And then there were two.
And two trophies still up for grabs:
On the left is the J. Ross Robertson Cup, which will be awarded to the winner of this tournament. On the right is the Memorial Cup (and do click the link and read about its history, plus the picture of the Cup there is much, much better.) The team that wins the Robertson Cup also earns the right to contest with the WHL champion, the QMJHL champion, and host team Brandon Wheat Kings for the 2010 Memorial Cup.
The puck drops at 7pm tonight at the Barrie Molson Centre (BMC) for Game One of the best-of-seven OHL championship series. The Eastern Conference (and OHL regular season) champion Barrie Colts will take on the Western Conference (and 2009 Memorial Cup-defending) champion Windsor Spitfires.
How they got here:
The teams playing in this tournament are now and have been the two best teams in the OHL all season.
The Colts sliced through their post-season opponents just like they sliced through their regular season - like a hot knife through butter. They swept the first two series straight, and lost only one game in the conference championship series. In all, Barrie has lost exactly ten games this entire season.
The Spitfires were similarly dominant in the first two series (8-0) but experienced a near-catastrophic three losses in a row against the Kitchener Rangers and faced almost certain elimination in Game Four but instead turned it around and won four straight to claim the Wayne Gretzky Trophy. They arrive at the BMC with some chips on their shoulders, having gone 0-2 against Barrie in the regular season.
What they're saying:
While the Spitfires dug themselves a hole in the Kitchener series, they were able to rely on previous experience to dig themselves out.
"We have players who have won MVP awards, OHL championships, world junior championship gold medals, world under-18 gold medals and obviously the Memorial Cup last year," [Spits head coach] Boughner said. "I think our experience paid off in the end against the Rangers.
"I think the key to the series was our not getting too rattled."
The current Spitfires lineup features 12 players who were on the Memorial Cup-winning squad last spring. They also have two other players, Marc Cantin and Stephen Johnson, who played in the 2008 tournament while members of the Belleville Bulls.
They'll try to become just the first team since 1995 to win back-to-back Memorial Cup titles.
Stefan Della Rovere flashed a big grin - a telling symbol of the excitement his Barrie Colts are feeling.
"They're the defending champs and we want to beat them," the 19-year-old Colts captain said, as the Canadian Hockey League's top-ranked team prepared for the best-of-seven Ontario Hockey League final against the Windsor Spitfires. The series is set to get underway in front of a sell-out crowd at the Barrie Molson Centre on Tuesday night.
"Everyone thought it was going to be us two in the finals," Della Rovere said. "I guess everyone was right. It'll be exciting."
Should be. This is, after all, the matchup everyone envisioned months ago.
Top-ranked Barrie. Second-seeded Windsor. A trip to the Memorial Cup -- major junior hockey's most coveted tournament -- is at stake.
"They're the best in the West. We're the best in the East," said Barrie's Top Gun Goalie, Mavric Parks, who'll try to shoot down the Spits the same way he threw a Goose egg on the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors last round.
"It's definitely going to be a good test," he said.
The Colts finished with 57 wins and 116 points, just shy of a an OHL record.
Windsor answered with 50 wins and 106 points.
Both teams are stacked like pancakes. Both teams have spread-out scoring, high-octane defence and are bench-long in depth.
"There's a lot of mirrors," said Barrie head coach Marty Williamson, whose team watched game footage prior to the start of Monday's practice and concluded that the Spits "look good."
The Colts will turn to their fresh legs, having rolled through the postseason with a 12-1 record.
Meanwhile, the Spits have lost just three times in 15 playoff games, but each of those losses came in a marathon adventure of a series against the Kitchener Rangers, which Windsor wrapped up in improbable fashion on Sunday afternoon - rallying for four straight wins.
"They fought through a lot of adversity and they're coming off a real high right now," said Della Rovere, a fourth-year Colt. That's the plan, said Spitfires head coach Bob Boughner.
"We're like any team at this part of the season," the coach said. "We've got a lot of guys banged up and bruised and tired, but when you're four wins from the Memorial Cup, guys find ways to overcome that and battle."
No Colt, save for overager Bryan Cameron, has been to the final before, while the majority of Spitfires know what it's all about, having hoisted the Memorial Cup in Rimouski last May. Game time Tuesday is 7:35 p.m.
As we've done throughout the OHL playoffs this year (especially since we were prematurely relegated to the sidelines with the Belleville Bulls missing the post-season party for only the third time in franchise history), Quinte Broadcasting sports director and longtime voice of the Bulls, Jack Miller, and this reporter will offer our predictions.
So far, we're both 12-and-2 overall and we both took Colts and Spits in the conference finals. Here we go.
Barrie vs. Windsor
Regular season series: Colts, 2-0.
Need to know: Former Bulls Bryan Cameron (11-7-18) and Luke Pither (8-10-18) lead Barrie in playoff scoring; Another ex-Bull, goalie Phil Grubauer of the Spitfires, leads all playoff netminders with a dozen wins.
Miller: "Predicting a Barrie vs. Windsor final was easy. Now, it gets challenging. Colts have glided through the post-season in 13 games and the Spitfires were gliding too until Kitchener threw an unexpected scare into them. But, great teams have an answer for adversity and Windsor is a great team.
"There aren't many differences between Barrie and Windsor — both have depth up front with an excellent combination of offence and defence from the blueline. If there's a difference, it's in goal. Grubauer is THE man in Windsor while Barrie splits chores between Mavric Parks and Peter DiSalvo.
"Until last week, I was convinced Colts would win the J. Ross Robertson Cup. Today, I'm not so sure. In fact, by roaring back from a 3-0 deficit against Kitchener, the Spitfires reminded me of a few things.
"First, they're the defending champs. They have the intangible asset of experience on their side. Second, they've faced adversity. The Colts have not. At this stage of the game, that's important."
Prediction: Spits in 7.
Svoboda: "There are certainly terrific agruments to be made for both clubs: Barrie's utter dominance over three previous foes; Windsor's impressive grit in overcoming that 3-0 deficit to beat Kitchener. And, yes, as defending Memorial Cup champions, the Spits have a deep and rich reservoir of experience and pride from which to draw strength and motivation.
"That said, I think this is Barrie's year. They were built for exactly this scenario — meeting the defending champs in the OHL Final. This is what they have lived and breathed for all season.
"With all due respect to Windsor, I do not believe the Colts will be denied. Next stop, Brandon. But they'll have to play their absolute best hockey to get there."
Prediction: Colts in 7.