Kitchener Rangers, Spokane Chiefs to clash in Memorial Cup final
KITCHENER, Ont. - The 90th Memorial Cup will go either to the calculating, efficient Spokane Chiefs or the trigger-happy Kitchener Rangers on Sunday.
The Western Hockey League's Chiefs and Ontario Hockey League's Rangers are a study in contrasts.
The Chiefs play a disciplined, containment game and score goals off turnovers with their quick transition.
The Rangers haven't been as good without the puck in the Memorial Cup, but they have it the majority of the time when they're on their game, as they demonstrated in a 9-0 rout of Belleville in the semifinal.
Spokane beat Kitchener 2-1 in a preliminary-round game a week prior to Sunday's championship game (Rogers Sportsnet, 4:40 p.m. ET).
The checking line of Levko Koper, Tyler Johnson and Justin McCrae held Kitchener's terrific trio of Justin Azevedo, Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk to one goal in that game.
But that line has 28 points between them in the tournament. Azevedo was named the Canadian Hockey League's player-of-the-year Saturday.
As the team that won the bye to the final with a 3-0 record, Spokane is the home team with right of last line change.
So Sunday's final will feature a chess game of line matching as Spokane head coach Bill Peters will try to make sure his checkers are on the ice when Azevedo, Spaling and Halischuk are too.
"I'm not concerned about it and I know what Spokane wants to do as far as a checking line goes," Rangers head coach Pete DeBoer said. "Having last line change is at the bottom of my concerns right now. We have a lot to get ready for."
DeBoer will line change on the fly and hope that the Rangers' talented second line of Mike Duco, Nazem Kadri and Mikkel Boedker can produce in if his top line gets handcuffed.
Spokane excels at taking time, space and scoring lanes away from the opposition and will try not to get sucked in to Kitchener's more open style of play.
"We have to find a way to get them out of their comfort level," DeBoer said. "They did it to us in the round-robin game and made us play their game. Hopefully we can turn the tables tomorrow."
Peters wants to corral the Rangers in their own end.
"We're going to try and get our matchups and if you're out against that line, just be responsible with the puck and try and make them play some defence," Peters said. "Not that they're not good at it, but make them play in their own end a little bit.
"I know how good they are in the offensive end."
As they were coming into the Memorial Cup, the Chiefs are the more rested and healthy team heading into the final.
They swept Lethbridge in four straight in the WHL final and were not fatigued by a lengthy trip to get here from Washington as the CHL now pays for a charter flight for teams that would otherwise have a long and complicated travel route to the Memorial Cup host city.
After eliminating Gatineau on Tuesday, Spokane is coming off four days of rest and has no major injuries.
"Health is more important than rest," Peters said. "You want your horses ready to go and we have that. We feel good about our situation.'
Kitchener (2-2) beat Belleville in seven games in the OHL championship series and have played the Bulls twice in the Memorial Cup since Tuesday.
Defencemen Yannick Weber and Robert Bortuzzo returned to the Rangers lineup after they were injured in the OHL final, but how healthy they are is questionable.
"After battling two games in a row there, guys are going to get injured and you don't always know about those undisclosed injuries as guys keep them behind close doors," Spokane captain Chris Bruton said.
"We've got to get physical right from the start and stay on them . . . because we've been resting and they haven't."
The Rangers will have almost 7,000 fans screaming for them at Memorial Auditorium, however, and adrenaline can fuel tired legs.
"It will be rocking tomorrow," Azevedo said.
Kitchener ran hot and cold at this Memorial Cup as they failed to defence a couple of big leads during the preliminary round.
But their dismantling of Belleville on Friday in a game with high stakes would indicate they are ready to play a full 60 minutes when it really counts Sunday.
"We are a fast team and we're at our best when we use our speed," Azevedo said.
Rangers goaltender Josh Unice and Spokane counterpart Dustin Tokarski haven't been asked to be spectacular yet in the tournament, although that day may be Sunday.
DeBoer had held out the possibility Steve Mason would be back in the Rangers' net at some point during this tournament, but the top goaltender at this year's world junior hockey championship did not practise with his team during the week.
The Columbus Blue Jackets' prospect tore a knee ligament April 8 and required surgery.
Notes - The Rangers were ranked No. 1 and the Chiefs No. 2 in the 60-team CHL at the conclusion of the regular season . . . Sunday's final will be the first matchup of OHL and WHL clubs 1999, when the host Ottawa 67's defeated the Calgary Hitmen 7-6 in overtime.