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Fierce forecheck fuels Spitfires to 7-1 win

After bowing out in the first round of the OHL Playoffs, the Windsor Spitfires are off to a 2-0 start at the Mastercard Memorial Cup, becoming the first host team to do so since 2007.

The Spits overwhelmed the WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds, tying a Mastercard Memorial Cup record with three goals in a span of 38 seconds to climb ahead early and never looked back, taking a 7-1 victory before 5,237 at the WFCU Centre.

Chicago Blackhawks prospect Graham Knott had two goals and an assist while Anaheim Ducks second round selection Julius Nattinen also scored twice. Big Ottawa Senators first round pick Logan Brown finished the night with a goal and two helpers to earn first star honours.

After nearly letting a lead slip away against the Saint John Sea Dogs on Friday, the Spitfires heeded head coach Rocky Thompson’s call to put in a full sixty minutes.

“We put in a lot of work to get our conditioning up and I think it paid off tonight,” said Knott. “Getting up 3-0 early is huge and we just kept it rolling. We had four lines buzzing and everyone was contributing.”

Thompson had good things to say about his club’s seven goal output against a tough Seattle team.

“You can see it on the ice, our confidence is growing, there’s chemistry there and we’ve been able to focus a lot in practice on those things, trying to engineer it.

“Now getting into the real situation with our team it’s been great and we have some very outstanding players at the junior hockey level.”

The Spits started with a bang, tying a Mastercard Memorial Cup record set by the 1978 New Westminster Bruins by scoring three times in a span of 38 seconds.

The frenzy began 4:48 into action as Knott went to the net, taking a feed out of the corner from Brown to chip the puck past rookie netminder Carl Stankowski.

The Spitfire forecheck overwhelmed Seattle’s defence in the ensuing shifts as Gabriel Vilardi stripped a T-Bird of the puck behind the Seattle net, centering for a waiting Julius Nattinen who fired home a quick release at 5:09.

Brown gave Windsor a 3-0 lead 15 seconds later at 5:26, using his 6-foot-6 wingspan to knock a puck free from a Seattle defender off the forecheck and beat Stankowski on a backhander through the five hole.

That would spell the end of the night for the young Thunderbirds netminder who gave way to overager Rylan Toth having surrendered goals on three of the first six shots that came his way.

The T-Birds wouldn’t register their first shot on goal until the eleventh minute of the frame as Windsor went on to take the shooting column 11-3.

Down 3-0, the Thunderbirds tried to drum up some momentum on an early second period power play but Spits goaltender Michael DiPietro stood in the way, turning aside scoring star Mathew Barzal with a cool glove save just over a minute into the frame.

A two-man advantage at the midway point of the second presented the T-Birds another golden opportunity to get involved, but a sprawling shot block from Spitfires captain Jalen Chatfield denied Ryan Gropp a gaping cage before DiPietro stoned Keegan Kolesar moments later.

Things started to turn Seattle’s way at 13:34 as Kolesar was on the doorstep to stuff home a rebound off an initial point blast from veteran defenceman Turner Ottenbreit, cutting Windsor’s lead to two.

After a pair of big saves from Toth, the Seattle netminder would get caught wandering out of his crease to play the puck as Windsor’s forecheck took advantage. Jeremiah Addison forced a turnover, centering for an oncoming Nattinen who banged in his second of the night to give the Spitfires a 4-1 lead after two.

Knott, captain Jeremiah Addison and talented winger Jeremy Bracco would add third period markers to put the Spits in full command as they’d close out a commanding 7-1 win to ensure themselves a spot in Friday’s Semi-Final game.

“We’ve been humbled all year,” Thompson said of his club post-game. “We’ve had some highs and we’ve had some lows so our guys are experienced with that and they’re saying the right things on the bench.

“We’ve had a mature group this year and they know that this is still just the beginning for us. There’s a lot of work ahead of us and this is just another step in the right direction.”

Windsor’s seven goals came on 28 shots as the Spitfires went 2-for-6 on the power play and had multi-point outputs from five different players.

Goaltender Michael DiPietro turned aside 24 of the 25 shots he faced to earn third star recognition as the Spitfires earned their 10th consecutive win at the Mastercard Memorial Cup dating back to 2009.

The victory also marks the 11th straight by OHL clubs at the national championship, with the most recent loss back in the 2014 Mastercard Memorial Cup Final when the Edmonton Oil Kings defeated the Guelph Storm 6-3.

The 2-0 Spitfires will have two days of rest before their third round robin contest against the OHL champion Erie Otters on Wednesday. The 0-2 Thunderbirds look to regroup in a crucial matchup with the QMJHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs on Tuesday.

Monday’s action sees Erie (1-0) take on Saint John (0-1) at 7:00pm ET/4:00pm PT on Sportsnet, TVA Sports, NHL Network and CHL Live.

GAME CENTRE

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