BRANDON - For all the talk about who was starting in goal for the Brandon Wheat Kings, the truth is that it probably didn't matter.
Wheat Kings head coach and general manager Kelly McCrimmon played a hunch and started Andrew Hayes as the host team was blown out 9-3 by the Windsor Spitfires on Friday in the opening game of the 2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup at Westman Place.
The harsh reality for the Wheat Kings - back in the Memorial Cup for the first time since 1996 - was that they were simply outclassed by the Ontario Hockey League champions.
"We just felt the last couple weeks of practice that Andrew had been the better guy," said McCrimmon. "It was a gut feel to give him the opportunity in the first game."
Hayes, who appeared in only three of Brandon's 15 Western Hockey League playoff games after sharing the crease with Jacob De Serrres throughout the season, surrendered four goals on the first nine shots he faced but only one of them was a really soft one - a long slapshot from Adam Henrique that snuck through the five-hole.
Hayes lasted only 20 minutes, giving up five goals on 23 shots before giving way to De Serres, who didn't fare much better.
The Wheat Kings, who hadn't played since Apr. 23, came out and set a physical tone but came unglued, surrendering five first-period markers.
"You could say the rust was there, but I don't think so. They were mental mistakes we can't be making," said Wheat Kings forward Aaron Lewadniuk. "We're a tight group here and if we lose 3-2 or 9-3, we're going to go into the next game and start from scratch."
After Kenny Ryan opened the scoring at 2:01 of the first period with a nifty redirection, the Spitfires exploded for three goals in 80 seconds to suck the life out of the hometown team.
The Wheat Kings (0-1) return to action Sunday afternoon against the Moncton Wildcats, while the Spitfires (1-0) won't play until Monday against the Calgary Hitmen.
The Spitfires were the overwhelming favourite and didn't look burdened by the expectations of trying to become just the first team to win consecutive Memorial Cups since the Kamloops Blazers (1994 and 1995).
"For sure, it's a huge statement but it counts the same as a 2-1 win," said Spitfires forward Taylor Hall, who scored a pair of goals. "We can't be overconfident."
There was a scary moment for the Spitfires in the opening minute of the contest as Wheat Kings defenceman Travis Hamonic delivered a hit that sent Hall crashing into the end boards head first
"That kind of woke me up a little bit," said Hall.
Hall sat on the bench for a few minutes and collected his thoughts before scoring a beautiful goal on his first shift back - sliding the puck between his skates, drove past Wheat Kings defenceman Colby Robak and scored on a backhand to make it 4-0.
Scott Timmins, Henrique and Hall each scored twice to lead the offence, with Dale Mitchell, Zack Kassian and Ryan adding singles.
Lewadniuk, Matt Calvert and Jay Fehr scored for the Wheat Kings.