Now, it’s pride and the Cup
DIGIACINTO IN MEMORIAL CUP FINAL
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.”
Cristiano DiGiacinto has his eyes set on Sunday’s Memorial Cup final. TERI PECOSKIE