The OHL’s dream matchup has finally come to fruition.
It took a while -- seven games to be exact -- and there was a big scare along the way, but the Windsor Spitfires are finally set to meet the Barrie Colts in the OHL final on Tuesday.
“I think everybody has been waiting for this one all year,” said Spitfires captain Harry Young. “This series will have a little bit of everything, we’re very happy to be in this position again, we’re going to try and draw on our experiences from last year but right now we’re just focused on that first period.”
As the defending Memorial Cup and OHL champions, the veteran Spitfires were supposed to make quicker work of the young Kitchener Rangers. But after falling behind 3-0 in their best-of-seven Western Conference final, the Spitfires had to work overtime in a Game 7 just to advance. Their celebration in Windsor lasted mere hours on Sunday night before head coach Bob Boughner had to bring his team back down to earth on Monday morning for the bus trip to Barrie.
“Obviously we went through an emotional series, we dug ourselves a huge hole (against Kitchener) and credit to the players, we made our comeback,” said Boughner. “It was a feel-good thing (Sunday night) and we enjoyed it, but (Monday) morning we get up and refocus and re-energize for what’s going to be a huge series for both teams.
The Colts, who won the Hamilton Spectator Trophy with the OHL’s best regular season record, will have home ice advantage for the final. They were also the top-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League, while Windsor finished the season ranked No. 3.
Unlike their counterparts, the Barrie Colts have had almost a full week of rest after dismissing the Mississauga-St. Michael’s Majors in five games to win the Eastern Conference title. Some might suggest the Colts have had a much easier road to the final, having only lost once in the post-season after sweeping their first two rounds, but Barrie head coach Marty Williamson doesn’t buy into that thinking.
“The bottom line is that (Windsor) has only played two more playoff games than we’ve played,” said Williamson. “So there isn’t a lot of difference… but I’m not worried about my team, we’ll be ready.
“I don’t think rust will be a factor for our team.”
Boughner says whatever ailments might be nagging his Spitfires will soon be forgotten once the puck drops in Barrie for Games 1 and 2 on Tuesday and Thursday.
“I think we’ve got a lot of guys that are banged up and bruised up and tired and sore,” said the coach. “But when you’re four wins away from going to the Memorial Cup, guys find ways to overcome that and battle. We have a lot of guys battling right now.”
The Colts won both their previous matchups in the regular season handily by scores of 4-2 and 8-5, though Williamson says that means nothing to him because the playoffs are “a whole different animal.” Still, as far as Windsor general manager Warren Rychel is concerned, those regular season losses proved to be a good wakeup call for the defending champions.
“I think it’s helped us a lot,” Rychel told Yahoo! Sports earlier this month. “The fact that we lost to them two times in the regular season is a big help, we needed to get knocked down a notch. We needed to go through some adversity and we’ve done it here. “It’s good to have competition.”
Barrie had the third best goals allowed in the league (186 goals), but their defence has yet to face the kind of offensive threat Windsor poses in the post-season. The Colts have faced three of the OHL’s lowest scoring teams in the regular season as their opponents in the first three playoff rounds – Sudbury (193 goals), Brampton (169 goals) and Mississauga (175 goals). In the regular season, Windsor scored 330 goals and has already scored 70 goals in 15 playoff games.
“I think we’re underrated as far as how we play defence,” said Williamson. “Some people believe that our conference is not quite as strong as the Western Conference and you know we haven’t played a team like Windsor with their scoring ability through our playoffs … but we feel confident in our goaltending and we feel confident in our defence.”
Williams confirmed that Mavric Parks will get the start for Barrie in Game 1 on Tuesday night, but says that netminder Peter Di Salvo – who injured his knee in Game 2 of their second-round series against Brampton – is healthy enough to play.
The biggest factor for the Colts might be dealing with inexperience, despite having a veteran laden team. Outside of highly skilled forward Bryan Cameron, none of the Colts have experienced a lengthy playoff run. Cameron -- along with forward Luke Pither -- was picked up by the Colts earlier this season from the Belleville Bulls, who went to the Memorial Cup in 2008.
For the Spitfires it’s a case of been there, done that. Last season they became the first team to rally from an 0-2 deficit in the round-robin to win the Memorial Cup and have used that experience to learn an important lesson when they’re in tough: don’t panic, just have fun.
“For us it was just like last year (at the Memorial Cup) again,” said Young of their Kitchener series. “Everyone was gripping their sticks a little too tightly and for us we play our best when we’re loose and relaxed and just having fun around the dressing room just on our days off. I think it just took all of us to realize that before we started playing our game again.”
Sunaya Sapurji is the Jr. Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.