Chiefs cap two-year revival

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:32 AM ET

KITCHENER -- The Spokane Chiefs broke down some of the best offences in the Canadian Hockey League this week.

Then, to everyone's horror, they broke the Memorial Cup -- well, a replica of it, anyway, since the real one is enshrined at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Thanks to a 53-save performance by tournament MVP Dustin Tokarski, the Western Hockey League champs shattered host Kitchener's dreams of winning the 90th edition of the Cup on home ice with a decisive 4-1 victory over the Rangers before about 7,000 yesterday at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.

After Spokane captain Chris Bruton raised the Cup over his head in triumph, the trophy disintegrated in the hands as he was about to pass it to veteran defenceman Trevor Glass, a former Medicine Hat Tiger who lost in the final last year in Vancouver to the host Giants.

"I didn't know what was happening, but I don't care about that -- we're the champs, no one can take that from us and we'll have the rings to prove it," said Bruton, a 21-year-old Calgary native. "We're going to get the Cup fixed, plug the hole and we'll still find a way to drink out of it tonight."

Two years ago, the Chiefs were the worst team in the WHL and took towering defenceman Jared Cowen with the first pick in the league's 2006 draft. The 17-year-old sealed an unbeaten 4-0 tournament for Spokane -- and a ninth consecutive win -- on an empty-netter with 56.2 seconds left in the third period.

"Pretty quick, huh," third-year Spokane head coach Bill Peters said of the turnaround for the organization co-owned by baseball legend George Brett and his brother Bobby. "That was our 70th win of the season and it would've been awfully disappointing if we didn't get it. Two years ago, Tim (GM Tim Speltz) asked me what we needed to do and I said get more kids in here who play Chiefs hockey.

"We have seven characteristics of what it means to be a Chief and we had too many in here who weren't living up (to that standard)."

Spokane, the first American-based team to win the Memorial Cup since Portland did it on the Chiefs' home ice in 1998, overcame a five-day layoff between its final round-robin game and the final. Tokarski allowed only seven goals in four games -- and only one apiece in the final three.

"It's an amazing feeling," the 18-year-old said. "This team was in the cellar when I got here and now we're the champs. That third period (where the Rangers peppered him with 25 shots) was the longest of my life."

Now, names like six-goal Cup man Drayson Bowman, Bruton and Tokarski will join Chiefs lore along Pat Falloon and Ray Whitney, the stars from the club's 1991 winners.

Kitchener won it all five years ago in Quebec City and remains one of the most storied major junior franchises . But the Rangers have yet to win the prize on home ice after losing the 1984 final to Ottawa and couldn't crack the best defence in the CHL.

"My hat goes off to Spokane -- we threw everything we had at them and it wasn't enough," Rangers forward and Canadian world junior hero Matt Halischuk said. "It's very disappointing and it's going to take some time to get over it. This is a great group of guys and we had an outstanding year.

"We just came up short."

The Chiefs held Kitchener's top line, which featured Halischuk, CHL top player and leading scorer Justin Azevedo and Nashville second-rounder Nick Spaling off the scoresheet. They allowed just a lone short-handed effort to Halischuk in Spokane's 2-1 round-robin win.

The Rangers' top group was the deadliest trio in junior hockey this year, but they were supplanted by the impressive checking of of Tyler Johnson, Justin McCrae and Levko Koper.

Bowman, Bruton and Mitch Wahl this provided Spokane with enough scoring.

"We're not trying to be a defensive team out there," Peters said. "We're trying to let our guys go out there, but I think our skilled guys are still a little bit young."

The Rangers built their team for this moment, trading for Owen Sound gunner Scott Tregunna, Kingston's talented defenceman Ben Shutron and London goalie Steve Mason.

But knee surgery ended Mason's Cup hopes.

MEMORIAL CUP ALL-STARS

Team -- Forward: Justin Azevedo, Kitchener; Drayson Bowman, Spokane; Mitch Wahl, Spokane; Defence: Ben Shutron, Kitchener; Justin Falk, Spokane; Goal: Dustin Tokarski, Spokane

Individual -- Tournament MVP: Dustin Tokarski, Spokane; Most sportsmanlike: Matt Halischuk, Kitchener; Best goalie: Dustin Tokarski, Spokane; Top scorer: Justin Azevedo, Kitchener (11 points)


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