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Kitchener Rangers reach Memorial Cup final with 9-0 win over Belleville

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KITCHENER, Ont. - The Kitchener Rangers made sure the Belleville Bulls weren't getting up off the mat this time.

Justin Azevedo had a hat trick and assisted on two goals to lead the Rangers to a 9-0 thrashing of the Bulls in the Memorial Cup semifinal Friday. It was the most lopsided Memorial Cup semifinal since the tournament went to a four-team format in 1983.

The host and Ontario Hockey League champion Rangers meet the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs in Sunday's championship game (4:30 p.m., ET).

"We've got to do exactly what we did tonight," Azevedo said Friday.

Spokane went 3-0 to top the preliminary round and thus earned the bye to the final.

The Chiefs haven't played since eliminating Gatineau from the tournament Tuesday and they beat Kitchener 2-1 on Sunday.

Azevedo, the OHL's MVP of the regular season and playoffs, and linemates Matt Halischuk and Nick Spaling combined for 15 points.

Halischuk, a New Jersey Devils' prospect had two goals and three assists. Spaling, property of the Nashville Predators, contributed a goal and four assists.

With five points each, all three were one off the Memorial Cup's single game record of six.

Prior to Friday, the Rangers had all kinds of trouble putting the Bulls away this post-season.

Kitchener was up 3-0 in the OHL championship series and 4-1 in Game 4, but the Bulls won that game and the next two to force a Game 7, which the Rangers won with their best game of the series.

The Rangers had led 3-0 after the first period of Wednesday's preliminary round game against Belleville at the Memorial Cup, but the Bulls charged back to win 4-3 in overtime.

But as they had in Game 7 of the OHL championship, the Rangers played their best against the Bulls when the stakes were the highest.

"When we know that there's a game on the line, I think everybody knows we have to step up," Azevedo said.

Nazem Kadri, Mike Duco and Scott Tregunna also scored for Kitchener in front of a full house of 6,767 at Memorial Auditorium, while Rangers goalie Josh Unice earned the shutout with 25 saves.

Bulls goaltender Mike Murphy, the OHL's goalie of the year, stopped 29 of 38 shots in the loss.

Belleville head coach George Burnett said Murphy wanted to finish out the game even though his team trailed 7-0 after two periods.

"It's disappointing to see nine (goals) on the board," Burnett said. "He doesn't deserve that.

"We're a little devastated at how it ended."

Kitchener dominated Belleville in the faceoff circle and along the boards in the Bulls' end of the ice. The Rangers' top trio of Azevedo, Halischuk and Spaling doing most of the damage.

"That whole line stepped up," Kitchener head coach Pete DeBoer said. "They took our team to another level."

Unice rarely gave up a rebound to the Bulls. Kitchener also stayed out of the penalty box and Belleville didn't get a power play until the third period.

"We got caught running around and I think we were scared to lose out there and when that happens you tend to make mistakes," Bulls forward Shawn Matthias said.

"I'm not taking anything away from the Kitchener Rangers. They deserved that win, but I don't think they deserved to win 9-0. I think it should have been a closer game."

The Rangers led after the first period for the fourth time in four games in this tournament, but they had yet to defend those leads in losses to Belleville and Spokane and an overtime win over Gatineau in which the Olympiques scored twice in the third to tie it.

But Friday's four-goal cushion after 20 minutes was their thickest yet and the Rangers kept the pressure on this time.

"Seven goal going into the third, we were joking around 'we can't be blowing this one,"' Azevedo said.

The drums and chants of "go Rangers go" at the Auditorium started a full 10 minutes before the opening faceoff and "we want the Cup" rang out in the final minute of the game.

The Bulls were ousted in the semifinal in a second appearance at the Memorial Cup, as the franchise suffered the same fate in 1999 in Ottawa.

Matthias and Belleville defenceman P.K. Subban helped Canada win a fourth straight gold medal at the world junior hockey championship in January.

"I've played on the biggest stages in junior hockey, but I thought my year would end a lot better than it did," Subban said.

Sunday's final will be the first matchup of OHL and WHL clubs since 1999, when the host Ottawa 67's defeated the Calgary Hitmen 7-6 in overtime.

Notes: Bulls winger and Detroit Red Wings draft pick Jan Mursak played for Belleville despite limping off the ice Wednesday following knee-on-knee contact with Spaling....Winger and Anaheim Ducks' property Eric Tangradi was back in the Bulls' lineup after sitting out of Wednesday's game....Rangers defenceman Robert Bortuzzo played a few shifts even though he'd been out since Game 5 of the OHL championship series with a shoulder injury.

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