Spitfires put Colts out to pasture
WINDSOR - The Windsor Spitfires are league champions again.
With a 6-2 win over the top-ranked Barrie Colts in front of 6,575 fans at the WFCU Centre Tuesday night, the Spitfires claimed the Ontario Hockey League title for a second-straight season.
The Spitfires rode Cam Fowler's two-goal night and Philipp Grubauer's 32 saves along the way to becoming the first team in 18 seasons to hoist the J. Ross Robertson Cup in back-to-back seasons. The Soo Greyhounds were the last to do that, in 1991 and 1992.
With the series win, Windsor has booked its ticket to Brandon, Man., where they'll compete for the Memorial Cup later this month. It's a tournament they're familiar with, having won it last season.
"It's unbelievable. To win in back-to-back years just makes it more special," said Spitfires forward Adam Henrique, the recipient of the Wayne Gretzky 99 award, handed to the playoff MVP. "But this isn't it for us."
The Colts, who finished the regular season with 116 points - the second-best total in league history - were swept in the OHL's best-of-seven championship series - a disappointing, if not shocking end result for the Canadian Hockey League's top seed.
"We couldn't get it accomplished," Barrie head coach Marty Williamson said. "You've got to beat the best to be the best. We didn't beat the best, and that's the bottom line."
In front of a sea of red-shirted, white-towel-waving fans Tuesday, the Colts got out to an admirable start and were able to tone the hosts down early by capitalizing on a two-man advantage 6:33 into the game. Luke Pither took a cross-crease pass from Alex Hutchings and slipped it past Grubauer to make it 1-0.
Barrie had the benefit of three straight power plays before the home side received the next four power-play chances. And it was a rare call late in the first period that might have proved most costly for the Colts in a game so filled with emotion.
The Spitfires requested that Barrie goalie Peter Di Salvo's stick be measured, officials ruled his blade was illegal, and the home team promptly netted the equalizer. Fowler got credit for a shot that appeared to bounce off a leg on the way in, with Windsor on a two-man advantage, tying it at 1-1 with 25 seconds to go in the first.
"They must of known. Who knows?" Williamson said of the stick measurement. "Either someone has a very keen eye ... I don't know how you pick up on stuff like that.
"It's irrelevant (now)."
The Spitfires worked another two-man advantage into a goal 13 seconds into the middle frame, as Taylor Hall scored his 15th, which was redirected off a Barrie defender's skate.
Barrie responded on a tip-in goal by Matt Kennedy to even things at 2-2 just more than six minutes into the second period.
The lead that Windsor struggled to hold was once again re-established courtesy of a power-play goal by Fowler. On his second of the night, the defenceman rifled a shot from the point, beating Di Salvo, who had made multiple nice saves before the puck trickled out to the point.
If not for Di Salvo's superb netminding display, the hosts might have pulled away earlier. The 19-year-old foiled Greg Nemisz in close and stuck his blocker out on a Justin Shugg rocket for a few out his 33 saves in the game.
"It's tough for everybody," Di Salvo said. "We did everything we could. We couldn't pull out the wins.
"We came in as the top-ranked team in Canada and a lot of people expected us to win," the 19-year-old goalie added. "Maybe we did get a little bit ahead of ourselves. Maybe we didn't. I don't really know."
Henrique potted his 20th of the post-season late in the decisive second period, giving the hosts their first two-goal cushion of the game, and enough for the biggest victory on their season to this point.
"We're a relentless group. I think we showed that each series," Henrique said. "We battled hard to get this opportunity. It was our goal from Day 1. Last year was unbelievable, but to do it again? Wow."
Scott Timmins added insurance for Windsor midway through the third period before Hall scored into an empty Barrie net with 1:40 to play. That set off some over-excited home fans, who delayed the game for several minutes by throwing rally towels onto the ice.
It marked the final OHL game for Barrie's three overage players: Horseshoe Valley native Matt Kennedy, and fellow forwards Bryan Cameron and Pither.
"I wanted to come back to the OHL in my fifth year and try to win a championship," said Cameron, who led the CHL with 53 goals in the regular season. "I thought we had the best team all season to do it.
"Sometimes, it's tough when things don't go your way," the 21-year-old added. "One team has got to win. It just happened to be them."
Williamson had a similar explanation.
"It's bitterly disappointing. You're always judged on your last hurrah," the coach said. "When you get through it all, we're awfully proud of the accomplishments of this team - individually and as a team - what they did for Barrie and the community."
Ryan Ellis finished with three helpers.
The Spitfires also hoisted the OHL's most coveted piece of hardware on home ice last season. Taylor Hall scored in overtime on May 9, 2009, to clinch that series against Brampton.
This was the 100th time the J. Ross Robertson Cup has been handed out.