Spitfires clinch berth in Memorial Cup final
BRANDON, Man. — The Windsor Spitfires punched their ticket to the Memorial Cup final Monday night.
The defending champions earned an automatic berth in Sunday’s title game with a 6-2 win over the Calgary Hitmen before a Westman Place crowd of 5,201.
A fortunate turn of events in weekend games opened the door for Windsor to gain a berth in the final after just two games.
With two wins to start the tournament, Windsor will close out round-robin play Tuesday night against the Moncton Wildcats. Even with a loss, the Spitfires hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Calgary and the host Brandon Wheat Kings, which lost to Windsor on Friday.
The winless Wildcats can finish the round robin no better than 1-2.
The Spitfires looked poised to blow the Hitmen out early Monday with a pair of goals in the first four minutes of the game.
Dale Mitchell’s harmless wrist shot from high in the slot squeezed between the pads of Hitmen goalie Martin Jones, who played for Canada at the world junior championship.
When Calgary’s Cody Sylvester was whistled for slashing less than a minute later, the Spitfires cashed in on the power play.
Taylor Hall gained the zone and whistled a shot over the shoulder of Jones to put Windsor up 2-0 at 3:55.
While the Spitfires got the early jump, the Hitmen did not fold as Windsor goalie Philipp Grubauer was forced to make a couple of big saves in the first period to preserve that advantage heading into the intermission.
Hall helped the Spitfires extend their lead to 3-0 with a drop pass to Justin Shugg, who stepped around a defender and beat Jones low to the stick side.
Calgary, which rallied from a three-goal deficit to beat Moncton in Saturday’s opening game, battled back to pull to within a goal after 40 minutes.
A Windsor turnover in the Calgary end created an odd-man rush that Jimmy Bubnick converted to put the Hitmen on the board.
After killing off a Windsor power play, the Hitmen pinned the Spitfires in their zone and Ian Shultz passed the puck to Bubnick, who beat Grubauer between the pads to make it 3-2 for Windsor after two periods.
Hall made sure the Hitmen got no closer.
Calgary defenceman Giffen Nyren had his cross-ice pass at the blue-line land right on Hall’s stick. He raced in and went backhand and between the pads on Jones just 12 seconds into the third period for his second two-goal performance of the tournament.
From there, the Spitfires went into shutdown mode with simple dumps out of their zone and chips deep into the Calgary end.
The Hitmen had just four shots in the period before Kenny Ryan sealed the win with a little more than three minutes left in the period. Ryan’s shot from a sharp angle went off the shoulder of Jones, hit the crossbar and rolled down the goalie’s back.
Adam Wallace added an empty-net goal for the Spitfires, who finished with a 37-27 edge in shots.
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