Majors-Battalion series igniting fans' passions

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

Eugene Melnyk gave his Mississauga St. Michael's Majors access to the Hersey Centre and built them a weight room modelled after the Ottawa Senators' facilities.

But here's the kind of magical stuff his money can't buy:

Majors' William Wallen, a 17-year-old Swede who suffered a brain aneurysm early this season, potting the overtime winner to tie up the OHL's second-round series with Brampton at 2-2 on Tuesday.

"When a doctor tells you most people with that (ailment) don't make it to the hospital," head coach Dave Cameron said, "it puts everything in perspective."

"It was very scary," high-scoring defenceman Cameron Gaunce added. "We didn't know how to handle it at the time. But our medical staff was great.

" I'm not surprised by anything William does. He has a work ethic you don't see in a lot of kids at 17, 18 years old. I knew he'd be back."

Or how about Mississauga's 16-year-old goalie J.P. Anderson trading saves with Brampton's Thomas McCollum, a first-round pick of the Stanley Cup champ Detroit Red Wings?

The former Toronto Marlie midget won a gold with Ontario's under-17 team this year. He's trying to outplay a guy who started for the United States at the world juniors.

"I never expected any of this," Anderson said. "I figured I'd be the guy who was just there in case something happened to Chris (veteran goalie Chris Carrozzi, who was pulled early in the first round against Barrie). I'm just trying to run with it. It's a great challenge to play against him (McCollum), that's how I look at it."

How about in the stands where the two teams that endure major scorn for playing in the centre of OHL apathy are striking up some real passion among paying customers?

"I can't believe the bad blood this series has created," Anderson said. "I've seen some fans going at it, fighting and arguing. This series (the first between the two Toronto-area teams) has everyone fired up."

"I know the two mayors have a bet going," Gaunce said. "Hopefully, a longer series helps (increase attendance) but we can't control that. We have a real dedicated group of fans in Mississauga and, as a team, we appreciate that so much. When we beat Barrie, a lot of them came out to support us and it meant a lot."

Pivotal Game 5 goes tonight at the Brampton bunker -- the Powerade Centre. "Yes, we take the bus there," Gaunce said, "even though some of us live closer to Brampton than Mississauga, but it's more for carrying the equipment than anything else."

Not many figured the Majors would carry Stan Butler's favoured Troops to a six or seven-game series. So far, this tied series is a second-round shocker right up there with Plymouth knotting up Windsor in the West.

"The only ones who believedwere the guys in our room," Gaunce said. "They have (Cody) Hodgson and (Evgeny) Grachev, he's huge, then they follow up with Matt Duchene, who's pretty good himself. You just have to be aware of who's out there."

Cameron was on the Canadian world junior coaching staff in Ottawa and saw Canucks' pick Hodgson up close for a month.

"You'd be hard-pressed to name me a better junior hockey player in Canada than him right now," he said. "You don't get any insight into stopping him. You just realize what kind of a leader and how good he really is."

But how good is this upstart Mississauga squad? Could they really bury the Battalion?

"Each of us had a stinker and probably both teams feel they could be up or down 3-1 at this point," Cameron said. "I don't think I believe in destiny but I believe in character. We have that in our room. All Mr. Melnyk said to me when I first joined the St. Michael's Majors (this is Cameron's second go-round as coach) was to make this program the one every boy in Ontario wants to play for.

"That's never changed."


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