A cham­pion, thanks to the Bull­dogs

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TERI PECOSKIE

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.

ADRIAN WYLD, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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