BRANDON, Man. — Coming into the Memorial Cup, Martin Jones was considered the ace in the hole.
They didn’t expect to play it so soon.
If the Calgary Hitmen ever found themselves in trouble, they knew they’d still have a shot because they have the country’s top goaltender between the pipes.
Trouble came in the form of the Moncton Wildcats in the club’s first game of the tournament.
The Wildcats completely dominated the Hitmen for the first half of Saturday afternoon’s game.
And if it weren’t for Jones’ heroics, the club’s miraculous late-game rally would have been meaningless.
“We were kinda wide-eyed at the start,” Jones said. “We didn’t come out and play our game.
“We weren’t moving our feet and we were watching them do their thing.
“You have to give them credit. They came at us real hard. But we know we have to come with better starts.”
The Hitmen certainly can’t afford to stumble out of the gate Monday night against the high-powered Windsor Spitfires (6 p.m., Sportsnet).
Outshot 13-3 in the opening period Saturday, the Hitmen continuously relied on Jones to bail them out.
After the Wildcats managed to sneak a couple of pucks past Jones, the WHL goaltender of the year knew he had to shut the door to give his club any chance at mounting a comeback.
“It was important for us not to get too far behind,” he said of his team that rallied from 3-0 and 4-2 deficits.
“We knew we weren’t getting the start we wanted. But if we fell further behind, it would be bad for the confidence.”
The Hitmen will be without leading scorer Brandon Kozun (ankle) and rookie d-man Jaynen Rissling (lower body) Monday night.
Kozun tried to play Saturday but was ineffective and will rest until at least Wednesday when Calgary takes on the host Brandon Wheat Kings.
With Kozun out of the lineup, goals will be at a premium, meaning Jones will likely be leaned on heavily once again.
Jones stoned Kelsey Tessier, Moncton’s playoff scoring leader, on a Wildcats 2-on-1 in the third period.
Seconds later, overage sniper Joel Broda scored Calgary’s second goal and the comeback began.
It was Jones’ stop, Broda said, that made it all possible.
“There were a lot chances that could have gone in,” Broda said. “He was the difference.
“It’s nice to have a guy back there that, when you’re trying to mount a comeback, he’s going to make that game-changing save.”
The Hitmen insist they’ll be ready to go when the puck drops Monday night.
And they’ll need to be.
The Spitfires lit up the Wheat Kings for four goals before the game was five minutes old in Friday’s opener.
Windsor defenceman Ryan Ellis, a Team Canada world junior teammate of Jones and Kozun, said he expects a bit more of a cautious start Monday night.
“We’re both in the same position after winning our first games,” Ellis said. “There might be a bit of a feeling-out process where it’ll get physical.”