Jeremiah Addison and Mikhail Sergachev were a study in contrasts on Friday. Their approach to Sunday’s championship game at the Mastercard Memorial Cup varied widely as well.
On one hand, there was Addison. The Windsor Spitfires captain, a 20-year-old overage forward two days removed from perhaps his best career game when he scored a hat trick against the Erie Otters, was a portrait of a someone soaking in the experience. And part of that experience was watching Friday’s semi-final between the Otters and QMJHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs.
“As a hockey fan, I’ll be watching,” he said. “There’s two good teams out there and you can see who we are going to play in the final, so you have to do a little bit of homework as well.”
And then there was Sergachev. Last year’s OHL top defenceman sounded as if he’d rather play bridge than see who his team will playing Sunday’s final.
“The boys may be watching the game but not me,” said Sergachev. “I was explaining it earlier…I don’t want to watch and see (a potential opponent) play poorly and become (overconfident).”
“I don’t know what it is (exactly) but I know both teams and (already) know how good they can play.”
Both Addison and Sergachev are property of the Montreal Canadiens, with the 18-year-old Russian suiting up for four NHL games early in the season before being returned to Windsor. The Habs picked Addison and Sergachev a year and 198 picks apart; the fleet-footed forward going 207th overall in 2015 and the multi-dimensional defenceman hearing his name called ninth overall last spring.
One grew up in Brampton, the other in Nizhnekamsk. If you’re counting, they are more than 8,000 kilometers apart. Travel due south a few hundred kilometres south from Addison’s hometown and you’ll get to Windsor, where both players have spent a fruitful year together that could have a dream ending on Sunday.
That’s where the Spits have the ultimate chance to redeem themselves by winning the Mastercard Memorial Cup after an early playoff exit that saw them get a six-week break before the hosts opened their account with an impressive win over the Sea Dogs.
History gives mixed signals as to how winning three games to clinch a final berth helps or hurts a team’s preparation. The Guelph Storm looked like world beaters in winning the round robin in London three years ago but came out flat in the final against the Edmonton Oil Kings, who skated off with the Memorial Cup.
The past two round robin winners – the Oshawa Generals in 2015 and London Knights last year – maintained their stellar form and won the national crown.
The Spitfires have won the Mastercard Memorial Cup both ways. In 2009 in Rimouski, the team famously struggled by losing its first two games before reeling off four straight to win it all. A year later, Windsor was virtually unstoppable in winning all four games in Brandon and its second consecutive Mastercard Memorial Cup.
Add it all up and the Spitfires franchise has won 11 straight games at the Mastercard Memorial Cup since the 0-2 start in Rimouski.
Eight years later, Addison says that the time off since Wednesday was a net positive for his team.
“We’ve had a lot of time off and the guys all know what to do,” he said. “…I wouldn’t say the time off is a bad thing, you just have to stay focused.”
Whatever happened on Friday night, Spits coach Rocky Thompson knew that his team would have to dispatch the same league championship team for the second time in the space of a week.
“It’s difficult no matter what,” said Thompson. “Every game we play was going to be difficult coming into this tournament. We’ve been the underdog in all those situations (here) and so we prepare every game accordingly that we have to do to control our destiny.”
Thompson left no doubt he was going to watch the game on Friday night but had no issues whether his players did, or if they took a pass.
“If you watch and a team exposes another team in a certain area, you can get a lot of value out of that,” said Thompson. “But I want my guys to just worry about their own game.”
Speaking of worries, Thompson was not surprised that Addison appeared to have none as his team prepared to win the Mastercard Memorial Cup on home ice.
“He’s our captain and well liked by his peers, obviously,” said Thompson. “He’s a glue guy and he has energy and (what Addison brings) is contagious.”
The hockey world waits anxiously to see how that contagion spreads through the WFCU Centre on Sunday evening.