Unlikely strategy for unlikely OHL champs
By Mackenzie Liddell, Contributing Editor
Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - Rookie forward Jarrod Maidens took a whack at a loose puck at the top of the crease and watched it slither across the goal line 3:27 into overtime, threw his gloves in the air and was mobbed in the corner by a wave of leaping teammates.
That's the scene the Attack and their fans - thousands of who made the trek to Mississauga for Game 7 - will remember forever, and the first time in franchise history they've had a chance to celebrate as OHL champions.
It's a major achievement for the league's smallest market (22,000 people), one that hasn't had a whiff of a championship since setting up shop in 1989-90 and finished last season 11 points out of the playoffs.
But putting aside the feel-good story of small-town success, this series was a thrilling display of hockey from start to finish between the league's two best teams.
Despite going down 2-0 to the Majors, using a three-goalie carousel in the crease and needing back-to-back overtime wins to stay alive and then a third on the road in Game 7 - where Mississauga had lost only once in the playoffs (Game 3 against Owen Sound) - the Attack somehow managed to get the job done.
OHL Coach of the Year Mark Reeds deserves a lot of credit for the Attack's magical season and for keeping his players focused and confident when things were looking grim in the first round against London, and after the first two games against Mississauga.
Led by 20-year-old winger Robby Mignardi, the recipient of the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as the most valuable player of the playoffs, the Attack were a relentless group who never seemed to take their foot off the accelerator.
But Owen Sound was far from a one-man army and used a deep supply of firepower, speed and toughness - up front and on the blueline - to extinguish the Majors. It was a full team effort in the truest sense.
There's no better example of this than in goal, where Reeds leaned on all three of his netminders throughout the playoffs - an OHL first.
Regular season starter Jordan Binnington was demoted after a rocky four games in Round 1, but was summoned to close out the Majors. He responded by posting a 1.94 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and, most importantly, recorded the final two wins of a championship season.
Although he struggled against Mississauga, Scott Stajcer was instrumental in carrying the Attack past Plymouth and Windsor in the semi and conference finals. And Michael Zador, who posted the best numbers of the three, was clutch when called upon, backstopping the Attack to consecutive overtime wins in Game 3 and 4 of the final.
For the Majors, it's a disappointing end to a season that was nearly flawless from Day 1.
The hurt runs deeper when you consider three of their four losses to the Attack came in overtime with the other a narrow 3-2 defeat in Game 6. The divide between despair and exuberance, success and failure was literally separated by inches.
But the Majors will have a chance to salvage, if only slightly, a season that featured significantly more highs than lows when the Memorial Cup rolls into town on Friday.
05/16 11:33:57 ET