Majors gun for Memorial Cup on home ice
Despite a Game 7 wobble against Owen Sound in the OHL final, the host Mississauga St. Michael's Majors enter the MasterCard Memorial Cup with plenty of reasons to feel confident.
The Majors were the class of the Ontario Hockey League this season and rode to the regular-season championship with 53 wins in 68 games, scoring the most goals (287) and allowing the fewest (170) during the regular season in the 20-team league.
Their 53-13-2 record put them in third place in the Canadian Hockey League national rankings behind the Saint John Sea Dogs, champions of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League.
The Majors marched through the Eastern Conference playoffs, sweeping the Belleville Bulls and Sudbury Wolves in four games and taking the conference playoff title in five games against the Niagara IceDogs.
But Mississauga ran into a determined and hard-working Owen Sound team that rebounded from 2-0 and 3-2 series deficits to win the league crown. The Attack won all four of its games by one goal with three of the four wins coming in overtime.
Mississauga made a few roster adjustments over the course of the season to bolster the nucleus of talent on the team but they don't have a lot of superstars.
"There's no one real standout," says team owner Eugene Melnyk, who also owns the Ottawa Senators. "It's truly a team. There are some teams that if you lose one or two of your top guys, you're done. Here, we've got a lot of guys who can fill in and that speaks to the depth of the team."
A couple of the key pieces to the puzzle in Mississauga's success were the addition of forward Justin Shugg and defenceman Marc Cantin, acquired last September after helping the Windsor Spitfires capture their second consecutive Memorial Cup.
Also brought in were veterans Chris DeSousa and Michael D'Orazio, picked up in separate deals from the London Knights at the Jan. 10 trade deadline.
That gave the Majors veteran leadership.
Shugg, who played on both of Windsor's Cup-winning teams, scored 41 goals during the regular season and he added 10 goals and 19 points in 20 post-season games.
If the Majors go on to capture the Memorial Cup, Shugg will become only the second player in history to win three consecutive Memorial Cup titles. Robert Savard won in 1980 and 1981 with Cornwall and then in 1982 with Kitchener.
Shugg and linemates Casey Cizikas and Devante Smith-Pelly ran roughshod in the playoffs. Smith-Pelly scored 15 goals and had 21 playoff points and Cizikas, a Mississauga native, had five goals and 19 points.
"They play very well for each other and with each other," is how Attack coach Mark Reeds described the trio after they combined for five goals and 10 points in a 7-3 Mississauga win in Game 5 of the league final. Smith-Pelly scored three in that game and Shugg added two.
Another addition was Maxim Kitsyn, Mississauga's second pick in the 2010 CHL import draft. He joined the Majors in early January, the day after helping Russia beat Canada in the gold medal game at the World Junior championship in Buffalo.
Kitsyn, playing on a line with Finnish import Mika Partanen and Jordan Mayer, was instrumental in Mississauga’s playoff run with 10 goals. Before joining the Majors, Kitsyn had been playing with Novokuznetsk of the Kontinental Hockey League.
But the Majors go beyond that.
They already had a strong nucleus of players acquired through the OHL priority draft who have developed their skills under general manager and coach Dave Cameron.
Cizikas, Stuart Percy, Brett Flemming, Smith-Pelly, Riley Brace, Rob Flick, Dylan DeMelo, Alex Cord, Joseph Cramarossa, Justin Rasmussen and goaltender J.P. Anderson are all Mississauga draft choices.
St. Mike's also has a pretty good supporting cast in forwards Jamie Wise, Corey Bureau, and Gregg Sutch as well as defencemen David Corrente.
Cameron uses all of it. He rolls all four lines and six defencemen every game. Almost everyone gets power play time and most of the forwards are used as penalty killers.
Anderson, a native of Toronto, has been a stalwart. He has played in every post-season game for the Majors.
He carried his outstanding work from the regular season into the playoffs and set two OHL modern-era post-season records.
Anderson, signed as a free agent last year by the San Jose Sharks, had outstanding numbers. He led the OHL with a 2.36 goals-against average and the league in shutouts with six during the regular season.
He set a modern-era record in the playoffs when he blanked the Bulls three games in a row in the Eastern Conference quarter-finals and established a league playoff mark by going 249 minutes 11 seconds without allowing a goal.
The Memorial Cup opens Friday when the Majors take on Saint John.