After a year of preparation and growing excitement in the city of Windsor, the big day is finally here.
The host Spitfires open the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup on home ice against the QMJHL Champion Saint John Sea Dogs, putting six weeks of hard work both on and off the ice to the test before a pumped up WFCU Centre crowd.
The Spits enter action with eight consecutive wins at the Mastercard Memorial Cup dating back to 2009. In 2010 they came within a goal of setting a tournament record with 28 in their championship effort.
“We’re healthy and our guys are in great shape,” said Spitfires head coach Rocky Thompson, citing the club’s six weeks of intense training to stay sharp.
“I think we match up really well with the other teams here and I think it’s going to be a coming out party for some of our guys to show how good they are.”
The Spits made a first round exit in the OHL Playoffs, falling in seven games to the defending Mastercard Memorial Cup champion London Knights.
Tasked with competing in the OHL’s wild Western Conference, the Spits played to a 41-19-5-3 regular season record, including an impressive mark of 27-6-1-0 at the WFCU Centre.
“Everybody’s feeling good. We’ve prepared a lot, watched a lot of video and we’re all excited to get out there,” said Montreal Canadiens prospect Mikhail Sergachev.
“Our coaches have prepared us for this and our start is going to be important,” he added. “We are playing a team that we don’t really know so we have to be ready to go.”
Big 6-foot-7 defenceman Logan Stanley returns to the Windsor lineup for the first time since January 17th and the Spits will have a full roster to go up against a very capable Saint John club that comes off its third QMJHL title in franchise history. The well-rested Sea Dogs enter action as winners of six straight.
No stranger to the Mastercard Memorial Cup, Sea Dogs head coach Danny Flynn enters his sixth national championship after past trips with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Moncton Wildcats.
“This group is hungry, they want to win and they know it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “We’ve celebrated, we’ve had fun, but I think they’ve parked the President’s Cup and they want to win the Memorial Cup.”
Saint John brings a veteran core of top performers that includes QMJHL Playoff MVP Thomas Chabot playing big minutes on the back end and a cast of long-time forwards led by captain Spencer Smallman, fifth-year overager Matthew Highmore, Tampa Bay Lightning draftee Mathieu Joseph and Carolina Hurricanes first round selection Julien Gauthier.
“You have to remember, I’ve only been here for two years, but a lot of these kids have been here for three, four years now,” Flynn added. “That Saint John team that won 50 games three years in a row might have been the best team to ever come out of the Quebec league.
“That group set a precedent. Everybody in town talks about winning the Memorial Cup, not the President’s Cup. That’s really the standard for us.”
The Spitfires will wear special Mastercard Memorial Cup Commemorative jerseys when the puck drops tonight at 7:00pm. Catch all of the action across the country on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.