MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — The Kootenay Ice got a taste of their own medicine in Saturday’s MasterCard Memorial Cup.
The Western Hockey League champions lost to a team that was grittier, tougher and just flat out wanted it more. The characteristics of the Ontario Hockey League winners from Owen Sound more closely resembled those from a WHL team, and in particular, the team they beat 5-0 in the process.
“Our coaches have told us if there’s one team in this tournament that played like us, it was the Owen Sound team,” Kootenay forward Matt Fraser said. “They got a good mix of size and skill and speed. Any time you have that I guess it’s a good combination.”
Kootenay played well for spurts, including the final 12 minutes of the second period. The Ice appeared as though they were on a power-play, but were unable to beat the game’s first star, goaltender Jordan Binnington.
“We got a lot of shots in the second (period) and when we got our chances we didn’t capitalize,” Kootenay forward Cody Eakin said. “(Binnington) played really well and kicked out rebounds where we couldn’t get them.”
The goaltending situation for Owen Sound head coach Mark Reeds was made much easier for the next game after Binnington shone with a 29-save shutout. The youngest of the Attack’s three-goalie pyramid was given the crease in the team’s opening game of the MasterCard Memorial Cup and didn’t look out of place.
Binnington faced a barrage of shots in the second period and was even run over on one rush by Eakin, but the sophomore was unrelenting and no worse for the wear after dusting himself off.
“Earlier in the year I thought it would have got to my head,” Binnington said.
It was a textbook Ice game-plan, only it was executed by Owen Sound. The Attack began clogging up the neutral zone and making it difficult to penetrate their defence after picking up the lead. Saskatoon, Medicine Hat and Portland would see the irony in Kootenay’s first tournament loss.
The game turned ugly shortly after the Attack took a 3-0 lead. Ice captain Brayden McNabb caught Joey Hishon with a blindside elbow to the head that left the Attack forward dazed on the ice. McNabb was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct with little more than five minutes remaining in the third. The hit will be reviewed by Brian O’Neill, the discipline chairman, who will decide whether further disciplinary action is required.
Kootenay head coach Kris Knoblauch doesn’t believe his captain should be suspended for the hit, given that McNabb is 6-foot-4 and Hishon is 5-foot-10. Knoblauch also felt Hishon was lowering himself to avoid contact, leading to a head shot that might not otherwise have been.
Knoblauch also said protocol in determining the severity of the penalty is based on whether the other player is injured from the hit. Eakin felt Hishon was perhaps milking the call.
“I don’t think it was a dirty hit,” he said. “I think Hishon was skating off the ice and looked to the ref and went back down and what have you.”
The nature of the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament dictates not every team will be able to carry over its playoff success. The Ice aren’t panicking, however, given that two of their four playoff round victories started with a loss. Their first playoff game was a 4-0 defeat to Moose Jaw.
It was only Kootenay’s second loss in their last 17 games and first in their last five.
The referees were still under fire from the fans in this game. Following the Attack’s third-consecutive penalty to begin the game, fans chanted “we want a ref” during the television timeout. Later in the first period, Cameron Brace fired a shot over Lieuwen’s shoulder that appeared to go in, but hit the cross-bar and bounced out. Fans then chanted, “that was in.”
Eakin was unquestionably the Ice’s star after he created a lot of chances for his linemates that didn’t result in goals. After Jagger Dirk was stopped on a shot in tight on a pass from Eakin, the Canadian world junior forward gave his teammate words of encouragement then patted him on the back with his stick.
Owen Sound’s win guarantees one OHL team will be playing in an elimination game after the host, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, dropped the opener. The last two national champions came from the OHL, both won by the Windsor Spitfires.
The last WHL MasterCard Memorial Cup champions are the Spokane Chiefs, who won the 2008 tournament in OHL territory.
Sunday’s game will feature a battle of the two winless teams when the host Majors take on the Ice.