Thrilled after they scored a dramatic overtime victory in the MasterCard Memorial Cup semi-final, the Windsor Spitfires declared they will have enough energy for the tournament final against the Kelowna Rockets tomorrow afternoon.
"If we were playing [today]we might have an issue," said Windsor's dynamo defenceman Ryan Ellis, moments after teammate Adam Henrique slammed in a rebound 4 minutes 31 seconds into the extra period for a 3-2 victory over the QMJHL champion Drummondville Voltigeurs.
"With Spitfire hockey, we're all in great shape," Ellis added. "With a day off, I don't think it will be a problem at all."
Windsor will need every ounce of that conditioning because the Rockets have been off since Tuesday.
Nobody epitomizes the fitness level of the Spitfires more than the smallish Ellis, generously listed at 5 foot 10 and 173 pounds. The 18-year-old blueliner from Freelton, Ont., (near Guelph) is gifted offensively and plays close to 30 minutes a game, but doesn't exhibit much wear and tear despite banging up against bigger opponents.
Ellis remarked that head coach Bob Boughner and his coaching staff, as well as the Spitfires' trainers, keep the players in line and encourage them to visit the gym on off days and spend extra time pedalling on the dressing room stationary bikes.
"We have seven bikes and they always are being used," Ellis said.
There was a sense of relief on the face of Ellis and his teammates after their third win in four nights. They dropped their first two games to begin the Memorial Cup, and if the Spitfires didn't score a 2-1 come-from-behind win over the Rockets on Tuesday, they would have made their way home to Windsor.
The Spitfires then followed up that desperate victory with a 6-4 win - thanks to four third-period goals - over the host Rimouski Océanic on Thursday in the tiebreaker game and last night's clutch effort.
"I guess we like to do things the hard way," Henrique said.
Adding to Windsor's hard knocks was the loss of forward Justin Shugg in the tournament opener with a broken collarbone. Against Drummondville last night, defenceman Jesse Blacker suffered a leg injury when smashed from behind into the boards by Voltigeurs captain Samson Mahbod in the second period.
Even though Blacker struggled to get his equipment off and was in pain, Boughner did not want to rule out the youngster for tomorrow's game. "We'll get him checked out and see what a day's rest will do," the Spitfires' coach said.
So what will the Spitfires, whose last visit to the final was in 1988 when they lost to the Medicine Hat Tigers, do on their day off? They won't skate. But they will show up at Le Colisée for a stretching session and then go off for a team-building gathering.
Forward Scott Timmins and defenceman Ben Shutron also will address the team, along with backup goalie Josh Unice. The three played for the Kitchener Rangers in last year's Memorial Cup final against the Spokane Chiefs. They know first-hand the dangers of getting too high after a semi-final victory because the Rangers didn't have much left in their 4-1 loss in the final.
"We'll be ready on Sunday," said Shutron, who gave his team a 2-0 lead in the first period. "We're the best-conditioned team in the tournament. We played in the tiebreaker and we still we're all over them [last night] You could tell by the shot clock."
The Spitfires outshot their opponents 47-21, including a 22-3 advantage in the third period and overtime. But the Voltigeurs made it interesting with two second-period goals.
No team has been forced to go through the tiebreaker game and win the final since the Memorial Cup switched to a tournament format in 1972, and only four semi-final winners in the past 20 years have claimed the title.