RIMOUSKI, Que. – Down two goals to the Rimouski Oceanic heading into the third period, the Windsor Spitfires felt they still had a chance.
It was veteran Dale Mitchell, one of their many underachievers earlier in the tournament, who stepped up with three goals in the first eight minutes of the final frame to lead the Spitfires to a 6-4 victory over the host Oceanic in the tiebreaker game at the MasterCard Memorial Cup on Thursday night.
“Our coaches got us going, but we were really confident in the room,” said Mitchell. “We weren’t getting on each other. The feeling and was that we were coming back.”
The Spitfires, who opened the tournament with two straight losses, including a 5-4 loss to Rimouski, have now won two in a row.
They advanced to Friday’s semifinal against the Drummondville Voltigeurs, with the winner facing the Kelowna Rockets in Sunday’s final.
Eric Wellwood, Scott Timmins and Greg Nemisz, with a goal on a two-man advantage with one second left to play, also scored for the Ontario Hockey League champions who have run hot and cold from period to period thus far at the tournament.
Defenceman Sebastien Piche scored once and set up goals by Emmanuel Boudreau and Patrice Cormier, while Jordan Caron also scored for Rimouski, which looked out of energy in the third period in their second game in as many nights.
“We were getting chances and we knew we were on these guys,” added Mitchell, a third-round pick in 2007 of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “It was a matter of time before we buried a couple.
“They happened to be on my stick.”
Gougeon pushed a puck onto Mitchell’s stick at the edge of the crease for a goal 4:11 into the third period.
Only 19 seconds later, Cormier was called for hooking and Mitchell was left alone on the right side to score on a high wrist shot.
Logan MacMillan was sent off for hooking 35 seconds after that and Mitchell struck again, this time jamming in a Ryan Ellis rebound.
“In the third period, we just didn’t want our great season to end like this,” said Ellis, a projected first-round pick in the NHL draft in June. “We were trying hard and it wasn’t clicking and finally we got a few power plays and it clicked. Dale Mitchell was the saviour for us.”
With 1:35 left to play, Bourdreau was sent off for hooking and Rimouski coach Clement Jodoin tried to counter that by asking for a measurement of Windsor goalie Andrew Engelage’s stick. It proved to be legal and the Oceanic were slapped with another minor.
Nemisz got his first of the tournament on the 5-on-3.
“It’s nice to break the ice, but now we have to get right back at it,” the Calgary Flames prospect said.
The Oceanic were devastated at blowing a two-goal lead before 4,478 of their fans, but Jodoin said they had little fuel left in the tank after their emotional 3-2 loss in overtime to Drummondville on Wednesday night in the final round robin game.
“We had nothing left,” said Jodoin, whose team is the first to be eliminated from the tournament.
“We had some breakdowns and they killed us,” said Piche. “We should have been hungrier going into the third period and we started soft and never found our rhythm.”
Now the Spitfires must play without a day’s rest against the Quebec champion Voltigeurs, who have been battling a flu-bug and run of injuries. Drummondville beat Windsor 3-2 in overtime in the round robin.
“We weren’t used to the Quebec style of game,” Mitchell said the Spitfires’ early struggles. “Drummondville and Rimouski were really aggressive and we weren’t used to that.
“Now we are. It’ll come out next game. Drummondville has an awesome team. We’re pretty confident, but we can’t be too high. We have to come out hard and get as many shots as we can in the first period.”
Windsor outshot Rimouski 37-21 on the night.
It was noticeably quieter in the Colisee de Rimouski than Wednesday’s rousing overtime game and the intensity on the ice dropped with the decibels.
The result was loosely played hockey and five first-period goals for a 3-2 Rimouski lead.
Wellwood opened the scoring at 7:13 on a feed from Adam Henrique, who had blocked Ryan Kavanagh’s shot at the point while the teams played 4-on-4.
Piche picked the top corner from the point only 49 seconds later, but another turnover at the Windsor blue-line saw Timmins beat Gougeon with a wrist shot 28 seconds after that.
Caron one-timed a goal on the power play at 12:47 and Boudreau had a Piche shot go in off his skate at 16:15 on only the seventh shot on Engelage.
The Oceanic caught Windsor on a line change during a second-period power play as Piche hit Cormier at the far blue-line for a breakaway goal at 16:25 for a two-goal lead.