|Schenn's three assists leads Brandon to title game. |
BRANDON, Man. - An overtime goal from Jay Fehr has lifted the Brandon Wheat Kings to within a win of capturing the first MasterCard Memorial Cup in franchise history, leading the tournament's host team to a dramatic 5-4 semifinal win over the Calgary Hitmen on Friday night.
Brayden Schenn had three assists for the Wheat Kings, who are making their fifth appearance at the Canadian junior hockey championship. They will face the defending champion Windsor Spitfires in the final game on Sunday, having turned the tables on their fierce regional rivals.
Brandon had lost each of their previous five games with Calgary, including their third-round WHL playoff series last month. The Hitmen threatened to extend that streak with a two goal lead in the first period on Friday, but spent most of the third period hanging on by a thread, and by the will of goaltender Martin Jones
, who finished with 43 saves.
Fehr scored at the 3:16 mark of the first overtime period, prompting fans to chant: "We want the Cup! We want the Cup!"
This will be Brandon's first appearance in the final in 31 years, when the Wheat Kings suffered a heart-breaking loss in overtime against the Peterborough Petes. That game has been the closest the Manitoba team has ever come to winning the tournament.
And that gave Friday night's game added meaning.
"Probably one of the biggest games in Brandon Wheat Kings history," first-year Wheat Kings defenceman Travis Hamonic had said earlier in the day.
Storefronts around the city had been decorated, splashed with the painted images of the Wheat Kings. Brandon had never hosted the entire tournament by itself, and the build-up left the fans aching for a reason to cheer, to the point where they roared in approval for a routine dump-and-chase in the first period on Friday night.
The team needed all the help it could get. Brandon fell behind quickly in both of its round robin losses -- a 9-3 evisceration by Windsor and a 5-1 stomping by Calgary -- and coach Kelly McCrimmon was as emphatic as he could sound about the need for a quick start.
It did not exactly turn out as planned.
Calgary picked up where it had left off. Forward Joel Broda was left all alone in front of Brandon goaltender Jacob De Serres in the first period, banking the first shot off his pads, and sending the rebound into the empty net.
The Hitmen scored nine seconds later, on a goal by Ian Schultz, and seemed to be well on their way to a coveted rematch with the Spitfires. Calgary had been able to develop a run of post-season dominance over Brandon, eliminating the Wheat Kings from the WHL playoffs in three of the last six seasons.
Brandon finished second to Calgary in the regular season standings and led the league in goals (321), but had been stonewalled by Jones. The 20-year-old Los Angeles Kings prospect carried a shutout streak of more than 76 minutes into the second period of the semifinal.
His run ended 95 seconds after intermission, when Wheat Kings defenceman Alexander Urbom fired a high shot over the goaltender's shoulder. It seemed like a blip on the road back to the final, anyway, after Tyler Fiddler broke in and beat De Serres low stick-side for a 3-1 lead and a potentially back-breaking goal.
Instead, the Wheat Kings did something they had been unable to do throughout the round robin: They rallied.
Matt Calvert scored his second of the tournament midway through the second period to cut the Calgary lead to 3-2, creating a palpable rise in the crowd. The fans, whom had been so eager to cheer all week, needed no excuse to erupt in the moments leading into the second intermission.
With Jones screened by what seemed like 1,000 sticks, skates and legs, Hamonic fired a blast from the point that found an open patch of mesh to tie the game at 3-3 with only 11 seconds left on the clock.
Colby Robak gave the Wheat Kings a 4-3 lead, only to have the game pulled back to level with a goal by Misha Fisenko with five minutes to play in regulation.