Mississauga moves on to Memorial Cup final
This time, Devante Smith-Pelly and the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors made sure there would be no miracle comeback for the Kootenay Ice.
Smith-Pelly scored twice as host Mississauga dispatched a pesky Ice squad 3-1 on Friday night to advance to the Memorial Cup final before an enthusiastic Hershey Centre sellout of 5,429 spectators.
For the third straight game, Kootenay fell behind 2-0 and again appeared poised to mount yet another improbable comeback, pulling to within 2-1 with a dramatic goal at 19:59 of the second period.
But after twice rallying for the victory, the Western Hockey League champions fell short against a Majors squad that was a stellar 50-0 during the Ontario Hockey League campaign after leading through two periods.
Pelly-Smith said Majors' coach Dave Cameron had a simple message for his team in the second-period intermission.
"Just to relax, we were still up by one and playing great," he said. "All that was said was relax, take it easy and keep playing our game and we'd come out on top.
"We did a good job of that."
Especially with veteran JP Anderson cooly turning away all 14 Kootenay shots he faced in the third period as the Majors didn't cement the win until Chris DeSousa's empty-net goal with 55 seconds left in the game.
"It was two teams that play the right way and when that happens it's going to come down to a bounce here or a bounce there," Cameron said. "I thought we had good energy and were able to force some things and were lucky enough to come out on top."
Despite his offensive output, Smith-Pelly credited Anderson, who stopped 28 shots, with the win.
"Without him we don't get this far," he said. "He doesn't get a lot of the credit he deserves since we're a pretty good defensive team but he is the backbone of our team."
Saluting the fans
After the game, Smith-Pelly and his teammates gathered at centre ice to salute their fans, who Smith-Pelly says definitely will give the Majors (3-1) a big advantage when they face the QMJHL-champion Saint John Sea Dogs for the Memorial Cup on Sunday.
"We're here at our rink so there should be no nerves for our guys because this is an environment we're used to," he said. "Anytime you have the crowd behind you it's huge and going into Sunday's game we're going to try to use it to our advantage, be it with big hits or scoring a goal."
But Mississauga will likely have to go without forward Gregg Sutch. The Buffalo Sabres prospect appeared to suffer a shoulder injury making a check and Cameron said Sutch is a "longshot" to play Sunday.
Saint John handed the Majors their only loss of the round robin, a 4-3 decision that was marred by a missed offside call on the game's winning goal. The Sea Dogs, who came in as the CHL's top-ranked team, then clinched a berth in the Memorial Cup final with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Owen Sound Attack before losing a 5-4 overtime decision to Kootenay.
"I thought the game against Saint John we deserved a better fate," Smith-Pelly said. "We've let that [missed offside call] go and put it behind us.
"If we play then the way we played tonight we've got a pretty good chance of coming out on top."
Joe Antilla had the lone goal for the Ice (2-3), who finished fourth in the Western Hockey League's Eastern Conference before posting a 16-3 playoff record to capture the league title and a trip to the Memorial Cup.
But twice here Kootenay lost to the Majors, also dropping a 2-1 decision in the round robin.
"It's a tough one to swallow with your season being finished," said rookie head coach Kris Knoblauch. "I think they have more depth than us and rolled four lines a little more than we did.
"I felt in the third period we did have some opportunities . . . but they're a good hockey team. In our two games against them we didn't have much success scoring and I don't think it's a coincidence, it has a lot to do with the way they play."
Third time in spotlight
Mississauga's win gives both Cameron and Majors captain Casey Cizikas a third opportunity this year to taste success in the hockey spotlight. Cameron was the coach and Cizikas a player for the Canadian team that blew a 3-0 lead en route to a heart-breaking 5-3 decision loss to Russia in the final of the world junior tournament. Then came the Majors squandering a 2-0 series lead to Owen Sound en route to a gut-wrenching overtime loss in the seventh and deciding contest.
"I'm hoping so," Cizikas said when asked if the third time was the charm for both himself and Cameron. "You can talk about it and draw it up all you want.
"It just comes down to how you play on the ice and I think we're going to be ready when Sunday comes around."
Cameron admits Mississauga's psyche was very fragile entering this tournament because the squad was having difficulty coming to grips with its bitter OHL championship loss. Now that the Majors have been able to do so, Cameron figures the team can play better Sunday than it did against the Ice.
"A lot of it had to do with getting over the psyche of losing games where you weren't terrible but you weren't getting any bounces and just played well enough to lose," Cameron said. "We've spent the last little while talking about energy and if we have energy we can play our way.
"We're not dynamic in terms of high-end guys but we are efficient and that's our game. Once we dealt with the disappointment we've been getting better and I still think we're going to be a little bit better Sunday."