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:
First period: Two early chances for Taylor Hall, then a frantic series in the Windsor zone at about the 3 minute mark in which Engelage is down and out and Adam Henrique collapses to the front of his goal (I think) and makes a terrific block on a sure goal from Riendeau. Drummondville is buzzing; I believe they have the generally superior team speed. If they are able to keep that kind of pace up, Windsor will be in trouble. On the other hand, if the Spitfires are able to keep the pressure on Drummondville over the entire ice surface, disrupting their flow, the Spitfires will win.
Things seem to be settling down a wee bit; the teams are racing back and forth a bit. It is encouraging to see the Spitfires breaking up some of the Drummondville rushes, but these wide open opportunities at the feet of Engelage are obviously not on the menu. As an aside, why the hell are we doing an in-game interview with coach Bob Boughner less than seven minutes in to the game? Is he really likely to have gained a lot of insight into the game at that point?
Dale Mitchell is down and hurt at the Drummondville blue line after a collision with Drummondville defenceman Ryan McKiernan, resulting in the game’s first penalty (for kneeing). Nemisz blasts one wide left from the slot. The power play – for a change – is actually maintaining control of the puck in the offensive zone. The PP is over now, Cousineau wasn’t seriously challenged, but he was required to make a couple of quick saves; the penalty has been served. Windsor seems to have begun dictating play once again, but then a loose puck is recovered by Jonathon Brunelle in the Windsor zone and a battle for the puck in the corner leads to a Windsor penalty. Engelage makes a huge save on a wide-open Vachon to keep the game scoreless. Timmins and MacDermid manage some good pressure down ice while shorthanded and force a couple of face offs. The penalty is killed successfully. A minute or two later, Johnathon Brunelle is trying to do a preview of the Indy 500 in the Windsor zone; he’s carrying the puck around and around the perimeter of the zone, occasionally centring the puck dangerously and – just as often – recovering it himself. Thankfully, that little flurry ends harmlessly.
Game five of the OHL Championship series goes tonight at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, 7:05 p.m. I fully expect Spits fans to absolutely blow the roof off the new rink tonight when the Spits take the ice, and the team is going to come out charged up and ready to roll. I am very much hoping, as I have written elsewhere, that the Spits to book their ticket to Rimouski tonight. I am still charged up from watching the Spits beat the Battalion 4-1 the other night in Brampton.
The other thing that emerged from my visit to Brampton’s Powerade Centre: the following list of seven reasons that the Brampton Battalion should NOT win the OHL Championship.
(1) The team colours; guys: it’s called olive “drab” for a reason.
(2) The Brampton players emerge from their dressing room and enter the ice surface at the start of the game through a giant inflatable tank. First, nothing says “invincible” like a giant air-filled pillow; and second, the “muzzle” of the tank droops rather obscenely. When we first saw it, my Dad expressed some degree of concern that they might use the damn thing to fire t-shirts or other swag into the crowd (a la the t-shirt bazookas in use at other facilities). He was right to be concerned. These guys really carry the military theme a touch over the top.
(3) They have a freaky looking mascot called “Sarge”. And I mean freaky, this thing is some kind of messed up. If a real live person were dressed in olive drab combat fatigues but had an oversized head that looked like one of those weird apple core dolls, that person would:
scare the shit out of me; and
look exactly like “Sarge.”
I think this mascot decision of the Battalion’s is very curious; whereas teams like the Calgary Flames have “Harvey the Hound” (an oversized, furry and friendly mutt), the Brampton Battalion have chosen to attempt to endear themselves to the children by circulating among them a perpetually scowling drill sergeant with an alarming complexion and a warlike demeanour. Not the choice I would have predicted.
(4) For about two or three minutes prior to the beginning of each period, arena staff play a recording of some sort of cannon firing over the facility’s loudspeakers. What a way to create a festive environment! What better way to evoke the carefree abandon of New Orleans at Mardi Gras or the joyful ebullience of the old Chicago Stadium: mimic the ambience of a warzone. I know I never quite feel like partying until the artillery bombardment has begun.
(5) They refer to the Battalion players as “troops.” ‘Nuff said.
(6) In the first intermission, “Sarge” (see above) skated around the ice and infrequently lobbed t-shirts over the glass to terrified children who reflexively returned his salute. His musical accompaniment, broadcast over the arena public address system, was the music from “The Great Escape.” A lone male in an olive drab costume slowly circling the ice, waving his arms to the music from a film about P.O.W.s – to me, it very much looked like the worst idea for the men’s short program ever conceived.
(7) At the end of each period, when there are but sixty seconds to play, the arena announcer bellows out “One minute to ceasefire!”
Really? Dude, the military motif? It’s too much. Seriously. Oh, and Dude? ONE GAME ‘TIL CEASEFIRE!!
Windsor 4, Brampton 1. My Spitfires are one game closer to (and only one win away from) their second OHL Championship. After suffering a setback on Monday in game 3 at the hands of a determined Brampton club, the Spits stormed out of the gate in the first last night and attacked the Brampton goal (occupied by Thomas McCollum) repeatedly and in waves. The sold-out Powerade Centre in Brampton was bursting at the seams with 4,861 junior hockey fans (including, I am happy to note, a very noticeable and very vocal contingent of Spitfire supporters), but the Battalion players seemed unable to draw sufficient energy from their assembled well-wishers to assist them in mounting an effective counter-attack at the outset of the game. The Spitfires carried by far the vast majority of the play in the first frame and outshot the home side by a margin of 12-7; in fact, with only the occasional generally fleeting Brampton foray into Windsor territory, to my mind that shot count is somewhat misleading as it fails to reflect the territorial advantage enjoyed by the Sptifires throughout the period. I suspect that many of those 7 Brampton shots were accumulated during the power-play they had when Windsor’s Richard Greenop was called for high-sticking well behind the play. At times during the first, the Windsorites seemed to cycle the puck low in the Brampton zone almost at will. To the credit of the Brampton defenders, they prevented with some frequency the prolonged Windsor cycling from developing into truly high quality scoring opportunities. In fact, for much of the period it seemed as though the Battalion would manage to survive the sustained offensive pressure in their zone; of greater concern for Brampton coach Stan Butler, no doubt, would have been Windsor’s success in the transition game. I counted at least a half-dozen odd-man rushes generated by Brampton turnovers either at, or just over the Windsor blueline – including one early four-on-two attack that must have had Butler reaching for the Alka Seltzer.
Prior to Game One of The Crosbys vs. The Ovechkins, I posted a photo I took of Alex Ovechkin in February during our visit to the Sunshine State (otherwise known as the Week We Retired).
Keeping in mind the worldwide influence of this blog, it would seem apparent to me that the appearance of the said photograph directly contributed to the Caps’ victory over their arch-rivals. No doubt it was my photography that spurred the Gr8 Eight to play up to his potential, begin to justify the hype concerning this series and to chip in a goal to boot. In addition, I am sure that Simeon Varlamov’s otherworldly performance was his way of attempting to grab the attention of these pages and to earn the posting of an image of his own.
Because the Caps are my adopted team once again this post-season, and because I believe very strongly that the Penguins will play better in Game Two, I am going to use some ninja psychology on the 21-year old Capital netminder: I am going to decline once again to post his photograph hereabouts. Instead, I shall post a picture of Calgary speedster and Norris trophy candidate Mike Green. I am posting this photo of Green because:
It might help him remember what to do if he happens to be involved in a play during which the Capitals advance the puck into the Penguins’ net – unless he’s been drywalling his ceiling at home, it’s been a while since Green has had occasion to raise his arms over his head; and
If the appearance of this photo doesn’t spur Green on to change his approach to the game, a public posting of this image might get it considered for use on the side of the milk carton that will inevitably begin circulating inside the Beltway as those Rockin’ the Red begin to earnestly wonder about Green’s wherabouts.
Seriously, Mike, one shot on goal in twenty-six minutes of ice time and a partially blown coverage that led to your boy Simeon’s masterpiece save just aren’t getting it done right now; not for a marquee player that the Capitals are depending on. Anyway, Ovie, Green and their mates better cowboy up and get ready for a different kind of rodeo tonight.
Update 12:10 p.m. : On Frozen Blog is reporting that Capitals defenceman John Erskine left the morning skate early and that the Caps have recalled prospect defensemen Karl Alzner and Tyler Sloan from their AHL affiliate, Hershey (a club that is itself involved in a playoff series, believe it or not against the Penguins’ AHL farm team). Erskine was half of the duo I saw Boudreau matching up with Sidney Crosby in Game One (Fedorov was Sid the Kid’s shadow by times as well). Injuries on the blueline to critical personnel combined with an undoubted sense of urgency among the Penguins to bring a better game mean that the Caps’ task tonight will be significantly more difficult. I’m pulling for them, but I foresee a Penguins victory tonight following an improved showing from both Crosby and Malkin.
Elsewhere on the Ice Tonight
A certain Major Junior A team from a certain City located in the extremities of Southwestern Ontario takes to the ice tonight against the Brampton Batallion for Game 3 of the Ontario Hockey League Championship Final. I have had some difficulty getting the live streaming audio from CKLW AM 800 to work properly for me throughout the OHL playoffs; I am hoping that won’t be the case tonight. Obviously, I have a choice to make – Crosbys vs. Ovechkins or Spits/Batallion. I think I’ll probably watch the NHL game on the tube and try to record the Spits broadcast using Freecorder; then I’ll listen to the .mp3 of the Spits game broadcast on my iPod when I go to bed. How far indeed – and yet not so far at all – we have come from those days falling asleep listening to Dave Quinn’s call of the game over my crystal radio set. The technology has changed radically; 35 years later, I’m still looking forward to the excitement of the Spits on the radio.
As it turned out, I wasn’t able to make it to tonight’s Spitfire/Batallion match, the second of the OHL best-of-seven final. I had looked into buying tickets earlier in the week, but work concerns had me wondering whether I’d be able to get out early enough to make it down the 403 in time for the game. My concern was justified, as it was half past six again tonight before we were able to straggle out of the office.
I didn’t even get a chance to listen via Internets radio.
Windsor won, 5-3. Game three is back in the Rose City on Monday. I have purchased tickets for Wednesday night’s game, and I am hoping – without jinxing anything – that the J. Ross Robertson Cup will be making an appearance on the ice that night. It would be nice to see the Spits book their ticket to Rimouski for this year’s Memorial Cup.
Unrelated bonus humour, brought to you at my expense:
I have been experiencing some soreness in my right shoulder. Nothing serious, but enough of an annoyance to cause the occasional gasp as a stealthy stabbing pain sneaks up and punches me in the mind. Spouse was theorizing that this might be resulting from Lord Henry’s recent decisions concerning the sleeping arrangements – always cuddled up tight against my ample girth, he has been moving progressively closer to my pillow over the last couple of weeks. I was telling her that on one particular early morning, Henry was nestled into the “crook of my shoulder”.
Spouse looked at me, not comprehending.
“You know, the crook of your shoulder,” I said, pointing to the general area in question.
“What’s the crook of your shoulder?” she asked.
“You know, the crook” I said, frustration beginning to creep into my voice.
“Are you talking about your armpit?” she asked.
“Uhhh, yeah. Armpit. Armpit is a hard word to remember, you know.”