Taylor Hall was crumpled, bleeding and motionless along the end boards. He had been racing down the ice for a loose puck in the first few seconds of the first game at the MasterCard Memorial Cup, and when the star winger went down, most reasonable hope for the Windsor Spitfires might well have gone down with him.
"I thought he was done," teammate Adam Henrique said.
Hall got up, after a few tense moments, and his team followed. The Spitfires exploded for five goals in the first period against the host Brandon Wheat Kings on Friday night, rolling to a 9-3 win to open their defence of the Canadian junior hockey title.
Hall went on to score two goals, while Henrique and Scott Timmins each added two more. Windsor forward Dale Mitchell scored one goal and two assists in the rout, which flirted with a long-standing tournament record.
No team has scored more than 11 goals in a single game at the Memorial Cup, and none have reached that mark in 30 years, since Regina romped to an 11-2 win over Cornwall on May 8, 1980.
The Spitfires are aiming to become only the fifth team to repeat as champions, and the first in more than a decade, since the powerhouse Kamloops Blazers won in 1995.
"That first goal sort of settled us, a little bit," Windsor coach Bob Boughner said.
Windsor arrived in Brandon having swept three of the four opponents it faced in the OHL playoffs. The Spitfires were not perfect, though, requiring a remarkable four-game rally to edge the Kitchener Rangers in the best-of-seven conference final.
"We just have a lot of firepower," Timmins said. "Every line is, obviously, dangerous out there."
Windsor scored four times in the first 4:45 of the first period. The explosion seemed to have its spark in a potential disaster for the Spitfires, when Hall was sent on a collision course with the end boards 30 seconds into the game.
Hall, widely expected to be among the first two selections made at the NHL Entry Draft next month in Los Angeles, was chasing the puck deep into the offensive zone. Wheat Kings defenceman Travis Hamonic knocked Hall off-balance with a shoulder check, and the star prospect crashed face-first into the boards.
It was a clean hit, even though the result was frightening.
"It was a pretty scary thought there for a second," Hall said. "I went in pretty hard and my neck kind of snapped back. Fortunately, I was OK - I'm a pretty flexible kid, and I was able to come out of it OK."
He emerged with a cut on his forehead and a bloody nose, and the Spitfires immediately sought revenge. Kenny Ryan struck first, 90 seconds later, after a quick turnaround in the neutral zone.
Windsor then hit for three goals in an 80-second span, capped with a highlight-reel move by Hall. The 18-year-old pulled the puck between his skates as he glided through the slot, beating overmatched Brandon goaltender Andrew Hayes, who gave up five goals on 23 shots.
The Wheat Kings had not played a meaningful game in 20 days, having been knocked out of the WHL playoffs by the Calgary Hitmen. A little rust might have been expected, even for a team that led its league with 321 goals over the regular season, but Brandon seemed rusted to the point of inertia against Windsor.
Jacob De Serres replaced Hayes to start the second period, but allowed a goal on the first shot he faced. Henrique launched a rocket to the glove side, which gave the Spitfires a 6-0 lead that would never be threatened, sending the crowd of 5,378 quietly into the night.
"We just weren't good enough," Hamonic said. "We know we've shown that we can be much better. And the nice thing about it is we are going to show it, and we're going to prove it to everybody."
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