Oilers prospect Rajala takes on Taylor Hall in Memorial Cup Final
The teams will meet in the Memorial Cup championship game Sunday (5 p.m. MT, NHLN-US, SPORTSNET), with the Spitfires looking to become just the eighth team in the 92-year history of the tournament --and the first since the 1994-95 Kamloops Blazers -- to win back-to-back titles.
- Toni Rajala at the Memorial Cup
- Wheat Kings head coach Kelly McCrimmon on Rajala
- Taylor Hall at the Memorial Cup
So why should anyone expect a different outcome?
Brandon's best players had their best games in Friday's semifinal win against the Calgary Hitmen. Brayden Schenn, the fifth pick of the 2009 Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings, had three assists against Calgary after totaling just two points in Brandon's first three games. Scott Glennie, who the Dallas Stars made the eighth pick of the '09 draft, had two assists Friday, after having just one point in his first three games. Defenseman Travis Hamonic, a New York Islanders prospect, had a goal and a pair of assists in the semifinal after being held without a point in the team's first three games.
Part of the loss to Windsor also could be traceable to a three-week layoff between losing to Calgary in the WHL semifinals and the start of the Memorial Cup. Windsor scored five times in the first period, pretty much ending the Wheat Kings' night before it could start.
But Brandon certainly seemed to be up to speed Friday night. They were the far more active team, and despite trailing 2-0 after one period against the Hitmen, they carried the play, and were rewarded with the overtime win on Jay Fehr's third goal of the tournament.
Brandon might be coming in with confidence, as well as having a raucous home crowd at Westman Place cheering for them, but Windsor's talent might be too much for any team to overcome.
The Spitfires won their first three games by a combined 19-8 score, and they have goals from 11 different players. Taylor Hall, Central Scouting's No. 2-ranked North American skater for the 2010 Entry Draft, leads the way with 4 goals and 6 points, and Adam Henrique, Dale Mitchell, Justin Shugg, Scott Timmins and Kenny Ryan each have scored twice.
In goal, Philipp Grubauer leads all netminders in the tournament with a 2.50 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. Grubauer is No. 15 on Central Scouting's ranking of draft-eligible North American goaltenders.
However, the player in the spotlight will be Hall. Last year's Memorial Cup MVP, he's been the center of attention all season long -- and that hasn't changed with this tournament in Brandon. Hall got a bit of a rude welcome in the opener against Brandon, when he and Hamonic collided and Hall ended up crashing head and chest-first into the boards, which resulted in him getting bent back awkwardly. Hall escaped with nothing more than cuts and scratches on his face, but it could have been much worse.
"It was pretty tough, but I think it kind of woke me up a little bit," Hall told CHL.ca's Aaron Bell. "Fortunately enough I'm very flexible and I was able to bounce back and keep going. Once I realized that the pain was going to go away I knew I could still play."
He's done just that, following his outing against Brandon with a pair of goals and an assist against Calgary. He was held to just an assist against Moncton, but that game meant little as Windsor already had clinched its spot in the final.
Hall also has performed under the microscope of NHL scouts. Kevin Lowe, president of the Edmonton Oilers, who hold the first pick in the draft, was one of many talent evaluators watching Hall's every move. Those who know him best, however, haven't seen any change in Hall's demeanor.
"The thing about Taylor is that as good as he is, he keeps getting better all the time," said Spitfires GM Warren Rychel. "He just wants to be on the ice. He wants to be that player that has the puck in a crucial time. He wants to be the first pick. He wants to make a difference and be the best NHL player he can. You can't teach that heart and want, and when you combine that with his skill, he's an unbelievable combination."
Hall and the rest of his teammates will have one more chance to make an impact. After four days of rest, they'll enter the tournament finale worried about being rusty, but coach Bob Boughner isn't too concerned.
"You think about it, but with what we've done the last two years, I have no doubt we'll come out and do everything we need to win a game," he told the Windsor Star.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org