Dream match a reality

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:23 AM ET

It's here. It's one of the most anticipated major junior hockey series in recent memory.

Many say this matchup was destined to take place since the season began. The Windsor Spitfires have dominated the Ontario Hockey League. The London Knights, despite a rough patch after Christmas, were the only team that looked capable of troubling the Rose City bunch this year.

That looked especially true when the Knights acquired John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto from the Oshawa Generals.

Before that, the Spitfires pretty much had their way with the Knights this season, winning five straight.

But junior hockey is all "about what have you done for me lately" and what once was a slam dunk -- the Spitfires winning going away -- is certainly not the case now.

The Knights won the final regular season meeting in Windsor. While it was a meaningless game in the standings for the Spitfires, it wasn't a game without meaning. The Spits were looking to better some significant records set by the 2005 Knights.

London goes into the series having won 17 of 18, while Windsor has not played particularly well against either Owen Sound or Plymouth.

This could all mean squat when the real stuff begins tomorrow night.

But if there were any early questions about whether there would be a Spitfires-Knights Western Conference final, those would have revolved around the Knights, as in, "Will they make it to the final?"

With the Spitfires being life and death to beat the Whalers, that question was asked of them.

In the end, quality won out and the Spitfires gave everyone the series they wanted and expected.

In the dissection of the upcoming series, the Spitfires' survival of the Whaler series provides ample grist for the debate on what was once thought to be invincibility.

"They played us hard," Spitfires coach Bob Boughner said. "We've played 75 games and never really had our backs against the wall."

The Spitfires paid for their win against the Whalers. Nothing came easily for the Spitfires. They lost tough-guy Richard Greenop to suspension. They were bruised, battered and severely tested.

While it was more than the Spitfires wanted, it was good for them.

It's called a wake-up call.

"We had to go into another team's building to win back home-ice advantage. We won a one-goal game to win a series," Boughner said. "You can't put players in that situation in practice. We have a lot of guys who have never been in that situation and we responded well. We learned from it."

How the series is going to be played will be interesting. The strength of the Spitfires is balance. They have toughness and the ability to score. The Spitfires fired a lot of shots at Whalers' netminder Matt Hackett while the Whalers attempted to slow them down by playing physically.

The Knights have a great deal of offensive talent. It's their strength, but if they allow 40-plus shots a game they'll be in trouble. The Knights aren't as physical as the Whalers but the Knights have been winning because they've been more responsible defensively.

The Knights will have to battle not only the Spitfires but their own inclination to return to up-and-down hockey.

No matter what form the series takes, it will be a showcase event. It will be a mirror image of a newly successful franchise in the Spitfires that followed the blueprint of a successful franchise in the Knights.

Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel doesn't think this series is overhyped.

"It's going to be everything it's meant to be, not only in Ontario but across the country," he said. "I have a lot of NHL friends that are excited to see it. When we bought the Spitfires, we wanted to do what London did. We've done it with the team and the building but now we want to win this thing."


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