Now, it’s pride and the Cup

DIGIACINTO IN ME­MO­RIAL CUP FI­NAL

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - Tpecoskie@thes­pec.com 905-526-3368 | @Te­ri­atTheSpec

Cris­tiano DiGiacinto was play­ing for more than a trip to the Me­mo­rial Cup fi­nal. He was play­ing for pride. Five years ago, the Hamil­ton na­tive — freshly passed over in the Ontario Hockey League draft — was in­vited to an OHL train­ing camp. It wasn’t in Wind­sor, though. It was in Erie. He went in con­fi­dent, and was cut.

“Be­ing let go was up­set­ting and it hurt, but it re­ally gave me that ex­tra drive I needed to keep push­ing and to make an OHL team. So, it’s al­ways nice prov­ing peo­ple wrong — es­pe­cially the guys from Erie.”

Wed­nes­day, the former Sherwood high school stu­dent helped his Wind­sor Spit­fires punch their ticket to Sun­day’s cham­pi­onship game with a 4-2 win over the Erie Ot­ters, who now have to go through the Saint John Sea Dogs to se­cure a re­match. The semi­fi­nal takes place tonight. Since earn­ing a spot with the Spits in 2013, DiGiacinto hasn’t had a ton of luck against the OHL cham­pion Ot­ters. Go­ing into the tour­na­ment, Wind­sor had won just three of 13 games with him in the lineup. Now, it’s four. “It was un­be­liev­able,” said the 21year-old winger. “Prov­ing to every­one — even though they won the league — that we’re still one of the best team in the coun­try. That was awe­some to feel and just to be a part of, es­pe­cially with the his­tory I have with them.

“It’s al­ways good to beat a team of that cal­i­bre,” he added.

With Wed­nes­day’s win, Wind­sor im­proved to 3-0 in the tour­na­ment.

That makes them the first host team to fin­ish the round-robin with a per­fect record since the Lon­don Knights in 2005 — a feat they pulled off de­spite be­ing elim­i­nated in the open­ing round in the play­offs in early April. It was the Knights, by co­in­ci­dence, that ousted them.

DiGiacinto said the 44-day lay­over (which, if Wind­sor wins Sun­day, would be the long­est ever for a cham­pi­onship team) was tough and the train­ing crazy, “but as hard as it was, none of us got up and quit.

“We knew that we had a sec­ond op­por­tu­nity to show that we’re the best in the coun­try,” he added.

They’re now one win away from mak­ing that a re­al­ity.

Be­tween now and Sun­day, DiGiacinto plans to use his hard-earned time to rest, re­cover and re­fo­cus. He’s also ea­ger to have a lit­tle fun — “en­joy­ing the time with the guys while I can and then when it comes to game time be­ing ready to go.”

That part, he said, is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant. That’s be­cause, win or lose, the fi­nal is also the last game of his ju­nior ca­reer.

Af­ter four sea­sons in Wind­sor, DiGiacinto — who was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2014 but never signed — is ready to move on and, ide­ally, play some­where pro­fes­sion­ally in the fall. He knows Sun­day is an op­por­tu­nity, his last one per­haps, to make an im­pres­sion on the le­gions of scouts and man­agers on hand. It’s not his first pri­or­ity, though. “It’s not just for me,” he said. “It’s not just so next year I can go and play pro hockey some­where. It’s for every­one to get this feel­ing and to re­mem­ber this tour­na­ment.”

TERRY WIL­SON, OHL IMAGES

Cris­tiano DiGiacinto has his eyes set on Sun­day’s Me­mo­rial Cup fi­nal. TERI PECOSKIE

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