Ahead of the official opening of the 99th Memorial Cup tournament, marked Thursday night by the arrival of the trophy and parade through the city, the head coaches of the competing teams met for a brief Q&A.
Spitfires coach Rocky Thompson said that “The Hockey ops, volunteer groups, and our team have done an outstanding job on this tournament. Our team has been preparing for this game, and while we had a heartbreaking loss to the London Knights, it was a great learning experience. It’s made me a better coach, and us a better team. If you ask the players, they’ve really grown from this experience. What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. We want to prove we’re one of the best teams as well. We can’t wait for [tonight] to get things started. The emotion will certainly be a factor. Our guys haven’t played in six weeks and they can’t wait to play. It will be about us controlling our emotion and translating it into energy.” Asked how his team is stronger after the time off, Thompson said that “We’re healthy for the first time all season, we had some players come back and play in the playoffs, but I don’t think the conditioning was where it needed to be. These were things we learned about and addressed over the break. I’ve been lucky to pre-scout these guys, and we will know what’s coming at us.”
Sea Dogs coach Danny Flynn downplayed the Sea Dogs sweep of the Armada (one of three sweeps en-route to a 16-2 playoff record). “When you go through the high of winning your league over eight weeks and then you have to refocus and go to a tournament against teams you don’t really know, the teams are better, the stakes are higher. You have to get your team emotionally ready for this. You have to park your league championship, and come in here with your edge, is one of the biggest challenges coaches have.” Asked how they’d be able to pre-scout and prepare for teams they have very little knowledge of, Flynn said that “We were fortunate that we won our series in four, so we were able to catch our breath, and get some preparation and practices in.”
After practice, Jeremy Bracco spoke with us, about the teams time off: “We worked hard in practice to play at game speed, but you don’t want to be running anyone in practice.” About scouting the opposition: “You sit at home, turn on the TV a little bit, but it’s been about ourselves and keeping us in game shape and focused.”
The game began with a member of the Canadian Forces rappelling from the ceiling to drop the puck for the face off, and after the opening ceremonies, the Spitfires showed that the layoff didn’t mean they would lay off the gas. The Spitfires come racing hard into the Sea Dogs zone and get a hard shot off right away, but it doesn’t make it’s way past Callum Booth (Hurricanes). There is some rust showing, predominant in a lot of passes going uncompleted, these are especially troubling in the Sea Dogs zone, where multiple open nets are missed.
Jeremy Bracco spent a lot of the night high up on his line. He was almost always the first one into the Saint John end, rushing the puck in or taking a pass. He heads right to the net to try and block the goalies vision or tip in a shot.
The Spitfires centre was playing as a third defenceman tonight, passing the puck up to the wingers to rush up, but mostly staying around the net. This worked well for them, as they were able to keep a lot of good chances by the Sea Dogs out of the net.
Control of the game slowly shifted to the Spitfires, and aside from two quick goals in the third (in 25 seconds), the Spits were the team in charge as the game ended.
- A lot of the Spitfires play once they’re in the offensive zone is coming from the point. Passing back to the point, shots from the point.
- Windsor got a loose puck after a Saint John defender missed a pass. Luke Boka rushed from his end into the Sea Dogs end, made a drop pass to Adam Laishram, who then pirouetted and sent the puck over to Logan Brown (Senators), but Brown missed the pass.
- Michael DIPietro robs Spencer Smallman (Hurricanes) on an open net, reaching far with the glove.
- Jeremy Bracco was behind the Sea Dogs net, and sent a pass up to Jeremiah Addison, who scored the opening goal of the 99th Memorial Cup.
- Another good chance by the Spitfires, Graham Knott (Chicago) passes to Bracco, who sends it to Jalen Chatfield (Canucks), but Chatfield whiffs on the puck, missing the open net.
- A lowlight, Bracco misplayed the puck and San Jose got a short handed rush. There wasn’t a shot, but Mikhail Sergachev (Canadiens) took down Smallman and sent him crashing into the goalie.
- Jakob Zboril took Saint John’s second penalty of the game, giving the Spitfires powerplauy the chance they needed. Jeremy Bracco has the puck behind the Sea Dogs net, passes it up to Jeremiah Addison (Canadiens) who scores the first goal of the tournament.
- In the Sea Dogs end, Jeremy Bracco and Simon Bourque are battling along the boards, and Bracco sneaks the puck away and out of the zone.
- Jeremy Bracco scores his first goal of the tournament, after skating the puck out of the Spitfires end. Jakub Zboril tries to hal him down, but Bracco goes down on one knee, fights off the hook, gets back up, shoots, and then scores on his own rebound to end the second period. You can check out highlights of the goal here.
- The Spitfires scored their third after Aaron Luchuk deflected a Mikhail Sergachev point shot past Callum Booth.
The Sea Dogs decide to make a game of it with just over three minutes left. Nathan Noel scores the first goal for Saint John at 16:50, then Thomas Chabot scores at 17:15. Matthew High more misses an open Windsor net at 18:50, but the Sea Dogs couldn’t get that last goal.
Final Stats for Bracco: 1G, 1A, +1
The Windsor Spitfires showed that their extended time off didn’t allow any rust to form on the team, and that they can keep up with the league champions. If they go far in this tournament, it won’t be because they got in because they’re the hosts. They’ve earned their spot here.
Windsor’s next game is Sunday night at 7PM against the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Saint John plays Monday night at 7PM against the Erie Otters.