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Spitfires pour water on Wheaties

Defending Memorial Cup champs pulverize host team in opener

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/5/2010 (2655 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BRANDON -- It took the Brandon Wheat Kings 13 years, 361 days to get back to the Memorial Cup. They played a rock-solid 39 seconds to mark their long-awaited return.

Everything after those initial 39 seconds of the first period here Friday night -- the amount of time it took Wheaties defenceman Travis Hamonic to find, target and drill Windsor Spitfires superstar Taylor Hall into the end boards headfirst -- were unworthy of the long wait and the big crowd at Westman Place that turned out to see the hometown hockey heroes return to the pinnacle of major junior hockey for the first time since 1996.

Perhaps it was the sight of their star, Hall, lying in a crumpled heap on the ice less than a minute into their defence of their Memorial Cup title that served as a wakeup call for Windsor. More likely, it is that the Spitfires are, by any measure you'd care to use Friday night, a far, far superior hockey team to anything the Wheaties could muster.

Either way, the unmitigated 9-3 pounding the OHL champion Spitfires administered to the hometown Wheaties in the tournament opener of the 2010 MasterCard Memorial Cup was so complete in every way that there was a sense that every one of the 5,000 or so fans -- there was no crowd count at press time -- that sardined into the arena will carry this memory, like it or not, for at least another 13 years.

Bummer.

"That team is good," Wheaties winger Aaron Lewadniuk offered up in the understatement -- but most succinct synopsis -- of the evening.

Unusually fresh after a 20-day layoff, the Wheat Kings came flying out of the gate, buzzing all over the ice and administering three thundering hits on Spitfires players in just the first minute, highlighted by a questionable shot from Hamonic on a puck-less Hall that sent the possible first pick overall in next month's NHL draft into the end boards face-first at just 0:39 of the first period.

Play was stopped as Hall regained his senses and made his way slowly back to the Windsor bench, bleeding from a cut to his head administered by his former World Juniors teammate, Hamonic.

"My neck snapped back really far," said Hall. "It was pretty scary for a second."

It was very early in the game, but it appeared to be the perfect start and just the lift that was required for an underdog Brandon squad taking on a Spitfires club that boasts 15 possible future NHLers -- 11 already drafted and four more likely to be drafted next month.

But it proved to an illusion -- and a short-lived one at that. Windsor winger Kenny Ryan -- a Leafs' second-rounder -- converted a 2-on-1 at 2:01 of the first past Wheat Kings surprise starting goaltender, Andrew Hayes.

Hayes has been Brandon's backup this season and played just three of 15 playoff games, but Brandon coach Kelly McCrimmon played a hunch -- and paid the price.

Hayes got tagged for five first-period goals -- he got lifted after the first -- including two off the stick of Hall who returned just four minutes into the first

And so with that, two things became perfectly clear on opening night of this 92-year-old Canadian tradition -- the Windsor Spitfires have an excellent chance to become the first team to repeat as Memorial Cup champions since the Kamloops Blazers pulled it off in 1994 and 1995; and the hometown favourites could be in for a long week.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Paul Wiecek.

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