A champion, thanks to the Bulldogs
WINDSOR — Adam Laishram won a national championship Sunday.
But he wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the Hamilton Bulldogs — or, more specifically, Steve Staios.
Back in January, the team’s president and general manager made a move neither he nor Laishram anticipated when he sent the five-foot-nine, 166-pound forward to the Windsor Spitfires minutes before the trade deadline.
The only reason he agreed to the deal was because Windsor was hosting the Memorial Cup.
“He does anything and everything you ask him to do at the top level he can,” said Staios.
“He is a 10 out of 10, that’s what he is as a person, so certainly we’re happy we could provide him with this opportunity he deserves,” he said.
At the start of the tournament, there were questions raised about how the Spitfires would perform after being ousted in the first round of the playoffs. Then Laishram and his teammates quieted the critics.
One-by-one, they knocked off the champions from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Western Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League to earn a bye to the final against the Erie Otters of Pennsylvania.
Laishram was “terrific,” said Staios, who caught every game at the weeklong event.
“He’s exactly what we knew he was,” he added of the 20-year-old. “Our team just wasn’t ready this year to be able to make that step for a number of reasons — building teams, you’ve got to be patient.”
Laishram, who hails from Ashburn, just north of Whitby, has played alongside Luke Boka and Aaron Luchuk on the third line since early March.
The three also play on Windsor’s penalty kill, which set an OHL record this season with an 88.5 per cent efficiency rate — the best since the league started tracking special teams 20 years ago. It excelled, too, at the Memorial Cup.
After the round robin portion of the tournament, the Spitfires led the field at 83.3 per cent and had allowed just two goals on 12 disadvantages. Laishram and his linemates were a huge part of that success.
In a scrum with the media Saturday, Spitfires head coach Rocky Thompson called the trio “outstanding” and lauded the combination of Boka’s physicality, Laishram’s speed, tenacity and toughness and Luchuk’s ability to finish. He also singled out their contributions on the PK. “A lot of times this tournament, I’ve had our third line out there against other teams’ first lines for a reason,” he said.
“You know what you’re going to get from our third line. They’re going to be simple, they’re going to get into the offensive zone, they’re going to wear you down, and then that next line coming over the boards is going to reap the benefits of the initial work ethic of that third line.”
Luchuk, meanwhile, told The Spectator his roommate Laishram is built for the role.
He’s fast, he said, and gritty, and he gets pucks. He’s good offensively, too — a “perfect fit for the third line and he makes it easy for me to play with him.” Staios understands what Laishram brings to the table — maybe better than anyone.
He’s also abundantly aware of what he gave up when he traded him, a fourth year player who only has a year of OHL eligibility left, for draft picks that are helping the Bulldogs build for the future.
“I’m happy that I could have provided him with the opportunity he deserves,” he said. “Of course we miss him in our lineup, but at the same time I knew that he deserved this opportunity on this type of team that he would have a chance to win a championship.”
Laishram, who wore the alternate captain’s ‘A’ during his time in Hamilton, echoed the sentiment.
“I miss it so much,” he said. “There’s nothing like Hamilton. But right now I can’t be thinking about that. I’m just focused on what I’m doing here in Windsor and what we have with the Memorial Cup.” NOTES: There was a lot of Hamilton in Windsor over the weekend. On Saturday, several players from the area faced off in a CHL alumni game, including Staios, Conor O’Donnell and Scott Timmins, who are all from the city. Steve Ott, who played for the AHL Bulldogs, also took part, as did former Hamilton Canuck Scott Walker. Dunnville’s Peter DeBoer was a coach. On Sunday, Adam Harris — a linesman from Hamilton — worked the final, while Waterdown’s Austin McEneny and Cristiano DiGiacinto, who grew up on the East Mountain, suited up for the Spitfires. Burlington’s Jerrod Smith was also behind the Windsor bench, while Kyle Maksimovich, who was born in Hamilton and raised in Oakville, skated for the Erie Otters.
Spitfires goalie Michael DiPietro celebrates with teammates after beating the Erie Otters to win the Memorial Cup in Windsor on Sunday. Windsor prevailed by a 4-3 count. For complete coverage, see thespec.com.