In one sense it’s been an unlikely turn of events, but in another it’s not really all that surprising.
The Toronto Nationals and Mississauga Reps will square off in the first ever all-Wild Card entry OHL Cup Championship Final tonight at the Mattamy Centre in downtown Toronto.
Had you told anyone familiar with the GTHL scene two months ago that the 2017 OHL Cup Championship Final would come down to these two clubs though, they would have probably believed you.
The Nationals and Reps finished first and second respectively in the GTHL regular season standings before both bowing out following disappointing first round playoff performances.
Fast forward to mid-March and it seems the cream has risen to the top as the Reps and Nats are right back where they feel they should be: playing for an OHL Cup title.
“We were the top two teams for a reason,” said Nationals forward Bradley Somers who scored both goals in Saturday’s 2-1 Semi-Final win over the Vaughan Kings. “I think we’ve overcome a lot this week with injuries to some good players and we are making the most of the opportunity we’ve been given.”
The Nationals were an OHL Cup Wild Card Selection Committee choice after losing their GTHL Wild Card Series to the Toronto Titans. If their performance this week is any indication, they’ve put that effort in their rearview mirror.
Without injured forward Mason Primeau, the son of former long-time NHLer Wayne Primeau, and steady defenceman Bryan Foster, the Nats have come together and thrived in a situation where they feel they have nothing to lose.
“The guys have been pretty loose,” said head coach Jim Vitale. “We’ve just showed up at the OHL Cup and pushed the pressure to the side. We were chosen to be here for a reason and we’ve played with that confidence. The boys are laughing, having fun and playing for each other.”
The Nationals have shown an ability to dominate teams along the boards, utilizing power wingers Ethan Keppen and Brandon Coe to create space for versatile centremen in Brendan Bowie and Bradley Somers.
Smooth-skating puck mover Robert Calisti has seen a regular workload on the blue line, being joined by Jordan Power, Carter Schott and Mike Palandra in carrying the load on the back end.
The Mississauga Reps are a similar story, being eliminated at the hands of the Vaughan Kings in the first round of the GTHL Playoffs. The Reps would earn themselves an OHL Cup Wild Card Play-In matchup after taking a seven game GTHL Wild Card Series victory over the cross-town rival Mississauga Senators and haven’t looked back.
“We aren’t the same team we were a month ago,” said star forward Jamieson Rees. “That Senators series really brought us together and coming through when we needed to gave us a boost. We came to the OHL Cup with guns blazing and have played with a lot of confidence all week.”
The line of Rees, Aaron Jamieson and OHL Cup scoring leader Mike Petizian has accounted for over half of the Reps’ goals at the OHL Cup Showcase.
“Aaron is a new addition to our line this year but me and Mikey have been playing for the Reps for about seven years now,” Rees said following Saturday’s 3-1 Semi-Final win over the top-ranked London Jr. Knights. “Our chemistry is just unbelievable.”
The stage is set for a goaltending duel on Monday. Both the Nationals’ Zach Roy and the Reps’ Ryan Dugas have carried their respective teams at various points throughout the week.
A native of North Bay, Ont., Roy leads all goaltenders with a .962 save percentage while Dugas has posted a 1.62 goals-against-average over four starts.
The season series between the two clubs offers no sign of an edge going either way as they played to a 2-2 stalemate back on November 9th before the Reps took a 5-2 win on January 21st and the Nats exacted revenge a night later with a 3-0 triumph.
Tonight’s OHL Cup Powered by Under Armour Championship Final features a unique scenario where there is no underdog. Two talented teams have made the most of their second chance and one can win it all tonight.
Be sure to catch tonight’s action across the province on Sportsnet Ontario when the puck drops from the Mattamy Centre in Toronto at 6:30pm.