Sum of all stars helps Spitfires achieve championship goal
In the end, all the attention Jeremy Bracco earned after the championship game of the Mastercard Memorial Cup was reflected back on those who wanted a piece of the Windsor Spitfires star.
That’s because Bracco, who scored the first goal of the championship game and also assisted on the winner, wore a GoPro camera and recorded the Spits celebration on the ice of the WFCU Centre last Sunday.
“The support we’ve gotten to win three games and the bye to the final,” said Bracco, of being able to celebrate with family, friends and fans on the ice. “It’s a crazy, surreal feeling.”
Surreal is a word that can perhaps get used too much when teenage hockey players are asked to sum up their feelings after a big win. But it was fitting on Sunday, and made more so by players capturing the moment on their cameras.
JEREMY BRACCO WEARS A GOPRO DURING WINDSOR SPITFIRES CELEBRATION:
Technology recorded the scenes but it’s words that best describe the storylines of the 99th Mastercard Memorial Cup champion.
Winning on home ice after a six-week break because the Spitfires were eliminated in the Western Conference quarterfinals, were the two most obvious stories.
But individually, the Spits were a treasure trove.
Bracco became just the 24th player to win a World Junior gold medal and Mastercard Memorial Cup in the same season, also accomplished by fellow American Cam Fowler who helped the Spitfires to the 2010 title, and Spits legend Ryan Ellis who won gold with Canada in 2009 before the club’s first CHL triumph.
“Anytime you can be put in the same group or class with names like that,” said Bracco, of joining such an elite group of the players who have won the two major team titles for junior hockey players. “And just (be among) guys who could win big games, it’s pretty special. But it’s also (great) to be a champion in general. It’s a good thing to carry with you.”
Julius Nattinen is also a double-winner but captured his World Junior gold back in 2016 with Finland.
Another interesting story is that of Sean Day, the player granted exceptional status to join the OHL at 15-years back in 2013, joined the Spitfires in October after three full seasons with the Mississauga Steelheads.
The third round pick of the New York Rangers in 2016 has had an up-and-down junior career but became a reliable figure on the Windsor blue line and can add Mastercard Memorial Cup champion to his resume; a first for any player in the exceptional player status conversation.
SEAN DAY WEARS A GOPRO DURING WINDSOR SPITFIRES CELEBRATION:
In addition to Day’s play on the back end, the Spits reaped the benefits of Logan Stanley’s return to the lineup after missing significant time recovering from knee surgery.
The big 6-foot-7 Winnipeg Jets prospect rounded out a top four that included defence partner Day, Montreal Canadiens first round pick Mikhail Sergachev and overage co-captain Jalen Chatfield.
Windsor’s other co-captain, Montreal Canadiens prospect Jeremiah Addison, led the team in goal-scoring, finding the back of the net five times in four contests.
Two NHL Draft-eligible prospects also shone for the Spits and their play from Mastercard Memorial Cup week will be a talking point at next month’s NHL Draft in Chicago as teams assess this year’s class.
Gabe Vilardi continued his rock-solid two-way play and earned a spot on the all-star squad in the process. His season was topped off in style after Vilardi battled injury issues that began before it even started when he was hurt while playing with the Canadian U-18 squad in training camp. He later had to miss additional time to have an appendectomy.
That’s incredibly bad luck for a player in his NHL Draft year, but Vilardi never wavered. He entered the event somewhere in the top-10 among this year’s NHL Draft class but Vilardi’s play over the course of the Mastercard Memorial Cup could potentially move him into the top five.
Michael DiPietro is also now one of the remarkable stories of the NHL Draft. Bracco called his goaltender “a rock” for the Spits and he was perhaps the single biggest factor in Windsor skating away with the title.
For a kid that grew up in the Windsor area, the look on DiPietro’s face made it clear he was in a bit of shock at what him and his team had accomplished. No less a person than Mastercard Memorial Cup MVP Dylan Strome, captain of the Erie Otters, paid tribute to DiPietro after the final buzzer by saying that DiPietro deserved the honour.
DiPietro was selected top goaltender and placed on the Mastercard Memorial Cup all-star team but paid tribute to Strome and the Otters when asked for comment about the MVP award.
“He’s just a class act and a special player, for him to say that about me, truly means the world to me,” said DiPietro.
As the 99th Mastercard Memorial Cup fades into memory and Bracco’s graduates to pro hockey next year with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization as expected, inevitable comparisons will be made between the young American and Mitch Marner, who helped the London Knights to the title last year and then moved on to the big club.
Still standing on the ice where his triumph took place, it was a little early to offer any sort of serious insight but Bracco acknowledged that Marner’s ascension serves as a notable example of where he wanted to go.
“(He’s) an unbelievable player and that’s where I wanted to be in another year or two, or however long it takes,” said Bracco.
— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) June 1, 2017