The Saginaw Spirit's Ontario Hockey League west division rivals, the Windsor Spitfires, managed to preserve a 1-goal lead throughout the final 14-minutes and 53-seconds, defeating the Erie Otters 4-3 in the 99th annual Memorial Cup championship game in front of 6,519 fans at the WFCU Centre in downtown Windsor, ON Sunday evening.
Aaron Luchuk, a fourth year forward from Kingston, ON fired a one-timer past Erie goal tender Troy Timpano on a pass from Jeremy Bracco at 5:07 of the third period, breaking a 3-3 deadlock to give the Spitfires (who had made it into the tournament as this year's host city) the game winning goal and its third ever Memorial Cup championship, and its first since winning the 2009 and 2010 Cups back to back.
“Bracc's (Bracco) made an incredible play,” Luchuk told the Toronto Sun following the game. “I was fresh, I came off a line change and I don't think too many people saw me come off the bench.”
“I was able to get open, took a one-timer and lucky to find a hole, continued Luchuk. “It's a little bit of luck when it's a one-timer like that. You don't know where it's going to go, but it found a hole.”
The Spitfires capitalized on a 2-minute tripping penalty to Erie forward Kyle Pettit at 15:51 of the first period when Bracco (a right wing from Freeport, NY who was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round of the 2015 NHL draft) scored on a power play goal from Gabriel Vilardi and Mikhail Sergachev to jump out a 1-0 lead at 16:07 of the first period.
The Otters would answer just 48-seconds later when Dylan Strome (the No. 3 overall first round pick of the Arizona Coyotes in the 2015 NHL draft) tied the game at 1-goal apiece, beating Windsor goal tender Michael DiPietro with assists from Darren Raddysh and Alex DeBrincat at 16:55 of the first period.
The Otters took a 2-1 lead early in the second period when Warren Foegele took advantage of a Windsor delay of game penalty, converting a power play goal from Strome and Kyle Maksimovich at 5:35 of the second period.
Windsor defenseman Logan Stanley tied the game at 2-goals apiece just 52-seconds later with assists coming from Bracco and Logan Brown at 6:27 of the second period.
Erie then pulled away with a 3-2 lead midway through the middle frame when defenseman T.J. Fergus managed to beat DiPietro with assists coming from Ivan Lodnia and German Poddubnyi at 12:41 of the second period.
Fergus, However, just 43-seconds after scoring the go-ahead goal, was whistled for a 2-minute holding penalty at 13:24 of the second period.
Windsor left wing Graham Knott, taking advantage of the Fergus penalty, would then 'Knott' the game at 3-goals apiece with a power play goal from Gabriel Vilardi and Logan Brown at 14:53 of the second period, where the game would remain tied until Luchuk's game winner.
DiPietro, who grew up in nearby Amherstburg, ON (a suburb of Windsor) was in the stands when his hometown Spitfires won back to back Memorial Cups in 2009 and 2010, however, after the game on Sunday night, he would admit that winning the Cup as a player is much much sweeter.
“Different perspective, more enjoyment obviously,” a grinning DiPietro said. “Truly special, especially being from here. Family, friends, billets, everything about it, so grateful. You do so much during the year, for it to pay off is truly amazing.”
DiPietro, who was also named the games third star, turned away 32 of the 35 shots he faced in net for the Spitfires.
Bracco was named the No. 1 star Sunday night, while Vilardi (a 17 year old forward from Kingston, ON listed at No. 4 on NHL central scouting for the 2017 NHL draft) was named the No. 2 star.