Experience will be Spitfires' trump card

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

The first thing anybody thought after watching the Windsor Spitfires win the Memorial Cup last May in Rimouski was: "See you in Brandon next year for the repeat."

The Spitfires looked that loaded. Cup MVP Taylor Hall was back up front and Ryan Ellis was back on the blue line.

GM Warren Rychel added top-three NHL pick Cam Fowler. Then top-notch over-agers Scott Timmins and Dale Mitchell fell back in his lap.

Surely after a 57-win regular season, these Spitfires had at least a league-record 60 wins in them to overtake the 2005 London Knights?

Well, things don't always work the way they're mapped out.

Windsor won "just" 50 times this year. They were first in the Western Conference again, but the league crown went to the Barrie Colts, who traded their way to 57 wins, but with one more point (116) for the second-best output in league history.

For the first time in two years, Windsor was looking up at someone in the OHL standings.

"We weren't able to put our best lineup on the ice as much as we wanted to," Ellis said. "We had NHL camps. We had injuries. We had world juniors. We had suspensions. We didn't win the league, but we won the Western Conference, which was our goal, and we got 50 wins a second straight year, which doesn't happen very often in junior hockey.

"We're excited to have everyone ready to go for playoffs and see what we can do."

Junior hockey isn't like the baseball wild cards or NCAA basketball or the NHL playoffs when No. 8 seed will make a run to the Stanley Cup final.

The best teams in the regular season usually rise to the occasion in the playoffs.

Anyone who doesn't believe Barrie and Windsor will be in the OHL final has blinders on.

Now, the 49-win London Knights shouldn't be overlooked. The Mississauga St. Michael's Majors are young, talented and stingy. The Brampton Battalion have the best forward -- reigning Canadian Hockey League top player Cody Hodgson, who has struggled with injuries. Barrie, with top D-man Alex Pietrangelo, still has the deepest roster.

But this Windsor crew has been through it all. They roared back from 0-2 in Rimouski. They beat John Tavares' Knights in a five-overtime series. The year before, they suffered the sudden death of their captain Mickey Renaud.

"There's nothing we haven't seen," Ellis said. "Even the guys here before me, this team has gone through a lot of adversity and found a way to win."

It's the trump card they hold over the Colts.

Hall finished his season in a flash of unselfishness. He sat out the final two games, allowing Plymouth's Tyler Seguin to tie him at 106 points for the scoring title.

"That shows you the kind of team-oriented guy he is," Ellis said. "He'd rather win in the playoffs than win the scoring title."

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/ryanpyette


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