The Windsor Spitfires came into the Memorial Cup with six weeks off. Six weeks to rest their team, heal their injuries, and practice, practice, practice. In the first round of the OHL playoffs the Spitfires battled the defending champion London Knights. Seven hard fought games that saw two go to overtime, and two more be decided by a single goal. In the end, the Knights - especially goalie Tyler Parsons - were too much for the Spitfires.
While Windsor was battling London, the Erie Otters were having a leisurely first round, winning four straight games over the Sarnia Sting, with an average gap of more than 3 goals per game, the Otters twice won games with a score of 9-3. Taking some extra time off, the Otters had their chance to rest.
In round two of the OHL Playoffs, the Otters fought those same London Knights, with the Knights pushing the eventual champions to a game seven overtime before the Otters took the series. During this the Spitfires were resting players, letting them heal, and defender Mikhail Sergachev was called up to Montreal Canadiens and dressed as an emergency recall for four NHL games.
Round three saw the Otters fighting another tough opponent. The Owen Sound Attack finished the season only one point behind the Otters for first overall in the league. The Otters fell behind early in the series, 2-1, before coming back and winning three straight games to advance to the OHL finals.
The Windsor Spitfires were scouting, training, and watching.
The OHL Championship Series wasn’t the long war it could have been. With imbalanced conferences, the east winner was the Mississauga Steelheads, a team that finished 16 wins and 22 points behind the Otters. The Steelheads were at full strength and full speed in the playoffs, and even though it was only a five game series, just one game was decided by more than one goal. The Otters would emerge victorious on home ice, and punch their ticket to the Memorial Cup, which was just 10 days away.
The Spitfires were back to full strength, and ready to play.
The first two games for these teams was about hitting their stride. The Spitfires opened the tournament with a 3-2 win over the Saint John Sea Dogs and followed that up with a 7-1 win over the Seattle Thunderbirds. The lone Toronto Maple Leafs prospect in the tournament, Jeremy Bracco, leads the Spitfires in scoring with two goals and two assists. Ten goals in two games sounds impressive, but not if you’re the Erie Otters. The OHL champs kicked off their tournament on Saturday with a 4-2 win over Seattle and then they set a new Mastercard Memorial Cup record by scoring 12 goals against the Saint John Sea Dogs. Seventeen goals for the Otters. Tonight those two powerhouses looked to put their scoring touches to the test.
The first period was all Spitfires all the time. Despite the efforts of Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak using his body every chance he got on defense, it wasn’t enough to stop the offensive powers of Montreal Canadiens prospect Jeremiah Addison, who scored the first two goals of the period.
The Otters started to pick up play near the end of the first, and it ended with shots at 9-5 for the host team, but the Otters got themselves stuck in a 5 on 3 at the end of the period.
It didn’t take long for the Spitfires to take advantage of that, another Canadiens prospect scored on the 5 on 3 - defense man Mikhail Sergachev scored from the point to give the Spitfires a 3-0 lead.
The tide turned as the period wore on. The Spitfires had their lead, but the Otters were pushing harder and harder as the game went on. More time spent in the spitfires end, more shots on goal for the Otters, but Michael DiPietro was diving across the creases and fall backwards to keep the puck out of the net.
Great save by Michael DiPietro pic.twitter.com/vNKsZpUiuu— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) May 25, 2017
Double deflection is no problem for DiPietro pic.twitter.com/FiNsyTFyEK— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) May 25, 2017
All through the second period, the Otters put the pressure on the Spitfires, but it was no luck. The second ended 3-0, but the shots that period were 15-5 for the Otters.
The Otters continued to own the third period, again outscoring the Spitfires 15-5 for the period, their power was to no avail as Jeremiah Addison completed his hat trick, giving him 3 goals and 2017 draft prospect Gabe Vilardi four assists on the night.
Lightning prospect Taylor Raddysh would bring the Otters to two goals late in the third period:
The Otters controlled play for the final few minutes, acting like they had a power play, just passing, passing, without Windsor interference. It would be al for naught as the Spitfires win the game 4-2 on the back of a hot hand in Addison, and a hot goalie in DiPietro.
The Windsor Spitfires will play for the Memorial Cup pic.twitter.com/4ValvdpZPb— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) May 25, 2017
Jeremy Bracco didn’t have the biggest game of the tournament, no highlight goals tonight. He assisted on Sergachev’s power play goal, and had two recorded shots of his own, but in a game where the goalie was the star, Bracco was a bit player.
The Erie Otters play the Saint John Sea Dogs Friday night at 7PM on Sportsnet and the NHL Network.
The winner will play the finals game against the Windsor Spitfires on Sunday.