On the cusp of a title

TERRY KOSHAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

City council members have worn the local hockey club's sweaters and a downtown rally on Wednesday sent the team off for one final post-season charge.

Forget about the NHL playoffs -- in Sudbury, the Ontario Hockey League's Wolves are being celebrated like never before.

The Wolves, who finished the regular season one game under .500, will be in Plymouth, Mich., tonight for Game 1 of the OHL final against the Whalers, hoping to start putting a cap on what has been an inspiring and completely unexpected run.

The winner advances to the Memorial Cup later this month in Vancouver.

"It has been incredible," said Wolves general manager/coach Mike Foligno, who was playing for the Wolves when they most recently were in the final in 1976.

"You talk about a love affair with a team. It has been an amazing experience for us and the city."

The OHL's records indicate the Wolves are the first sub-.500 club to make it to the final since the Kitchener Rangers in 1966. No group gets this far without excellent goaltending -- Denmark native Sebastien Dahm has been stellar -- but it's hard to say when a junior defenceman has meant as much to his team as Marc Staal, a gold-medal winner for Canada and a first-round pick of the New York Rangers.

"Everybody talks about what a shut-down guy he is, but I have been watching a lot of tape, and he has really brought an offensive element to his game," Whalers general manager/coach Mike Vellucci said.

"He has been unbelievable and has scored some big goals. From our standpoint, we have three quality scoring lines and he can't play the whole game."

The Wolves had 67 points in the regular season, 36 fewer than the Whalers.

But with the trio of Nick Foligno, Justin Donati and Andrew Self supplying plenty of offence (along with Staal), the Wolves are proof that the regular season accounts for little when the playoffs begin.

Despite losing nine times in games that required overtime or a shootout, Sudbury has turned it around in the playoffs, going 6-1 when overtime was required.

"We've been a lot more consistent," Staal said.

"I think we underachieved in the regular season. In every round we have been the underdogs and that has made it more fun. We've just had a real change of attitude and everyone has stepped up."


Videos

Photos