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Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - JIM PARKER jp­parker@post­media.com twit­ter.com/win­starparker

The Wind­sor Spit­fires de­liv­ered on their prom­ise.

All week, lead­ing up to the start of the 99th Master­Card Me­mo­rial Cup, the team’s play­ers in­sisted they were ready and anx­ious to play a mean­ing­ful hockey game af­ter more than six weeks on the side­lines af­ter a first-round play­off exit.

Sixty min­utes of hockey on Fri­day ended that six weeks of frus­tra­tion, with the Spit­fires open­ing the tour­na­ment with a 3-2 win over the Saint John Sea Dogs, who won the Quebec Ma­jor Ju­nior Hockey League ti­tle, be­fore 5,926 the WFCU Cen­tre.

“It was a heart­break­ing de­feat for us against the Lon­don Knights,” Spit­fires head coach Rocky Thomp­son said of their early exit from the On­tario Hockey League play­offs. “It was a great learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for our group. It’s made me a bet­ter coach. I know it’s made us a bet­ter team. We’re still alive here. We’re com­pet­ing against the best and we want to prove that we are one of the best as well.”

Wind­sor showed lit­tle of the play­off rust early against the Sea Dogs, with the top line of Lo­gan Brown, Jeremy Bracco and Gra­ham Knott each hav­ing a qual­ity scor­ing chance early along with de­fence­man Jalen Chat­field.

Wind­sor fi­nally broke through with its sec­ond power play of the game as Bracco fed Jeremiah Ad­di­son, who went high to beat Sea Dogs goalie Cal­lum Booth to put the Spit­fires up 1-0 af­ter 20 min­utes in a pe­riod where they held a 9-6 edge in shots.

The early lead was a con­fi­dence builder for a Wind­sor squad that came in as the un­der­dog as the only team in the tour­na­ment with­out a ti­tle on its re­sume.

“We are the un­der­dog team,” Spit­fires for­ward Gabriel Vi­lardi said. “We lost in the first round. This West­ern Con­fer­ence (in the OHL) is so good and I don’t think that’s what peo­ple re­al­ize.

“Any of those top five teams in the West­ern Con­fer­ence could have ended up be­ing champs of the league.

“We’re a great hockey team and we just need to show ev­ery­one else what we’re ca­pa­ble of.”

Saint John pushed back in the sec­ond pe­riod, but could not beat Spit­fires goalie Mikey DiPi­etro. Bracco gave Wind­sor some breath­ing room by putting home his own re­bound in the fi­nal two min­utes of the pe­riod to put the Spit­fires up 2-0 af­ter 40 min­utes.

Saint John was sec­ond in the QMJHL in of­fence with an av­er­age of 4.22 goals per game, but could not gen­er­ate any­thing of­fen­sively for the first 56 min­utes and Sea Dogs head coach Danny Flynn, who has coached at six Me­mo­rial Cups, knows there is a dan­ger try­ing to gear back up af­ter win­ning a ti­tle.

“You go through the high of win­ning your league, four tough rounds in eight weeks and then you have to re­fo­cus in a tour­na­ment against teams you don’t re­ally know,” Flynn said. “The teams are bet­ter, the stakes are higher (and) you have to play bet­ter.

“To press the re­set but­ton, park the league cham­pi­onship and come back with your edge is one of the big chal­lenges coaches have.”

Flynn used his time­out early in the third pe­riod af­ter Aaron Luchuk redi­rected a shot from Mikhail Ser­gachev past Booth to put the Spit­fires up 3-0.

But the Spit­fires re­mained dis­ci­plined own the stretch by dump­ing pucks in and forc­ing the Sea Dogs to con­stantly re­set and re­group.

A late power-play chance al­lowed the Sea Dogs to get on the board on a goal by Nathan Noel, and then Thomas Chabot made it a one-goal game 24 sec­onds later.

De­spite some anx­ious mo­ments, the Spit­fires were able to hold off the Sea Dogs. The win also as­sures the Spit­fires that the club will, at no worse, play be­yond the round robin por­tion of the tour­na­ment with a win guar­an­tee­ing the team at least a spot in Thurs­day’s tiebreaker game.

DAN JANISSE

Austin McE­neny, left, Jeremy Bracco and Gra­ham Knott of the Spit­fires cel­e­brate Bracco’s goal against the Saint John Sea Dogs dur­ing Game 1 of the Me­mo­rial Cup Tour­na­ment Fri­day night at the WFCU Cen­tre. The Spit­fires won the game 3-2.

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