Ontario rematch in offing?

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

KITCHENER -- The Kitchener Rangers and Belleville Bulls just finished a seven-game, topsy-turvy battle for OHL supremacy this week.

Will they hook up again in a one-game winner-take-all for the Memorial Cup next Sunday?

Belleville dropped the league final decider 4-1 in Kitchener on Monday, but the Bulls' three-game charge pushed the Rangers to the limit and lent to the argument for an all-Ontario Cup final on the same ice May 25.

Of course, Quebec champion Gatineau and the West's best Spokane are standing in the way. The Olympiques open the round-robin against the Rangers tonight, while the Chiefs and Bulls play tomorrow.

"We would be mistaken if we tried to focus all our energy on trying to get back at Kitchener," Belleville head coach George Burnett said. "After playing seven games, there's definitely something there -- a hate for each other. Maybe if we were playing them in our first game, we could look at it that way, but we have Spokane and they might be the most balanced team in the country.

"The way this tournament is and the way these teams are, you don't really want to get into a situation of losing your first game."

There are few examples of teams from one league reaching the final. Curiously, two featured Kitchener: the Rangers lost to Oshawa in Hamilton in 1990 and to the 67's in Ottawa in 1984.

"The way you have to look at this tournament is that every game is a Game 7," Kitchener standout centre Nazem Kadri of London said. "You can't really afford to lose any of them. That's what we faced against Belleville. We learned we could play a Game 7 and win."

The Bulls, though, are starting to get healthier. Top forward Shawn Matthias, a Florida Panthers prospect, returned for Game 7 after nearly three months recovering from mononucleosis and scored his team's only goal Monday.

"The biggest thing for him is that he shouldn't try to feel like he has to do too much," Burnett said.

The Rangers have run into injuries at the wrong time. It looks as though they will have to win without Steve Mason, the goalie for Canada's gold-medal world junior team.

The Columbus prospect is recovering from knee surgery and hasn't played since hurting himself in a second-round series against the Sarnia Sting. Although Rangers head coach Peter DeBoer won't rule out a comeback, Mason didn't skate with his teammates yesterday.

Ailing top defenceman Yannick Weber and big Pittsburgh draft pick Robert Bortuzzo are also question marks.

That shifts a lot of the defensive responsibility onto goalie Josh Unice, a Chicago draft pick and Rangers rookie who was the No. 1 starter before a midseason trade brought Mason from London. He has shaken off an injury suffered in the league final.

The Rangers are in the exact position as the powerhouse 2005 London Knights -- hosts, OHL regular-season and playoff champs and the team here with the biggest target on their backs. That's the last time the Memorial Cup came to Ontario and Kadri, for one, was sitting in the crowd.

He was 14 and still a AAA star when his hometown Knights won the Cup at the John Labatt Centre.

"I didn't have tickets to all of them and I wasn't there for the final, but I got to see Sidney Crosby play," said the expected first-round pick in the 2009 NHL draft. "He was unreal. During the game. In warmup. The event was everything we all thought it would be. Crosby. Corey Perry and the Knights winning. That's where I started to dream that maybe one day, I would get the chance to play in it."

MEMORIAL CUP COMPETITORS

KITCHENER RANGERS

Head coach: Peter DeBoer

Cup history: Sixth appearance. Won in 1982 and 2003. Lost final in 1981, at home in 1984 and 1990.

The road: Ranked No. 1 in CHL most of the year; OHL regular season champs with 53-11-1-3 record; playoff champs swept Plymouth and Sarnia, beat Sault Ste. Marie in five games and Belleville in seven.

Top gun: F Justin Azevedo, the OHL's outstanding player, led the regular season (43-81-124) and playoffs (10-26-36) in scoring.

Watch for: F Mikkel Boedker (9-26-35 in playoffs), a top 10 pick in this summer's NHL draft, has major horsepower in his motor.

Big question: Are they healthy enough? G Steve Mason is a major long shot to play following knee surgery and top D Yannick Weber and Robert Bortuzzo are ailing.

BELLEVILLE BULLS

Head coach: George Burnett

Cup history: Second appearance. Entered 1999 tournament as OHL champs, but lost semifinal to host Ottawa.

The road: First in the OHL's Eastern Conference with 48-14-4-2 mark and team record 102 points; beat Peterborough in five, Barrie in four, Oshawa in five and against Kitchener nearly became third team in OHL history to rally from a 3-0 hole.

Top gun: F Shawn Matthias. Missed nearly three months with mono, returned in Game 7 of final and scored team's only goal.

Watch for: F Adam Perry, former London captain, arrived at trade deadline to boost scoring punch. He owns a 2005 Memorial Cup ring.

Big question: Can G Mike Murphy's magic extend another week and a half?

GATINEAU OLYMPIQUES

Head coach: Benoit Giroux

Cup history: Seventh visit. Won in 1997 with Wayne Gretzky its owner as the host team (then called Hull). Lost 2003 final to Kitchener, 2004 title game to host Kelowna and 1986 final to Guelph.

The road: Third in division with 43-19-6-2 record. Beat Shawinigan and Quebec in five each, then swept strong Halifax club in conference final and bombed Rouyn-Noranda in five-game league final.

Top gun: F Claude Giroux, posted league-best 51 points in 19 playoff games. He has over 100 points in all three QMJHL seasons.

Watch for: F Paul Byron. He's just 140 pounds, but forms a dangerous 1-2 punch with Giroux.

Big question: Can Giroux, junior hockey's best player, be the best player at this tournament?

SPOKANE CHIEFS

Head coach: Bill Peters

Cup history: Third trip. Won in 1991, the year of the Pat Falloon-Ray Whitney scoring show. Also appeared in 1998 as host.

The road: Finished WHL season with 50-15-1-6 record. Beat Everett and defending Cup champ Vancouver in six. Survived seven-game struggle with Tri-City (five went to overtime) and swept Lethbridge in final.

Top gun: F Drayson Bowman (42-40-82) was team's lone 40-goal man. The 18-year-old had team-high 11 goals and 20 points in 21 playoff games.

Watch for: D Jared Cowen, six-foot-five, 210 pounds, was a standout for West at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in London.

Big question: Can they score enough to compete with three stellar offensive clubs?


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