QUEBEC — Hunter Smith could breathe easier after scoring the winning goal for the Oshawa Generals.
The six-foot-six Calgary Flames prospect bulled his way up the middle and scored on his own rebound to break a tie and lift the Ontario Hockey league champion Generals to a 4-3 victory against the Rimouski Oceanic in the opening game for both teams at the Mastercard Memorial Cup on Saturday.
Hunter was sent off for hooking and Jan Kostalek scored on the ensuing power play to tie the game 3-3 for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions 3:46 into the third period. But Hunter made up for it with a brilliant individual effort on the game winner at 9:24.
“If we had lost that game I probably would have taken it right on my shoulders,” said the 19 year old. “A bad penalty in the third to allow them to tie it, and to respond to it with a goal and pick myself up there, that was good.
“He gave up a juicy rebound and I just tackled it and was fortunate enough to put it in.”
The win gave the Generals a boost heading into a game Sunday afternoon against the host Quebec Remparts (1-0), who beat the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets 4-3 on Friday.
Tobias Lindberg, Michael Dal Colle and Stephen Desrocher also scored for the Generals, who outshot Rimouski 37-22 and controlled most of the game with their size, physicality and strong forechecking game.
But the Oceanic showed during the QMJHL final against the Remparts that they are an opportunistic side that doesn’t panic when they fall behind.
The Generals owned the puck while taking an early 2-0 lead, but Rimouski tied it late in the first.
“That’s what we did all year,” said Rimouski forward and Toronto draft pick Frederik Gauthier. “This game, they were more ready than us. But we believe. We came back and had a chance to win.”
Tyler Boland and Alexis Loiseau also scored for the Rimouski, the favourite of most of the 8,409 at the Pepsi Colisee.
“We needed better puck management,” said Rimouski coach Serge Beausoleil. “You can’t make 50 turnovers against Oshawa.”
For the first 15 minutes, the Generals forechecking game worked to perfection. They got the opening goal at 4:07 off a faceoff as Montreal Canadiens prospect Michael McCarron pushed the puck to Ottawa Senators property Lindberg, who beat Dallas Stars goalie prospect Philippe Desrosiers from close range.
A turnover at the blue-line allowed two more NHL prospects to combine for a goal, as Los Angeles’ Matt Mistele dropped a pass to New York Islanders first rounder Dal Colle, who snapped a wrist shot to the top corner at 9:27.
But the Oceanic got a break when Andrew Picco’s pass from the point went in off Boland at 15:26. Then Loiseau stole a puck and went to the net to beat Ken Appleby at 16:10.
Oshawa got the go-ahead goal when Cole Cassels won a faceoff back for Desrocher to score from the point at 18:33 of the second.
Kostalek tied it on a power play 3:46 into the third on a wrister after Gauthier hustled back to strip Sam Morin of the puck in the neutral zone.
“It’s huge to get those two points,” said Dal Colle. “But we’ve set our minds on Quebec.
“They’ll have the home crowd. Off the rush they might be the best team in all of Canada. We have to find ways to contain their top guys.”
A battle of giants broke out at 8:12 of the second when six-foot-seven Morin and six-foot-six McCarron squared off. No punches landed as the two crashed to the ice with McCarron perhaps winning a point for landing on top.
Rimouski plays Monday night against the Rockets (0-1).
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press