For the Vancouver Giants, a painful loss in last year's Memorial Cup provided a bitter end to their season, but winning this year's tournament on home ice would more than make up for it.
The Giants advanced to the Sunday's championship game with a dominating 8-1 win over the Plymouth Whalers at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver on Friday.
Michal Repik and James Wright each scored two goals for the Giants, who scored early and often against the Ontario Hockey League'schampions to eliminate them from the tournament.
"I know everybody thought we should have played better but we lost in overtime, the second game gave up some easy goals and then we had a nice win in overtime," Whalers head coach Mike Vellucci said. "I don't think it was terrible but you don't like to lose 8-1 here, or whatever the score was. I lost track."
Wacey Rabbit, Cody Franson, J.D. Watt and Spencer Machacekalso tallied for Vancouver, while Milan Lucic added three assists.
"The toughest thing was to stay in the present and focus on this game and not think to Sunday," said Watt. "I know everyone in that dressing room was thinking about Sunday's game even before the game, but we stayed in the present and got a good start and that was the key to this game."
Andrew Fournier responded with the lone goal for Plymouth, but not until Vancouver was up 3-0.
Giants goaltender Tyson Sexsmith stopped 19 of 20 shots for the win. Backup Blaine Neufeld was sent in for the final three minutes to get some work, but didn't face any shots.
Plymouth goaltender Michal Neuvirth was pulled from the game at 4:55 of the second period after allowing three goals on just 13 shots.
Neuvirth, pulled for the second time in the tournament,was replaced by Jeremy Smith, who made 23 saves.
The Giants put the game out of reach midwaythrough the second period after Watt was pushed into Smith by Whalers defenceman Wes Cunningham, but was called for goaltender interference, which whipped the announced crowd of 13,372 into a frenzy.
While on the penalty kill, Repik picked up a loose puck in his own end, streaked up ice and beat Smithon the backhand for a short-handed goal that seemed to crush the Whalers.
"That was the loudest I've ever heard them boo in this arena," Watt said. "You always want to stick it [to]someone if you feel you didn't deserve a penalty. It motivates you a little more, but Repik made a great move on that breakaway."
Giants host Tigers in all-WHL final
Vancouver's win eases the memory of their disappointing finish in the 2006 tournament.
Theyentered the third period of the 2006semifinal tied with the hosting Moncton Wildcats but ultimately were eliminated by a 3-1 loss.
This year, Vancouver has enjoyedthesupport of a hometown crowd.
The Giants move on tohostthe firstall-WHLMemorial Cup final since 1989,against theMedicine Hat Tigers, who blanked the Giants 1-0 on Wednesday to earn their ticket to the championship game.
The two teams also have recent history after facing each other in a thrilling WHL final, which saw the Tigers come out on topafter seven hard-fought games.
For theWhalers, the odds weren't in theirfavour in Friday's contest, after they won a tiebreaker game against the Lewiston Maineiacs on Thursday.
No team that has had to play a tiebreaker game in the Memorial Cup has been able to win it and only one team — the Victoriaville Tigres in 2002 — has won a semifinal game after getting through a tiebreaker.
The loss for Plymouth also extends a rather dubious streak for American-based teams in the Memorial Cup, as the Western Hockey League's Portland Winter Hawks were the last American team to win it, in 1998.