MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - Fresh from eye surgery, Matt Fraser's dad Murray took the train from Red Deer, Alta., to watch his son finish his major junior hockey career at the Memorial Cup.
The Kootenay Ice sniper made sure his dad doesn't have to buy a return ticket yet.
With his club up against the wall once more, Fraser scored a pair of goals for the second straight game and the Western League champs advanced to Friday's semifinal against host Mississauga with an explosive 7-3 victory to end the Owen Sound Attack's season before 4,916 in the Thursday night tiebreaker game at the Hershey Centre.
"It's bittersweet because I'm (21 years old) and you look into the eyes of the guys you're shaking hands with on Owen Sound and you understand what they're going through," Fraser said, "but at the same time, you wouldn't want to trade places with any one of them." Slow-starting Kootenay scored just once in its opening two losses, then fell two goals behind against an Attack team playing on fumes without its two star forwards. But the Ice blitzed surprise Attack starting goalie Scott Stajcer for six straight goals over the final two periods ‹ three in under four minutes in the second to take the lead.
The veteran Stajcer gave way to youngster Jordan Binnington, solid in three round-robin starts, in the third period.
"Yeah, we were surprised," Fraser said. "We knew they rotated three goalies and had success. We don't have control of who starts for the other team, but we have control over who goes in and out.
"For some reason, they chose not to play the guy who shut us out (last Saturday). It gave us some confidence. We were down early -- I don't have enough money for fines to repeat what was said (at first intermission) -- but we came out and played our game. We've got our scoring back (12 goals in two games after one in their first two outings)." The Attack couldn't exact revenge on Kootenay captain Brayden McNabb, who sat just one game for ending Owen Sound star centre Joey Hishon's tournament with an elbow late in a 5-0 game last Saturday.
"Sure, it wasn't fair," Attack forward Andrew Shaw said. "Joey Hishon is a great player, he had a chance to really show off his skill here and he only got to play one game and that's not right.
"You can't replace a guy like that. You don't try to be a Hishon or (captain Garrett) Wilson. We had injuries and I thought the Saint John game in overtime really sucked up a lot of our energy. We wanted to get to play them (the Sea Dogs) again but we only had three lines and we were a tired hockey team." Shaw wouldn't question head coach Mark Reeds decision to give Stajcer his first start since Game 2 of the OHL final against Mississauga.
"I didn't see it coming," he said, "but Binner played a lot the last few days. It's a lot of hockey. It's not a sour experience at all. Anytime you play in a Memorial Cup, it's great." Attack defenceman Jesse Blacker played on the 2009 Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires, who overcame a ton to win the title in Rimouski. But sometimes, the obstacles can be too high for a team.
"We never caught a break this week," the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect said, "but no one believed in us this year, we banded together and if you told us then we'd lose in the tiebreaker game at the Memorial Cup, everyone in that room would have taken it.
"Losing sucks, but we achieved so much this year. No one can take away our OHL title, our ring, our banner.
"It¹ll always be a special group."
The Ice is starting to resemble one, too. It is starting to think like Blacker's '09 Spitfires crew.
"Why not?" Ice goalie Nathan Lieuwen asked with a grin. "I've got to believe in my guys. That's the biggest thing right now." Kootenay has faith and its old offence back.
It could be a hard train to derail for the Majors.