QUEBEC — It would be fitting that the final game at the soon-to-closed Pepsi Colisee be a wild, end-to-end goal festival like many Quebec City teams have played through the decades, but it’s not likely to happen.
The Mastercard Memorial Cup final on Sunday between the Oshawa Generals and Kelowna will likely be a physical, defensive struggle where a scoring star like the Rockets’ Leon Draisaitl will have to battle for every centimetre of space.
“It’s two fast, physical teams going at it,” said Draisaitl, who leads the tournament with seven points in four games. “So it’s not going to be a run-and-gun game.
“It’s going to be a cycle game, a momentum-shifting game.”
The Ontario Hockey League champion Generals will be the slight favourite, based on a 3-0 record in round-robin play that gave them direct entry into the final. Oshawa will be rested, having been off since its 2-1 win over Western Hockey League champion Kelowna on Tuesday.
The Rockets’ attack will be pumped up after a 9-3 win over the host Quebec Remparts in the semifinal on Friday night.
In their head-to-head meeting, the Generals used a smothering forecheck to hold the Rockets to only six shots through the first 30 minutes. Oshawa took the lead on goals from Cole Cassels and Tobias Lindberg before Gage Quinney answered with one off a rush at 18:11 of the second period.
With Oshawa protecting a lead in the third, the Rockets went on attack and nearly tied it when Nick Merkley hit a post with six minutes left. Kelowna had a two-man advantage for a full minute late in the game, but couldn’t beat goalie Ken Appleby.
“They’re a good team,” Oshawa defenceman Dakota Mermis said of the Rockets. “They have good defence, they can score goals.
“We had a goalie duel against them. We expect that again. And Draisaitl is probably one of the best players in junior, if not the best.”
Draisaitl, picked third over by the Edmonton Oilers last June, has been a force in the tournament, although he was harassed by six-foot-six Generals centre Michael McCarron and held without a point by Oshawa.
The Rockets have other weapons, including draft-eligible Merkley, and Quinney, who has four goals in as many games. Kelowna also has two fine puck-moving defencemen who won gold with Canada at the world junior championships, Josh Morrissey and captain Madison Bowey.
The Generals have New York Islanders first rounder Michael Dal Colle, with five points in three games, strong two-way centre Cole Cassels, sniper Lindberg and two tough-to-beat defencemen in Mermis and captain Josh Brown.
Oshawa may have a slight goaltending advantage in Appleby over Jackson Whistle.
“We’ll probably be considered the underdogs going into this game so we will take that approach,” said Bowey. “It will be a great matchup. Two highly touted teams. It’ll be very competitive.”
The Rockets are in their fifth Memorial Cup since 2002, and won it in 2004 as the host team.
The Generals have won four times, but not since 1990.
“What an opportunity,” said the Rockets’ Morrissey. “Its the biggest stage in junior and for some of us guys who are in our last kick at the can here, there would be no better way than to finish on top.”
One team will end up skating the Cup around the 66-year-old Colisee rink for the last time before it is closed and replaced by the nearly completed 18,000-seat Videotron Centre next door.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press