This tournament owes us one, dammit. I still believe.
After dropping round robin games to Drummondville and Rimouski to kick off the tournament, the Spitfires faced off tonight against a Kelowna Rockets team that had already clinched a berth in the Tournament Final on Sunday. Whereas the Spits had to win to keep any hope alive of moving along in the tournament, the result of the game was meaningless to Kelowna. It looked to me as though the Spits had actually caught a bit of a break in that regard; the asymmetric motivation showed, as the Rockets seemed to lack a sense of urgency at times in their play.
I couldn’t bring myself to live blog the game; I had to do something to change the mojo after two live blogs and two crushing losses.
An even first period produced no scoring, with fairly even – but tentative – play on both sides. In the second period, with Windsor forward Adam Henrique off for hooking, Kyle St. Denis tipped in a Tyler Myers drive from the point to give the Western Hockey League Champs an early lead. The Spitfires had been pressing somewhat, and a team of lesser character might have sagged then and there, decided it wasn’t to be and prepared to go home. These Spitfires, though, refused to die.
Taylor Hall hit two goalposts in the second frame. Kelowna’s Mark Guggenberger also lived up to his nickname – The Guggenburglar – on a couple of occasions, stopping quality Windsor bids to score. Finally, a Spitfire goal was had in the way goals are often scored in such circumstances, by crashing the net and getting a crazy bounce into the net. Hall was credited with the goal, and the Spitfires seemed to draw energy from both that and a series of penalty kills as the second period drew to an end.
Ryan Ellis scored for Windsor early in the third, giving the desperate Windsorites a tenuous 2-1 lead. After only a few more minutes, Kelowna was in penalty trouble and the Spitfires began pressing to score an insurance goal. There were a couple of extended 5 on 3s, the second of which featured the most inspired bit of penalty killing I have seen in quite some time. Remember this name: Cody Almond. The Kelowna defenceman blocked 4 shots, all of which were heavy blasts from the high slot, all of which Almond blocked at point blank range, and all of which he got in a single shift. Remarkably, the Spitfires failed to score.
The game came to a conclusion with some intelligent forechecking on the part of the Spitfires; pressure in the neutral zone and up ice prevented the Rockets from getting goaltender Guggenberger out of the net and mounting a serious bid to tie the game.
So now the Spitfires will play a tiebreaker game on Thursday against either Drummondville or Rimouski. They will have an opportunity to move on. They will have an opportunity to control their destiny and mount a challenge for the Memorial Cup. It will be a difficult road and a LONG road if the Spitfires are to play in the Championship Final – they will have to win the tiebreaker and then the sem-final before playing for the Cup on Sunday. Teams do not generally take this road to a Memorial Cup championship; but like I said, this tournament may owe the Spits one yet. I remember the way this tournament took a championship from the Spitfires in 1988. I’ll say it again: the Spits won 39 of their last 40 games that fateful season; the only one they lost was the Memorial Cup final – and they had gone into the third period leading in that one too. It’s been a rocky road so far in this tournament, with many folks writing that the Spitfires were favourites who had disappointed; there still remains an opportunity for the Spits to achieve something very special.
They could win one the hard way. Go Spits Go!!!!
Notes: Strong play again tonight from Scott Timmins and Craig Nemisz. Ryan Ellis was an absolute beast; he made one diving play on the third period powerplay to keep the puck in at the Kelowna blueline that showed he has the heart of a champion. That kid can play. Taylor Hall continued to get a raft of scoring chances, but showed some immaturity, I think, taking a couple of foolish penalties late in both the second and third periods that could have proved fatal. For the Rockets, Myers and Benn both look like rock solid pro prospects, and – if Cody Almond hasn’t already been drafted – he should be simply on the basis of that one penalty-killing shift alone. Leaf fans will be a little disappointed to hear that 3rd-round pick Dale Mitchell had little impact on this game. He did take an elbow to the throat that went unpenalized, but beyond that didn’t generate energy the way he did in two previous games.