy that ordinarily got won every year by somebody else from a bigger, better city or a more famous junior hockey program.  It was time to walk on to the big stage with all the other Grade “A” franchises.

The thing is, though, the hockey gods do not like it when things are so predictable and certain.   And so the hockey gods threw Spitfire fans a curveball that day.  I remember they were leading going in to the third period, and I remember thinking they had the game in hand.  When the buzzer sounded at the end of the game though, they had lost 7-6 to Trevor Linden’s Medicine Hat Tigers.  Somebody else was carrying our trophy around the ice;   the team that had lost one game in forty was only second best.

Go Spits Go! One More for the Memorial Cup

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Go Spits Go, One More Time This Year!

I will be watching on a slight tape delay for much of the first part of the game – yard chores kept me a little bit later than I thought today – so don’t nobody call me on the phone and be giving me updates about what’s happening.

One game for the big trophy.  Winner takes all;  the Memorial Cup delivers up a notional game 7 for the Championship each and every year.  I can’t bear blogging along with the game;  my father-in-law and I are camped out on the couch with beers in hand ready to take it all in.  I hope it’s a good game, and I hope my Spits are holding the hardware at the end of the day.  I’m gonna say it again:  this tournament owes us one.  It is dangerous to demand satisfaction from the hockey gods, but perhaps a subtle reminder of an existing imbalance in the hockey cosmos will persuade them to rectify the historical imbalance of karma.

Go Spits Go!!!

UPDATE: Twenty minutes to go for a Memorial Cup Championship?  Kelowna is going to come at us like crazy, but that late goal from Ellis is huge and makes the Rockets’ mountain a tall one to climb.  I am not assigning any numbering to any sort of poultry, but this is an excellent position for the boys to be in.  Go Spits Go!!!!

The Goal

The Windsor Spitfires beat the QMJHL champion Drummondville Voltigeurs last night 3-2 in overtime (the link goes to my live blog of the game).

The OHL Champion Spitfires dropped their first two games of the Memorial Cup tournament (to Drummondville and Rimouski) before beating Western powerhouse Kelowna to force a tiebreaker on Thursday night vs. Rimouski.  The Spits were down two goals entering the 3rd period in that game, but Leaf prospect Dale Mitchell scored 3 goals in 3:33 of the third period to propel the Spits into the lead;  Windsor won the game 6-4 to earn a berth in the last night’s semi-final vs. Drummondville.  In other words, the Spits have taken the hardest possible road to get to the Cup Final.   A physically large and very talented Kelowna Rockets club has been waiting since Wednesday night, watching the other 3 teams clobber each other in an effort to get to the Final.  If the Spits win the Memorial Cup, they will be the first team to do so by going through the tiebreaker procedure in the history of the tournament.

Here’s Adam Henrique’s winning goal from overtime last night: