For the third straight year an OHL team will be crowned Mastercard Memorial Cup champion.
The OHL champion Erie Otters face the Mastercard Memorial Cup host Windsor Spitfires in the first all-OHL Championship Final since 1993 and it’s shaping up to be a great game.
Windsor got the better of Erie in Wednesday’s round robin finale, getting a hat-trick from Montreal Canadiens prospect Jeremiah Addison along with four assists from top 2017 NHL Draft prospect Gabriel Vilardi.
The Otters rebounded with a 6-3 Semi-Final win over the QMJHL champion Saint John Sea Dogs on Friday as Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Taylor Raddysh built on his tournament scoring lead with a pair of goals to bring his total to 11 points (5-6–11) in four games.
While the Otters were OHL champions, head coach Kris Knoblauch has painted his club as underdogs in tonight’s championship game, citing a few players ‘under the weather’, the grind of a long playoff run and the fact that Windsor already defeated Erie once in the tournament.
Whether it’s psychological warfare or not, the Otters aren’t using any of those things as excuses, looking to cap off an unforgettable season with a win in their last game together.
“We’ve got to leave it all out there,” said veteran forward Anthony Cirelli who scored the Memorial Cup-winning overtime goal for the Oshawa Generals in 2015. “It’s one game. It’s what we work hard all summer for, what we work all year in the bag skates and hard workouts for – to be in this position and now we have to give it our all.”
The Otters took three of their four meetings against the Spitfires this past season and outshot Windsor 35-19 in Wednesday’s loss. A slow start hampered Erie though as they fell behind 2-0 in the first period and didn’t register their first shot on goal until the ninth minute of play.
“We’ve played a lot of hockey, but there’s only one game left so we might as well just put it out all on the line,” said veteran winger and OHL Playoff MVP Warren Foegele.
“We have to come out hot and play the full game,” he added. “We can’t take any breaks. Momentum shifts are part of any game, but we need to do our part and come out strong off the start.”
A win tonight would crown the Otters as the fifth U.S.-based champion in the history of the event and first since the 2008 Spokane Chiefs.
While the Otters are in the hunt for their first Mastercard Memorial Cup title, the Windsor Spitfires compete for their third tonight, looking to wrap up a Cinderella story as tournament hosts following a 3-0 start.
“I think both teams are going to be really excited,” said Spitfires forward Jeremy Bracco who has five points (2-3–5) over three contests. “We’re playing for the most prized possession of junior hockey in Canada so I’d expect both teams to bring their best stuff.”
“Playing at home in front of these fans is a thrill and to see that the game is sold out already is pretty special.”
The Spits are backed by the goaltending of 2017 NHL Draft prospect Michael DiPietro who leads tournament netminders with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage over three starts.
“He’s been outstanding for us,” said Spitfires fourth-year veteran Aaron Luchuk. “He’s our backbone and has continually bailed us out whenever we’ve had defensive breakdowns. Mikey is a big part of our team and we’ll need him on Sunday.”
Should they win, the Spitfires would tie a Mastercard Memorial Cup record with their 12th consecutive victory dating back to 2009, a mark that would equal the current record set by the Kamloops Blazers from 1992-95. They would also be the 10th host team to hoist the Memorial Cup since the host format was initiated in 1983. Also of note, the Spitfires would become the first team in Mastercard Memorial Cup history to win despite being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think we’re all a little nervous, but it’s a good kind of nervous,” Luchuk added. “It’ll be good when we can get that first shift over with and settle in tonight.”
A good start will be vital for both sides. The team that has scored first has gone on to win all seven games so far at the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup.
The puck drops on championship action at 7:00pm ET/4:00pm PT, a game that can be seen live across the country on Sportsnet East, Ontario, West, Pacific, TVA Sports, NHL Network U.S, plus pay-per-view livestream at CHLLive.com.