BRANDON, MB – Jay Fehr scored 3:16 into overtime, sending the Brandon Wheat Kings through to the 2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup final with a 5-4 victory over the Calgary Hitmen in the tournament semi-final on Friday night in Brandon, MB.
The 21-year-old from Morden, MB, buried a shot from the high slot that beat Jones through the legs, sending the Wheat Kings bench and the 5,235 fans at Westman Communications Place into a frenzy as chants of “We Want the Cup” rang out in the stands.
The Wheat Kings – the tournament’s host team – will now face the OHL Champion and defending Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires in Sunday’s Championship game.
“Rajala just dropped it and I just ripped it, and it went in,” said overtime hero Fehr on the play that put the Wheat Kings into the final on Sunday.
The victory not only sends the home side to the Memorial Cup final, but represents sweet redemption for a Wheat Kings’ team that had lost five straight to their WHL rivals the Hitmen, including a demoralizing 5-1 defeat on Wednesday night in the round robin finale.
“It was a very exciting game, and a hard game for us for a number of reasons, mainly because we trailed,” said Wheat Kings’ head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon. “I thought that our guys persevered tonight because we were able to come back and tie it, then overcome even more adversity when Calgary tied it late.”
Things didn’t start so smoothly for the Wheat Kings as they found themselves down 2-0 after the opening period, while also frustrated at not being able to solve Calgary netminder Martin Jones.
Jones was sharp from the start for the Hitmen, making several big saves. None was bigger than his stretching pad save to deny Matt Calvert on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush. Jones’ stellar opening-period play continued as he denied Schenn on a wraparound attempt.
“Obviously, it’s a tough pill to swallow and a tough way to go out,” said Jones. “We didn’t play our best game tonight, and I think that’s what is going to hurt the most.”
Joel Broda got the scoring started 15:34 into the period when he found himself all alone in front of De Serres after a rebound from a Michael Stone shot popped out to him. De Serres made the first save on Broda, but could do nothing about the second attempt.
The Hitmen made it 2-0 just nine seconds later with Ian Schultz beating De Serres from the right side.
The Wheat Kings’ offense – so dangerous all season long – finally started to click against the Hitmen in the second period, outshooting the WHL champions 21-5 in the frame while enjoying all three power plays awarded in the period.
After Jones stymied Schenn on a breakaway in the opening minute of the frame, the Wheaties finally put one past Jones 1:35 into the period, with Alexander Urbom burying a shot from the left circle.
The Hitmen regained their two-goal advantage when Tyler Fiddler’s long blast eluded De Serres with the Wheat Kings on the power play. However, the two-goal lead didn’t last long as Matt Calvert beat Jones just two minutes later.
The Wheat Kings tied things up at 3-3 with just 10 seconds remaining in the second period. Working another power play, Travis Hamonic’s blast from the point found its way through traffic and past Jones.
With Ben Wilson in the box serving Calgary’s fourth consecutive penalty, Colby Robak gave the Wheat Kings their first lead of the game 5:09 into the third period when his point shot beat Jones just seconds into the power play.
The Hitmen tied things back up at 4-4 with Misha Fisenko’s first of the tournament. The Russian forward swept in a rebound off a Brandon Kozun shot that just snuck inside the far post. The goal had to be reviewed to determine if it had crossed the line.
“I’m very proud of how what our guys have accomplished this season,” said Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson. “We had a number of guys who didn’t play the way we needed them to, for whatever reason, or get what they need to get done.
“Brandon was the better team tonight,” he said.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)