The Oshawa Generals and Kelowna Rockets put the final exclamation point on the CHL season Sunday in the last Memorial Cup Final at the Pepsi Colisee’.
Each team had its own message going into the biggest game of their respective seasons.
Five powerful words for Kelowna: This Moment We Own it, and four words that were just as effective for Oshawa: Our Vision, Our Goal.
One team would come out on top.
The first 12 minutes were pretty quiet for both sides. Oshawa goaltender Ken Appleby (2.42 GAA coming into game lead Tournament) and fellow net minder from Kelowna Jackson Whistle made good saves in a tight defensive battle. Rourke Chartier(Sharks) was blindsided by Oshawa forward Bradley Latour just past the halfway point, indicative of the chippy play to come with so much on the line. Still, there was no change on the scoreboard.
With 4:52 left in the first period however, that would change.
Cole Linaker had a key face-off win in the offensive zone back to Madison Bowey(Capitals) who fired shot off the boards purposely for Tomas Soustal to backhand the puck on the short side past Appleby for 1-0 lead. The team that had a remarkable rate of faceoff wins in the tournament(53%) had struck again.
Kelowna carried that momentum into another chance on the next shift for the #23rd ranked prospect (CSS), Nick Merkley. Set up by Leon Draisaitl(Oilers), he carried the puck to the front of the net, but Appleby turned him away along with eight of nine shots in the first. Oshawa fired four at Jackson Whistle, with Mike McCarron(Canadiens) going to the box with under 30 seconds to go in the first. Kelowna’s 30% powerplay was held off the board for the rest of the first, but had plenty of time to cash in at the beginning of the second stanza.
10 seconds into the second, the Oshawa goaltender made a great save on Draisaitl cutting through the slot tipping a puck on goal. The powerplay would go for naught, but Appleby kept his team very much in the game with a few unbelievable saves keeping the game at 1-0 with the Generals reeling. Kelowna fired nine shots in the first 6:30 of the period, and thanks to Appleby, none of them found twine. The opportunities were very few for Whistle, but when they came, he stood tall.
The first powerplay for Oshawa came with just over 11 minutes left in the period, but Whistle continued to turn away every attempt. Another opportunity came shortly after for the Generals, but Whistle turned them away again.
With 6:10 left however, the boys from Oshawa would break through. 67th ranked 2015 prospect (CSS) Anthony Cirelli sniped a knuckler past Whistle’s glove from the left faceoff circle, knotting the game at one goal apiece with his first of the tournament.
The teams traded chances after Cirelli’s marker, but both would go into the dressing room with nothing else to show for. 20 minutes separated one team from the title of the Memorial Cup Champions, and another from a crushing defeat.
Ken Appleby’s game continued to shift into another gear, making a few key saves to begin the final stanza of regulation. Whistle, matching him move for move, didn’t bite either.
The teams traded chances for most of the first half of the third, with Draisaitl and 30-goal regular season scorer Cole Cassels(Canucks) matching up the most. The best chance of the first ten minutes went to the Generals with McCarron getting stoned on a bouncing puck save by Whistle.
Kelowna would get their best chance of the last ten minutes on a Merkley breakaway on the Oshawa goaltender Appleby, and he forced the puck off of the Kelowna forward’s stick before he could tuck the puck in on the far side. The goaltending duel continued until the 17:30 mark, when Oshawa appeared to break through to take the lead and possibly the Cup. Hunter Smith(Flames) batted a rebound out of midair with what looked to be a high stick. In the end, it was in fact ruled illegal by the officials after a lengthy review, and Oshawa’s celebration of a 5th Memorial Cup title was held off. For now, at least.
The 97th Memorial Cup would be decided by a goal by one of the teams in overtime. Exhilaration for one, ultimate heartbreak for the other.
It took just 1:28 to decide the fates. It was Oshawa forward Anthony Cirelli scoring his second of the game, capping a season for the ages for him as a person. The 17-year old played Midget AAA for Mississauga at this time last year. This campaign, he was Oshawa’s hero.
In the end, it was Oshawa nabbing their 5th Memorial Cup Title in 11 Final appearances, with the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy(Tournament MVP) going to a member of the losing team, Leon Draisaitl. He finished with four goals and seven points in five games played.
The Kelowna Rockets had a wild ride of their own and had strong performances from many in their journey. Draisaitl as mentioned above. Tyson Baillie had a six point performance in five grueling games. Gage Quinney scored four goals. Merkley scored three goals and nearly won it for the Rockets at points in the third period. The defense pairing of Josh Morrissey(Jets) and Bowey totaled two goals and 11 points together. So many pieces drove the team all season long, and in the end their efforts were just a goal short.
The hardware for the Generals and their ultimate achievement was presented to captain Josh Brown(Panthers), and ceremoniously passed to each key piece of the group. Michael Dal Colle(Islanders), though quiet in the Final, had two goals and five points in four games. Cole Cassels had four points. Tobias Lindberg(Senators) had three goals. The young Cirelli scored the two goals to ice the championship. Last but not least, goaltender Ken Appleby made 37 saves on 38 shots, most of them in pressure-packed moments.
The celebration is well into motion in Quebec, but in Oshawa, it’s just getting started.
They had their vision, and they attained their goal.