Eric Wellwood scored in overtime to send the Windsor Spitfires into the championship final at the MasterCard Memorial Cup with a perfect record, eliminating the Moncton Wildcats from the tournament with a dramatic 4-3 win Tuesday.
Philipp Grubauer made 38 saves to help secure the victory and a 3-0 record for the Spitfires, who battled through the haze of indifference in the first two periods of the game. Moncton fell to 0-3 in defeat, which means the tournament will not require a tie-breaking game on Thursday.
Instead, the Calgary Hitmen and host Brandon Wheat Kings - who meet in the round-robin finale on Wednesday - will play each other again in the semifinal on Friday for the right to face the Spitfires in Sunday's title game.
Moncton's star-crossed time in Brandon ended without any help from injured forward Nicolas Deschamps, who was forced to miss yet another game with the undisclosed lower body injury that has kept him on the sidelines since last month. The Wildcats put up a brave fight, but ultimately fell to a team seeking to defend its Canadian junior hockey title.
Wellwood scored at the 12:22 mark of the first overtime to seal the win for the Spitfires.
For all of their determined pre-game talk to the contrary, the Spitfires fielded a roster of mostly empty jerseys for the first half of the game. A day after Windsor clinched a berth directly into Sunday's championship, the coaching staff had already begun debating how best to occupy a group of teenaged players during a four-day break in action.
A Mini Putt tournament had been scheduled, as had an outing to one of the local bowling alleys and visits to one or more elementary schools. The only day of prescribed rest would be Wednesday.
"I think if you let them lay around the hotel too much, they'll just go stir-crazy," Windsor coach Bob Boughner said before the game. "We have to keep them busy."
Moncton did its best to occupy the superior team on Tuesday, even without Deschamps, who had been listed as a game-time decision. The 20-year-old finished in a two-way tie for the QMJHL regular season scoring title, but had not played since suffering what had been reported as a high ankle sprain in a playoff game on April 23.
Deschamps skated in full equipment on Monday and participated in a pre-game workout with the Wildcats again on Tuesday, but was ultimately made a scratch. Moncton also left goaltender Nicola Riopel on the sidelines for the first time in the tournament, turning to backup Shane Owen in relief of his 0-2 counterpart.
The Wildcats did not come across as a desperate team. Moncton skated instead as it had in the opening two periods of its opening game, when its workmanlike approach helped it build a 3-0 lead over the Calgary Hitmen - before a late collapse led to a crushing 5-4 defeat.
Forward Randy Cameron gave Moncton a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal late in the first period against Windsor, only to have the Wildcats fumble their good fortune. Spitfires defenceman Cam Fowler scored on a power-play 76 seconds after the opening goal with a blistering shot from the shallow point.
The Spitfires took a 2-1 lead five minutes into the second period after winger Taylor Hall confounded Owen with a crisp pass over to teammate Justin Shugg, who scored his first goal of the tournament.
Windsor goaltender Philipp Grubauer, whose stable play had often been overshadowed by his team's overwhelming offence, made a handful of key saves. He stopped Moncton captain Scott Brannon at point-blank range on a Wildcats power-play, and was beaten on the opening goal only because of a fierce screen.
Brannon earned a measure of revenge when he beat Grubauer in the third, and Moncton appeared to wrest the momentum away entirely with a goal from Brandon Gormley only 29 seconds later. But the Spitfires tied the game at 3-3 within two minutes, on a goal by Stephen Johnston.
"I think we're more prepared, more experienced and more ready," Boughner had said before the game. "We learned a lot of lessons last year, and to be up in this position - knowing that we're going to the finals - is definitely advantageous for us."