Spit­fires now ‘a bet­ter team’

Host Wind­sor set to take on Canada’s best at 2017 Me­mo­rial Cup

Kingston Whig-Standard - - SPORTS - KYLE CICERELLA

If there was a sil­ver lin­ing for Lo­gan Stan­ley af­ter an in­jury cost him half his Ontario Hockey League sea­son, it was know­ing his Wind­sor Spit­fires would be host­ing the 2017 Me­mo­rial Cup.

The hulk­ing six-foot-seven, 230-pound de­fence­man will play his first hockey in four months when the Spit­fires open the 99th edi­tion of the ma­jor ju­nior na­tional cham­pi­onship on Fri­day against the Saint John Sea Dogs.

Stan­ley re­turns af­ter suf­fer­ing a knee in­jury in Jan­uary and gives the hosts a much-needed boost against the three league champions that round out the four clubs par­tic­i­pat­ing for the Cana­dian Hockey League’s top prize.

“Now that we’re healthy and have ev­ery­one in our lineup it makes us a bet­ter team,” said the 18-year-old Stan­ley. “Those three teams are real good but we know we can com­pete with them and can win. We’re ready to go.”

Stan­ley, who was se­lected 18th over­all in the 2016 NHL draft by the Win­nipeg Jets, com­pletes a well-rounded de­fen­sive core that Wind­sor will need. Join­ing the host Spit­fires and Que­bec Ma­jor Ju­nior Hockey League cham­pion Sea Dogs are the OHL cham­pion Erie Ot­ters and Western Hockey League cham­pion Seattle Thun­der­birds.

The Water­loo, Ont., na­tive went down in mid-Jan­uary and didn’t be­gin on-ice ses­sions un­til April. Now that Stan­ley is healthy and “feel­ing great,” Wind­sor has four top-qual­ity blue lin­ers to toss out against the op­po­si­tion, in­clud­ing 2016 first-round pick Mikhail Sergechev (No. 9, Mon­treal) third-round se­lec­tion Sean Day (No. 81, Rangers), who was ac­quired in an early-sea­son trade from the Mis­sis­sauga Steel­heads, and Jalen Chat­field, who signed an NHL con­tract as a free agent with the Van­cou­ver Canucks.

“Guys did a good job fill­ing in for (Stan­ley) but ob­vi­ously he was a big loss,” said Spit­fires coach Rocky Thomp­son. “He’s ar­guably your best de­fence­man, or No. 2 de­fence­man.

“I be­lieve him to be one of the hard­est de­fence­men to play against with­out the puck in the CHL, he’s done a great job pre­par­ing him­self over the four­month stretch. He re­ally grew as an ath­lete and an in­di­vid­ual... Hav­ing him back in the lineup is so valu­able.”

Wind­sor was elim­i­nated in the first round of the OHL play­offs in seven games by the Lon­don Knights and have had six weeks to pre­pare for the Me­mo­rial Cup. Thomp­son says he had con­cerns that his team would lack mo­ti­va­tion for such a long pe­riod of time with­out game ac­tion, but that isn’t the case.

“We’re healthy, we’re en­er­gized, best shape of th­ese guys’ young lives and they’re ex­cited to keep com­pet­ing,” said Thomp­son.

The Sea Dogs fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son as the top team in the QMJHL and cruised their way to their first league cham­pi­onship since 2011, go­ing 16-2 in the play­offs with a four-game sweep of the Blainville-Bois­briand Ar­mada in the fi­nal.

The Ot­ters were the top team in the OHL reg­u­lar sea­son and had lit­tle trou­ble in the play­offs, go­ing 16-6 and de­feat­ing Mis­sis­sauga in the fi­nal en route to win­ning their first league cham­pi­onship since 2002.

The Thun­der­birds wrapped up the reg­u­lar sea­son with the fourth-high­est point to­tal of the 22 teams in the WHL, but still had to take the hard road to their first league cham­pi­onship in fran­chise his­tory.

Seattle went 16-4 in the post­sea­son de­spite hav­ing to knock off the U.S. Divi­sion cham­pion Everett Sil­ver­tips and the No. 1 ranked team in the coun­try, the Regina Pats, in the fi­nal.

Erie and Seattle be­gin roundrobin play against each other Satur­day.

TERRY WIL­SON/OHL IM­AGES

Wind­sor de­fence­man Lo­gan Stan­ley fights for the puck with a Guelp Storm player ear­lier this sea­son. Stan­ley has been out with a knee in­jury since Jan­uary, but the de­fender that Spit­fires coach Rocky Thomp­son says is “one of the hard­est to play against with­out the puck in the CHL” is now back to full strength and is ready to help the host team com­pete for its first Me­mo­rial Cup since 2010.

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