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Roller-coaster Ride A Thrilling One For Windsor

05/26/2009 11:21 AM - From (link)

Two games into the 2009 MasterCard Memorial Cup, the Windsor Spitfires were all but finished.

Now they are champions.

Their roller-coaster ride ended in jubilation Sunday as the Spitfires scored on their first three shots and cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Kelowna Rockets in the tournament final in Rimouski, Quebec.

Adam Henrique, Dale Mitchell and Rob Kwiet all netted goals in the opening 7:11 of the first period to help Windsor capture its first Memorial Cup.

"Words can't describe this. Our team went on an amazing run," Kwiet said. "We never got down and everyone just stayed together through it all. We went through a lot of adversity and it shows we have a lot of character."

The Spitfires, who had lost their only other appearance in the tournament final, in 1988, also became the first team in history to claim the trophy after dropping its first two games.

Taylor Hall was awarded the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the tournament MVP. A top prospect for the 2010 Entry Draft, Hall had 2 goals and 6 assists in six games.

Henrique opened the scoring at 3:22 of the first and Mitchell added to the lead 96 seconds later. Shortly thereafter, Kwiet's lone goal of the tournament gave Windsor a commanding 3-0 edge and ended Kelowna goaltender Mark Guggenberger's day.

"It was a huge confidence builder," Kwiet, an undrafted free agent, said. "We went up three in the first and the boys never looked back. It's a great feeling. I had been struggling in the tournament with just an assist and I knew I had to bring my 'A' game. I was happy to help the team."

Colin Long, a 2008 fourth-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, put the Rockets on the board just eight seconds into the second, collecting a rebound of a Jamie Benn's backhander and beating Andrew Engelage for a power-play goal. Engelage finished with 21 saves in his fourth straight win for the Spitfires.

Windsor defenseman Ryan Ellis, ranked No. 16 among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's final list for the 2009 Entry Draft, sealed the triumph with 7:14 remaining in the second with his third goal of the tournament.

Adam Brown filled in admirably for Guggenberger by stopping 24 of 25 shots. However, his efforts were negated by a porous offensive showing by Kelowna, which had scored 11 goals in its previous three contests.

"They're definitely a good team and you can't take anything away from them," Kwiet said. "We just knew that if we played our game, we'd go out and win."

The Rockets, the surprise Western Hockey League champions, had a smoother journey to the final compared to the Spitfires, who won the Ontario Hockey League title. Kelowna started its run by beating the host Rimouski Oceanic and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Drummondville Voltigeurs in a span of three days, but then lost its only game of the tournament prior to the final when they dropped a 2-1 decision to Windsor.

The only problem with Kelowna's hot start was a five-day break between the end of round-robin play and the championship game.

The Spitfires, meanwhile, used their early crisis as an opportunity to re-write history. They opened the tournament May 16 with an overtime loss to Drummondville and came up short against Rimouski the following night. That was Windsor's last loss, however.

"We've worked so hard," Windsor left wing Eric Wellwood said. "This was our goal coming into this year and it's the hardest trophy to win because you have to beat your league and then face all the best teams. It's something I'll always remember."

Facing elimination, the Spitfires knocked off Kelowna and jumpstarted the greatest comeback this event has ever seen. Mitchell scored a hat trick in 3:33 early in the third period of Thursday's tie-breaker victory against Rimouski, and that momentum carried into Friday's 3-2 overtime win in the semifinal game against the Voltigeurs.

Then an early offensive eruption Sunday paved the way for Windsor to become the first OHL club to win the Memorial Cup since the London Knights in 2005.

Author: Brian Fitzsimmons | Correspondent

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