Com­ing home, on the At­tack

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

He’d never scored in Hamil­ton be­fore. Not in the big rink, any­way. There had been other games and other chances but he’d just never got the right bounce or for­tu­itous open­ing.

So when he slipped the puck into the net with just six min­utes to play in his fi­nal visit to his home­town as a ju­nior hockey player, well, he wasn’t com­pletely sat­is­fied. So, he shot it in again.

“I didn’t see it go in the first time,” Cordell James chuck­les. “I was just mak­ing sure.”

The fact that it made the score 5-2 and wasn’t re­ally im­pact­ful on the fi­nal out­come — his Owen Sound At­tack won by that score in front of a loud crowd of nearly 9,000 in the Bull­dogs’ sec­ond School Day Game of the year — was ir­rel­e­vant. It meant an aw­ful lot to him.

The win meant a ton to Matt Sch­malz, too. The Dun­nville na­tive will be grad­u­at­ing from ju­nior hockey at the end of this sea­son and was mak­ing his last trip to FirstOn­tario Cen­tre as well.

The fact that both were play­ing for the At­tack is a bit of a fluke. A happy one.

Sch­malz had been a stal­wart with the Sud­bury Wolves for the bet­ter part of four years but had ad­vanced as far as the sec­ond round of the play­offs only once and fin­ished dead-last in the East­ern Con­fer­ence the past two seasons.

In the off-sea­son, the six-foot­six winger was dealt to Owen Sound to give him a chance to fin­ish his ca­reer on a win­ner.

James spent three-and-a-half years in Bar­rie af­ter star­ring with the Hamil­ton Jr. Bull­dogs in mi­nor hockey. The Colts had some re­ally good teams in his stint there but had fallen on hard times this sea­son and were at the bot­tom of the league.

At the trade dead­line he was moved to the At­tack.

Nei­ther asked to be traded but nei­ther balked at it ei­ther. Be­cause in ju­nior hockey, time is pre­cious. Once you turn 20, you’re al­lowed to fin­ish your sea­son and then you’re out.

There are no ex­ten­sions and no ex­tra chances.

They didn’t want to bail on their long­time fran­chises. But this was their last chance to win some­thing and they wanted a chance to do that.

Which is ex­actly what they’ve been do­ing.

The At­tack is the OHL’s hottest team. Since mid-Novem­ber, it’s gone 22-4 los­ing only to pow­er­houses Erie and Lon­don (twice each). At one point, it won 15 in a row.

Seem­ingly out of the blue, this small-mar­ket, eas­ily over­looked team has be­come a le­git­i­mate threat to con­tend for the ti­tle.

“We’ve put to­gether a pretty good streak right now,” Sch­malz says. They’ve been a big, big part of it. James showed up and has scored at a vastly brisker pace than any other time in his ca­reer. His goal was his 14th goal in nine games as an At­tack (or is it At­tacker? Dis­cuss among your­selves).

Sch­malz is on pace to have his sec­ond-best year, be­hind only his third sea­son with the Wolves when the ros­ter was not as deep and he had end­less ice time.

Throw in Burling­ton’s Tren­ton Bourque and Owen Sound has es­sen­tially be­come this area’s OHL backup team, which isn’t a bad thing for the At­tack if you be­lieve in his­tory and tra­di­tion. Af­ter all, the only time the fran­chise won the cham­pi­onship, the win­ning goal was scored in over­time of Game 7 by for­mer Hamil­ton Jr. Bull­dog, Jar­rod Maid­ens.

Both Sch­malz and James are eye­ing pro ca­reers when this is done. Sch­malz was a draft pick of the Los An­ge­les Kings and James is a free agent try­ing to get no­ticed. So, skat­ing on a team that could go deep in the play­offs when more and more eye­balls would be on them for longer and longer would be huge.

But be­fore that, they re­ally want to some­how emerge from the in­sanely deep Western Con­fer­ence — even with their twom­onth hot streak, they re­main in fifth place — win a ti­tle and have a shot at the Me­mo­rial Cup. That’s the dream.

For now, though, a win at home in front of fam­ily and friends was a nice mem­ory to tuck away. One they may not have had if they’d stayed where they were. And for James, the goal was a lovely ex­cla­ma­tion point.

Out of cu­rios­ity, did he pick up the puck to take home for the man­tle? “No,” he says, break­ing into a smile. “Didn’t think of that.”

CATHIE COWARD, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Bull­dogs’ Bran­don Saigeon feels the squeeze from Owen Sound be­hind the net as 8,396 Catholic ele­men­tary school stu­dents took in Wed­nes­day’s game.

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