One week ago, the Windsor Spitfires were facing the prospects of an early end to their season.
The defending OHL and Memorial Cup champions dropped the first three games of the Rogers Western Conference Championship Series to the Kitchener Rangers and were one loss away from the end of their year.
But the Spitfires staged a dramatic comeback that was capped with a 4-1 win on home ice on Sunday to win the series and the Wayne Gretzky Trophy as Western Conference champions for the second straight season.
“We made it really hard on ourselves early and it was a tough hole to dig ourselves out of,” said Spitfires’ coach Bob Boughner. “I don’t know if we overlooked them a little bit or maybe it was the layoff early.
“You’ve got to give these kids all the credit - they never gave up. The positive attitude and the energy in the room from Game 4 in Kitchener - winning that was huge. It was an intense series and tonight was no different. It was a heck of a series.”
Adam Henrique opened the scoring in Game 7 with his 15th goal of the playoffs with a little more than five minutes to go in the first period. Eric Wellwood scored in the second period and Scott Timmins and Justin Shugg counted in the third to seal the win and the series.
“We’re just happy that this series is over,” Henrique said. “We may have been focusing on the next series too much but once we got our heads around that this series is the one that counts we started playing our game.”
Cam Fowler had a pair of assists while Philipp Grubauer stopped all but one of the 27 shots he faced to record his fourth straight win in the series.
The Spitfires became the third team in OHL history to win a playoff series after losing the first three games.
“Our backs were against the wall,” Boughner said. “Even though we believed in ourselves and everyone said the right things, when you get into a crucial situation with four straight elimination games, your season can be over. It was intense pressure every game. As soon as we let our foot off the gas pedal a little bit, Kitchener would come back. It’s a relief tonight.”
Julian Cimadamore cut the Spitfires lead in half with a short-handed goal in the final minute of the second period but that was all the offence the Rangers came up with.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet right now,” said Rangers’ GM/coach Steve Spott. “Our kids emptied their tanks and played hard to a man. They gave everything they had against a very good hockey club.”
The Spitfires will face the Barrie Colts in the Rogers OHL Championship Series starting on Tuesday in Barrie (7:30 on Rogers TV, TV Cogeco and the OHL Action Pak).
Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)