Student one victory from eclipsing teacher

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Dale Mitchell's playoff mustache has become famous in Windsor.

Every time the Spitfires provoke their crowd to go crazy, they pop the Toronto Maple Leaf pick's mug up on the video board's noise-meter at the WFCU Centre.

The louder they cheer, the larger Mitchell's computer-generated mustache becomes.

It's all about adding on to what's already there. Building up. Growing.

So there was the real Mitchell on Monday night, a grin under his bushy soup-strainer after assisting on Andrei Loktionov's winner on the road to give Windsor a 3-1 lead in the OHL Western Conference final against the London Knights.

Four games. Four late comebacks. Four different overtime heroes.

Everyone figured this would be a series to remember. No one knew it would be this close.

"It's all about momentum in this series," Mitchell said.

The Knights had a 3-1 lead in Game 1 in Windsor. The Spitfires won it 4-3 when Ryan Ellis' rocket ricocheted off world junior teammate John Tavares' stick.

Windsor had three two-goal leads in Game 2 in London. The Knights won it in overtime on a tic-tac-toe passing play.

London led by a pair with six minutes left in Game 3 back in Windsor. The Spitfires roared back and Eric Wellwood won it in the extra session.

Return to London for Game 4 and the Knights rally from three down in the third to force overtime. But Loktionov, on crutches the night before after hurting his knee, pulled it out of the fire.

"I've been involved in the playoffs for a long time and I've never seen anything like it," London GM Mark Hunter said. "The lead changes are the biggest thing. You don't see that too often where it's happened to both teams."

There are plenty of theories on the blown leads, the late rallies and all the overtimes decided in 10 minutes or less.

So much skill on the ice. Too much firepower to play defensively. Suspect goaltending.

Nothing has come easily in this series. But somehow, the lSpits have managed to put the Knights on the ropes.

"Every game's come down to one shot," London sniper John Tavares said.

"It's 3-1 for them and it could easily have been a four-game sweep for us," teammate Michael Del Zotto said. "It's crazy."

The results, yes, but the building of the teams, no.

If Windsor can finish off London, it will represent a changing of the guard.

The Spitfires have all the momentum on and off the ice. They did it by following the Knights' blueprint for success, asking Hunter brothers Mark and Dale for some early advice.

When Warren Rychel, Bob Boughner and Peter Dobrich bought the Spits three years ago, they had a major rebuild in front of them and an old arena. Now they have the best team in the league and a new barn in Tecumseh.

They just played host to the all-star game. They could be better next season than they are now.

With new digs, they're going to get to hold the Memorial Cup soon, possibly as early as 2011.

Rychel, as GM, was named OHL executive of the year. Boughner is the league's top coach for the second straight season.

Now that's moving up fast.

Sound familiar?

That was the Knights four and five years ago. The Hunters went from a cellar-dwelling team and a crumbling Ice House to the John Labatt Centre, a 2005 Memorial Cup title and an environment of top NHL picks.

But through four flip-of-the-coin games so far, student has the leg up on teacher.

Now it's up to the Hunters to turn the tables -- and turn back the clock.


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