Dale Mitchell still believed. It's the only logical thing a leader can do at a time of peril.Though it seemed foolish at the time,
Facing elimination from the 2009 MasterCard Memorial Cup, Mitchell, the Windsor Spitfires star right wing, scored three goals in 3:33 early in the third period to turn a two-goal Windsor deficit into a 6-4 victory against the host Rimouski Oceanic in a tie-breaker game.
The win put Windsor into the semifinal game against the Drummondville Voltigeurs on Friday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Rogers Sportsnet, RDS). The winner will play the Kelowna Rockets in the tournament final Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Rogers Sportsnet, RDS).
"We were in a game going into the third (period) down two. It showed character," Spitfires defenseman Ryan Ellis, ranked by No. 15 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting for the 2009 Entry Draft, said. "That's kind of been the model of this team. We've been coming back a lot lately and it was good to see it again."
The No. 74 pick of the 2007 Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mitchell started Windsor on the road back when he scored at 4:11 of the third.
"If anyone got that goal it would've gotten us going, but it turned out it was me," Mitchell said. "It put some confidence in my game and I just got the next one and then the one after that."
A power-play goal by Mitchell tied the game, 4-4, at 6:00, and just 1:44 later, he scored another extra-man goal to put Windsor ahead. Greg Nemisz scored into an empty net with one second left to seal the triumph.
"I was very overwhelmed with what I did," said Mitchell, who had spent the previous three seasons with the Oshawa Generals. "I didn't think I'd come out and score a hat trick. I just wanted to help the team. That was my main objective, to be a leader and a goal-scorer. But to do what I did, I never thought I could."
This isn't the first time Mitchell has scored a one-period hat trick.
"I scored three times in one period last year with Oshawa, but I've never done something like that in a game like this," Mitchell said. "They're probably the best three goals I've ever scored."
Windsor's Eric Wellwood opened the scoring at 7:13 of the first period, but Rimouski responded 49 seconds later on a goal by defenseman Sébastien Piché. Scott Timmins gave the Spitfires a 2-1 edge just 28 seconds after Piché struck, but Rimouski constructed another lead as right wing Jordan Caron, ranked No. 21 by Central Scouting, and defenseman Emmanuel Boudreau scored late in the period.
Patrice Cormier extended the advantage to 4-2 with his third goal of the tournament in late the second, but that just opened the curtains for Mitchell to take over.
"He put on a clinic tonight," Wellwood said. "It's good to see someone take over a game like that, and I'm glad I’m on his side. It was a good performance and great just to watch."
"We just stayed positive and we knew we were going to get our chances," Mitchell said. "We thought if we kept pressuring them down low their legs would eventually get tired. We knew we'd have to capitalize on situations to come back and we did it."
The 20-year-old Mitchell, who had 33 goals and 35 assists in 66 games this season, finally let his experience shine in the most magnified of times.
He signed an entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs in May 2008 and was sent to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League in time for their playoff run. In two games with the Marlies, Mitchell recorded an assist and two penalty minutes.
"The call-up to the Marlies at this time last year was amazing," Mitchell said. "It was great to see how the pro game is played and how the pro life is. I knew I had to step my game up coming into this year. (In the offseason) I had good training and I just became a better overall player than I was two years ago."
When asked if the Maple Leafs would be pleased with his showing Thursday, he couldn't help but laugh and offer a simple answer -- "I think so."
However, his work isn't over yet. The Spitfires lost 3-2 in overtime to Drummondville in the opener of the tournament.
"(Drummondville) is a good hockey team and they beat us in the opener," Mitchell said. "We can't take them lightly. We need to play Spitfire hockey, and it's going to be a good game."