Skip to main content

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors forward Brett Flemming hits Kootenay Ice forward Kevin King (L) during the second period of their round-robin Memorial Cup ice hockey game in Mississauga May 22, 2011. REUTERS/ Mike CasseseMIKE CASSESE/Reuters

It can often be hard to gain respect as the host team in the Memorial Cup, with an entry guaranteed nearly a year in advance and even a first-round playoff elimination not taking it away.

But the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors showed why they're not just another hometown patsy on Sunday night, hanging on for an ugly, trap-filled 2-1 win over the Kootenay Ice to end a five losses in six game skid.

And now they once again can realistically set their sights on winning it all.

The Majors, who narrowly lost their tournament opener to the favourites in the Saint John Sea Dogs on Friday, needed the victory to avoid going down 0-2, a hole only one team has ever recovered from to win.

Things didn't look promising early, either, with Kootenay scoring first and then managing to cling to a 1-1 tie into the third despite being out played and undisciplined in what was mostly a mess of a game.

Kootenay's first marker came eight minutes in on the power play, with Canadian world junior member Cody Eakin - the Ice's prized trade pickup in an eight-for-one deal late in the year - doing the honours from long range.

Majors forward Maxim Kitsyn tied things up a few minutes later, stuffing in a rebound after a terrific deke by teammate Rob Flick opened up plenty of room.

From there, it was a chess match by junior hockey standards, with Ice netminder Nathan Lieuwen keeping his team in the game as Mississauga had five second period man advantages - including multiple 5-on-3s - without being able to convert.

With so many close losses of late, their coach cited nerves as a factor for the home team.

"We were feeling the pressure," Majors coach Dave Cameron said. "I felt kind of like it sapped our energy. We were struggling.

"We were tight and that was obvious in how they performed on the power play. They weren't making any plays. They were like robots."

It fell to Flick, a Chicago Blackhawks fourth-rounder in last year's draft, to eventually play hero and break the deadlock with time winding down in the third, as he beat a couple Ice defenders and put the winner past Lieuwen.

It was the sort of breakout performance the Majors had been looking for all game after so many near misses and big disappointments of late.

Majors defenceman Stuart Percy, an Oakville, Ont., native, said part of his team's motivation was wanting to prove they deserved the host berth despite dropping the OHL final to the Owen Sound Attack

Losing four of that series' final five games wasn't a great way to enter the Memorial Cup, but now they're only a few wins from what has been the organization's lofty goal since last summer.

"We weren't looking to go through the back door," Percy said. "We lost a tough, long series and I give them tons of credit. They were an amazing team. We were just one goal short, one shot short.

"I think we showed that we really belonged in this tournament. We went all the way to the final, seven games, overtime so I think we really belong here. We're going to make the most of our opportunity."

They finally began to do just that on Sunday, setting up what should be a phenomenal rematch with the Attack on Wednesday to wrap up the tournament's round robin portion.

"It's a huge game," Flick said. "But I mean, that's not it. That's only one game. We've got a lot further to go."

"Getting that win under our belt after three losses will loosen us up a bit," teammate Brett Flemming added.

Kootenay, meanwhile, was in tough in this one without big, bruising captain Brayden McNabb, who was suspended for an elbow to the head of Owen Sound forward Joey Hishon late in Saturday's lopsided loss to the Attack.

Now down 0-2, they'll be attempting to join the 2009 Windsor Spitfires as the second team in tournament history to rally to win the event.

"Anything's possible," Eakin said. "We have the same mindset. And we're definitely going to come out hungry and play to win [our next time]"

The Ice were a surprise to even get this far, winning 15 of their final 16 games -- most of them on the road -- in the WHL playoffs, and appear to be finally out of gas.

They'll close out the tournament on Tuesday against the Sea Dogs, with a loss guaranteeing an early trip back to Cranbrook, B.C., empty handed.