Steeltown is on the way to Saint John. The Hamilton Bulldogs won the 2022 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) championship on Wednesday night, beating the Windsor Spitfires in Game 7 and earning their spot in Canada’s biggest junior hockey tournament.
This series was everything a junior hockey could ask for. In a corner comes the Bulldogs, Eastern Conference winners, the best record in the league and holders of a 26-0-1 series going into the series. On the other hand, the Spitfires, champions of the Western Conference, top the league with 305 goals in the regular season and 13 straight wins late in the season. While most predicted the Bulldogs would make it in four or five, the Spitfires didn’t back down. After a win at the WFCU Center in Game 6 on Monday, clubs met at the First Ontario Center in Hamilton for a one-game showdown to end it all.
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Bulldogs choke Spitfires in Game 7
After beating the Bulldogs on home ice Monday night, the Spitfires went into Game 7 with plenty of confidence. However, entering a packed FirstOntario Center would be their biggest challenge of the season.
Not only were the Bulldogs the best home team in the league this season with a 27-4-1-2, they also opened the top bowl to let in over 11,700 screaming fans. It was the modern record for most fans at an OHL Championship Series game and they didn’t have to wait long to celebrate.
Just two minutes into the game, Anaheim Ducks’ Mason McTavish opened the scoring for goaltender Mathias Onuska to put the ball 1-0 up. The Bulldogs’ defense took over, limiting the Spitfires’ offense to nine scattered shots. The second period was similar. Avery Hayes made it 2-0 while the home side stifled the visitors’ offense. The little offense they could find was quickly stopped by goalkeeper Marco Costantini.
See also: Ducks Draft Mason McTavish 3rd overall
All season the Spitfires have been proud of their comebacks. Regardless of the outcome, they were confident there was a way to win the game. This time, however, it wasn’t in the cards. While the visitors got the shutout late thanks to forward Alex Christopoulos, the Bulldogs scored four goals in the third game, including two more from Hayes and one from McTavish, to make it 6-1. The clock ticked, the buzzer sounded and that was it. The Bulldogs are your 2022 OHL Champions.
While Spitfires head coach Marc Savard pushed his players to give it their all, the Bulldogs showed why they were the best team in the nation. The visitors had no room for maneuver and frustration built up. They ran out of gas in the third half and the home side drove to victory.
Game 7 Scoring Summary
Bulldogs – Mason McTavish (15) by Patrick Thomas and Ryan Winterton – 2:04
Bulldogs – Avery Hayes (12) by Arber Xhekaj and Logan Morrison – 12:57
Bulldogs – Avery Hayes (13) by Logan Morrison and Mason McTavish – 6:18
Bulldogs – Jan Mysak (4) by Arber Xhekaj – 13:01
Spitfires – Alex Christopoulos (11) by Louka Henault and Michael Renwick – 13:38
Bulldogs – Mason McTavish (16) (Empty Net) – 15:26
Bulldogs – Avery Hayes (14) (Empty Net) – 17:11
Bulldogs to Saint John, Spitfires to Windsor
With the OHL championship now in hand, the Bulldogs are preparing to head to Saint John, NB for the 2022 Memorial Cup. It runs from June 20th to 29th and will feature the three league champions along with the host team.
This season, the Edmonton Oil Kings are the Western Hockey League (WHL) champions, the Shawinigan Cataractes are the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) champions, and the host team is the Saint John Sea Dogs. It should be a stellar tournament with some high octane teams. It will be the first time the Memorial Cup will be played due to COVID-19 since 2019 as the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies defeated the Halifax Mooseheads 4-2 in the finals.
Unfortunately, this means the Spitfires will be returning to Windsor. It wasn’t the result they wanted, but let’s be realistic. At the start of this season, the club hadn’t won a playoff series since 2011, and numerous veterans were at odds over how they would fare. Add in a new head coach and COVID-19 and there was a lot of uncertainty. To finish fourth in Canada, win the Western Conference and lead the top-ranked team in Game 7 is mighty impressive. This city is mighty proud of its team. Said Savard there is nothing that makes heads hang around.
“Windsor is a great place to play hockey, our fans are amazing and I’m really proud of this group,” Savard told OHL after the game.
“I was just happy to lead them. I’ve tried to do my best to make her believe every day, and none of us should go here with our heads down.”
We’ll hear a lot more about their off-season throughout the rest of June. Until then, the OHL and the rest of Canada will watch as the Memorial Cup unfolds.
A nearly lifelong resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (journalism) and the University of Windsor (communications) and have been attending Windsor Spitfires (and OHL) games for 30 years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.