OSHAWA – Twenty-five years and two days ago, the Oshawa Generals won their last Memorial Cup with a star-studded lineup that included future NHL superstar Eric Lindros. And while they won’t be going to the Memorial Cup as a bunch of no-names – after all, Martin Brodeur’s kid is their backup goalie – any resemblance between this year’s Generals and the one that won it all a quarter of a century ago is coincidental.
This is a team that won the OHL championship – with a 6-2 win over the Connor McDavid-led Erie Otters Friday night – on the dint of sheer determination, unwavering focus on the defensive side of the game and a boatload of opportunism. The old adage that defense wins championships was never more apropos than it was in this series.
“We were overlooked because a lot of teams scored more goal than we did,” said Generals coach D.J. Smith. “It takes a lot of people to buy into playing defense like that, a lot of unsung heroes. But at the end of the day, I think they’re happy.”
Funny thing happens, too, when you play a sound defensive game. Offensive chances suddenly present themselves and if you’re opportunistic enough, you can pounce on them. The Generals actually had no problem scoring throughout the entire series and scored at least three goals in each game. They finished the series with 25 goals and the exclamation point came from Cole Cassels, the son of former NHLer Andrew, who was assigned the task of shutting McDavid down. Not only did he do that, he outscored McDavid 12-7 in the series and contributed four assists in the clinching game.
“He’s a spectacular player, the best in the world,” Cassels said of McDavid. “I was lucky enough to do that with 20 other guys. He’s a spectacular player. Hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. We were just containing him in his own zone and making sure he lost the puck and didn’t know where it was going and we were able to capitalize on our opportunities.”
The Generals don’t know much about the Kelowna Rockets, Quebec Remparts or Rimouski Oceanic – the three other teams in this year’s Memorial Cup – but that doesn’t seem to bother Smith much. A former assistant with the Windsor Spitfires, Smith recalls the 2009 tournament, which the Spitfires won. They got off to a terrible start in that tournament, in part Smith said because they were too focused on their opponents in not themselves.
“They’re certainly great teams, but we’ve got to play Oshawa Generals hockey,” Smith said. “(In 2009) we spent a little too much time on the other teams and got ourselves down in a hole. Once we started playing our game, things kind of fell into a groove.”
That game plan will be a simple one. The Generals will use their size, strength and experience to forecheck their opponents, clog up the middle of the ice and make the offensive players on the opposing teams skate through five players to get to their net. The same way they did against McDavid.
“We’ve got a lot of gutsy players who play the game the right way,” Smith said. “We came to win the Memorial Cup. This is great and we’ll celebrate this, but (Saturday) morning when I get up, we’ve got a harder trophy to win.”