WINDSOR — If you saw Michael DiPietro just minutes after his Windsor Spitfires earned a berth to Sunday’s Mastercard Memorial Cup final, just after he limited the offensive juggernaut Erie Otters to two goals, shortly after he recorded one of the biggest wins of his career, you’d have no idea whether the goaltender had won or lost.
“I’m excited,” DiPietro said, finally, when pressed, with a straight face. “I can’t give away my cards.
“There’s another game on Sunday, can’t get too high or too low,” he added. “And if you really wanna see me happy, when we win the — hopefully, we win the game, hopefully come out strong, and then maybe I’ll crack a smile.”
Well, the hosts have plenty of reasons to smile right now.
On Wednesday, Windsor upset the favourites in front of a raucous hometown crowd at WFCU Centre, earning a 4-2 win over Erie just two nights after the Otters set a Memorial Cup record with a 12-goal win in a testy battle between two teams from the OHL’s Western Conference.
DiPietro was sensational, shutting out the Otters through more than 40 minutes, limiting the Otters’ potent attack to just two goals on 35 shots.
Towering Ottawa Senators prospect Logan Brown had one word to describe the play of his goalie: “Unbelievable,” he said, along with a head shake and a smile.
“At the end of the day, Mikey DiPietro was the reason, once again, that we were able to hold onto that lead and play for the special, prestigious, Memorial Cup,” said Spitfires head coach, Rocky Thompson.
Erie (2-1), meanwhile, faces Saint John in the semifinal on Friday and they’ll be looking to rebound after looking a little slow out of the gate for the first time this tournament.
“Our start was not what we needed it to be,” said Otters head coach Kris Knoblauch. “We dug ourselves a hole too big.”
Much of that hole was dug by captain Jeremiah Addison, a Montreal Canadiens prospect. The 20-year-old from Brampton had a hat trick in the win, and now co-leads the tournament with five goals in three games.
After Addison scored his third goal — the fourth of the game, and the biggest, because the Spitfires were getting a little nervous then, and the Otters were pressing — Addison threw out his arms and looked skyward and yelled while fans tossed hats and pucks onto the ice.
Then Addison skated by his bench for fist-bumps and yelled: “Make it rain!”
“Make the hats rain, baby,” he said, grinning, after the game. “I was grateful for it.”
But while Addison had the hat trick, there was one constant on each of the Spitfires goals Wednesday: Big winger Gabe Vilardi, whose name you’ll hear early on in June’s NHL draft. He drew four assists in the winning effort.
To hear Addison describe his goals, all involved the mention of “Vilardi working” and “Vilardi battling.”
Windsor’s first goal came just 5:50 into the game, when Vilardi used his size to get the puck back behind the Otters net, then spotted a wide-open Addison in front, just above the crease.
Addison labelled that puck for the blocker side, off the post and in, then dropped to one knee, pumped his fists and yelled while the fans went nuts.
Yes, the hosts were fired up early.
And this one didn’t start like you’d expect for Erie, the team that averaged eight goals in their first two games. The Spitfires held the Otters without a shot for 11:38 in the first period, keeping them to the outside, blocking shots, and cutting off rushes in the neutral zone.
“The way we’re coming out each game, like we’re shot out of a cannon — I really like that,” said DiPietro. “Our D’s gap was very good, our back-checkers were coming back through the middle, breaking up passes.”
And it was the Spitfires with all the chances who threw pucks at Otters goalie Troy Timpano from anywhere and everywhere.
Addison’s fourth of the tournament and second of the game came about 10 minutes after his first, when Vilardi dished the puck to Addison, and from the top of the circle Addison sent a wrist shot through traffic, sneaking the puck under Timpano’s blocker arm.
It was nearly 3-0 at the end of the first when Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco sent a perfect pass across the ice to Brown, who slapped the one-timer just wide of the near-open net.
Windsor kept pressing and opened the second period with a five-on-three. As Bracco told Sportsnet’s Rob Faulds, just before the period began regarding Erie’s offensive firepower: “We gotta step on them.”
That they did. Before the first penalty had expired, Canadiens prospect Mikhail Sergachev one-timed a slap shot through traffic to make it 3-0, thanks to a nice screen from Graham Knott, who lifted a skate at the last second to let the puck through.
But the Otters woke up after that. In the last two periods, they out-shot Windsor to the tune of 30-10. Alex DeBrincat, who had an OHL-leading 65 goals in the regular season, had his team’s best chance early in the second on a pass from Darren Raddysh, but he hit the post.
DiPietro continually shut the door, bringing fans to their feet in appreciation.
His biggest save of the night came on an Otters power play, when Tampa Bay prospect Anthony Cirelli found himself alone in front and threw down a nice deke, but DiPietro threw out his left pad and made a save with his skate.
“He played outstanding tonight, we had a lot of chances,” Cirelli said of the Spitfires goalie. “Give a lot of credit to him.”
It wasn’t until nearly halfway through the third that Erie got on the board when winger Kyle Maksimochic barged through the crease and jumped on a rebound. The Otters finally got one with 11:50 to go. It took them 48:10 and 24 shots to score their first.
And while they controlled play in the third period, Addison struck with his third of the game — a goal coach Thompson called “huge for us, to get that little bit of a buffer” — on a beauty pass from Julius Nattinen, to make it 4-1.
With 2:26 to go and with Timpano on the Otters bench for the extra attacker, Taylor Raddysh sent a laser beam past DiPietro to pull Erie within two goals, but that’s as close as they’d get.
There was a massive cheer from the crowd when Windsor managed to clear the puck out of the zone with 44 seconds to go. When the final buzzer went the players jumped over the boards to congratulate their goalie and fans started banging the rink-side glass.
Among the fans in the stands, you’d find a huge DiPietro contingent because he’s from nearby Amherstburg. He had about 30 friends and family at the game on Wednesday and couldn’t wait to see them, especially his mom and dad.
Maybe when he saw them he’d show a little excitement.
“Actually, he was pretty fired up in the room after the win,” Brown said, grinning.
That’s good to know, even if the goalie with the tournament-best .939 save percentage isn’t showing the rest of us his cards just yet.