BRANDON — Last in, first out.
That’s the harsh reality for the Moncton Wildcats, who dropped a 4-3 Memorial Cup overtime decision to the Windsor Spitfires before a crowd of 5,160 at Westman Place Tuesday night.
Eric Wellwood buried a rebound from the slot at 12:22 of the first overtime for the game-winner, which spoiled a brilliant performance from Wildcats back-up goalie Shane Owen, who made 48 saves in defeat.
With the loss, the Wildcats — who punched their ticket last Monday by winning the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title in six games over the Saint John Sea Dogs — finish the round robin with an 0-3 record, which is somewhat shocking considering they built a 3-0 lead over the Calgary Hitmen in their first game, lost a 5-4 heartbreaker and never really recovered.
The defeat was even harder to swallow after Wildcats forward Daniel Pettersson clanged a shot off the crossbar with 24.3 seconds left in regulation time.
The Spitfires are 3-0 and won’t play again until Sunday’s final.
Wildcats head coach Danny Flynn created some intrigue by starting Owen in favour of Nicola Riopel.
Riopel was the QMJHL MVP in 2008-09 and backstopped his team to a league title this spring before giving up nine goals during the first two games of the Memorial Cup.
Owen started this season with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League but was released after appearing in 12 games and posting a record of 3-6-2 and a 4.31 goals-against average.
Once he was waived through the OHL, the 19-year-old was free to sign anywhere he pleased and ended up with the Wildcats, playing in 18 games during the regular season.
Owen went 14-3 with a 2.12 GAA and three shutouts, adding five relief appearances in the playoffs, the last coming May 4.
It was a bit of a defensive start, but the teams exchanged power play goals in the final 90 seconds of the first period.
With Ryan Ellis off serving a tripping penalty, the Wildcats struck first, as Randy Cameron took advantage of a nice screen by Gabriel Bourque and slipped a low shot past Philipp Grubauer at 18:36.
It didn’t take long for the Spitfires to respond.
On the ensuing shift, Ellis drew a high-sticking minor, and Cam Fowler was quick to convert from the left point.
After some strong puck movement, Justin Shugg fed Fowler, and he unleashed a perfectly-placed slap-shot that banked off the post and in with 7.6 seconds left in the frame.
Spitfires star Taylor Hall set up Shugg at 5:09 of the second period, but the Wildcats came alive early in the third.
After off-setting minors, Moncton won a draw in the offensive zone, and captain Scott Brannon blasted a shot home from the top of the face-off circle.
A mere 29 seconds later, the Wildcats won another draw cleanly, and defenceman Brandon Gormley drilled a slapper past Grubauer.
But the Spitfires weren’t about to roll over either, and they evened the score at 4:47, when Stephen Johnston pounded in a rebound.
There was plenty of talk before the game about the possibility of Wildcats’ sniper Nicolas Deschamps returning to the lineup, but a high ankle sprain kept him on the sidelines.
Deschamps, who tied for the QMJHL scoring lead with 96 points in 64 games, suffered the injury April 23, and while he tried to give it a go during the morning skate, his mobility was limited, and he was ruled out of the contest prior to the pre-game warm-up.