On the road to the Memorial Cup

Canadian Hockey League recap

OHL

The Mississauga IceDogs have finally learned how to win. The perennial losers of the Ontario Hockey League’s Central Division mustered only 27 wins in their first four seasons from 1998-2003. Renowned hockey figures such as former part-owner Don Cherry and former Leaf Rick Vaive tried their hands at coaching, but they both failed to rescue the drowning ’Dogs. Highly-touted draft picks such as Jason Spezza and Patrick Jarrett begged for trades as the losing continued unabated.

All this losing is a thing of the past for the ’03-04 edition of the IceDogs, who recorded the franchise’s first winning season and posted a remarkable string of playoff victories before losing the OHL Championship in four games to the Guelph Storm.

This gritty squad rode the excellent performance of rookie goalie David Shantz and their cohesive play to victories over three OHL powerhouses. First they beat the Oshawa Generals in seven in their first round, then the Barrie Colts in seven in the second, and finally the Toronto-St. Michael’s Majors in six for the Eastern Conference title.

The IceDogs now have a coach that clicks with them in Greg Gilbert, and a superstar that stuck around in Patrick O’Sullivan. But, while their presence in the OHL final speaks to their enormous improvement this season, they were no match for the powerful and disciplined Guelph Storm.

The Storm outshot the IceDogs 44-19 and 44-16 in the series’ first two games on their way to 4-1 and 2-1 victories. Then in Game 3, Mississauga’s best game, the Storm capitalised on the IceDogs’ repeated defensive errors to win 6-4. They closed out the series 5-1 on May 5 for the first OHL victory in a sweep since 1988.

Guelph relied on its strong power play, good offensive movement, and the dominant play of veterans like playoff MVP Martin St. Pierre and Captain Dan Paille to dispatch the IceDogs rather handily. This formula carried them through hard-fought contests against the Owen Sound Attack, the Plymouth Whalers, and the league-leading London Knights in the early rounds.

WHL

In the Western Hockey League, the Medicine Hat Tigers completed another sweep to win the league title over the Everett Silvertips. The Tigers dominated the first three games, and then overcame a two-goal deficit to win the fourth game 4-2. The Silvertips fought back from a 3-1 game differential to defeat the Kelowna Rockets for the Western Conference title, but they couldn’t duplicate that performance against Medicine Hat.

CHL

At press time, the Gatineau Olympiques were leading the Moncton Wildcats 2-0 in the battle for the championship of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The winner of that contest will move on with the Storm and the Tigers to the CHL’s Memorial Cup. Held this year in Kelowna, BC, the tournament will begin May 15 as the Guelph Storm face their host, the Rockets.

—With files from nhl.com, ontariohockeyleague.com, canoe.ca, and mississaugaicedogs.com

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