Sports Hockey

MEMORIAL CUP

Otters’ Cirelli has knack for coming through in clutch

By Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun

Erie Otters centre Anthony Cirelli (left) congratulates Dylan Strome on his goal against the Saint John Sea Dogs in Windsor, Ont. on Monday, May 22, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Erie Otters centre Anthony Cirelli (left) congratulates Dylan Strome on his goal against the Saint John Sea Dogs in Windsor, Ont. on Monday, May 22, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

WINDSOR — You can imagine what might to come to mind for Anthony Cirelli if the final of the 2017 Memorial Cup requires overtime.

If there has been a bigger clutch player in junior hockey in the past couple of years, we would be hard-pressed to find him.

Cirelli scored in overtime of the 2015 Cup in Quebec City, giving the Oshawa Generals the title; two weeks ago, his goal in overtime of Game 5 of the Ontario Hockey League final won the championship for the Erie Otters.

“Hopefully, we can end it in regulation,” Cirelli said with a smile, looking ahead to the Cup final on Sunday between the Otters and the host Windsor Spitfires. “I hope it doesn’t get that far. In overtime, anything can happen.”

Still, Cirelli entertained the idea of being the hockey hero again. He doesn’t constantly think of scoring that goal for the Generals two years ago, but it’s not far from his thinking either.

“The emotions that I had, it was a special moment I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Cirelli, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect. “Maybe having the chance to duplicate that is a little bit surreal. I’m thankful for another opportunity. It’s not easy to get to the final.”

How can Cirelli’s experience help the Otters on Sunday night at the WFCU Centre? The Otters traded to get him from Oshawa in January because, in part, he had been on a Cup run previously.

“He could do it twice,” Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said. “When you have a player who had a game like he did, I would suspect there is going to be a lot of confidence.

“When we were coming to the Memorial Cup, players had so many questions of what to expect, what do we need, what do we do, and he was able to give that information and calm everybody.”

Cirelli’s parents had his sweater from the Cup final in 2015 framed; his stick was sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame. His Cup ring sits in a safe deposit box.

“It’s one game,” Cirelli said. “That’s what you work all summer for, work all year, the bag skates, the hard workouts — leading up to play in the Memorial Cup, to play in the final, go out there and give it our all. You’re playing for hardest trophy in sports.”

POINT SHOTS

Funny line from Spits star Jeremy Bracco on teammate Gabriel Vilardi, who has put himself into serious consideration to be a top-five pick in the NHL draft next month. “He is very quiet,” Bracco said. “Him and I are opposite.” Bracco, the only Toronto Maple Leafs prospect in the Cup, doesn’t lack confidence. “I wanted to come in and prove that I was one of the better players in this tournament and things have gone well so far,” said Bracco, who has two goals and three assists in three games … We asked Ryan McGill, named the Canadian Hockey League coach of the year, to handicap the final. As the man who runs the bench with the Owen Sound Attack, McGill probably knows more about the Otters and the Spitfires than he would care to admit. “You have one of the best power plays (Erie) in the league versus the best penalty kill (Windsor),” McGill said. “That starts with their goaltending and their big defence on the back end. If it’s an even game as far as one or two penalties, I think it will be the team that gets a break in the third period. I don’t think there is going to be a lot of room. Whoever can get that break in the third period is going to win. The special teams are going to be huge, because I don’t think there will be many power plays.” … During the regular season, the Spits set an OHL record with an 88.5% success rate on the penalty kill, while the Otters were second overall on the power play, clicking at a 27.2% rate. At the Cup, the Otters have scored nine goals on 20 power-play chances, while the Spits have killed off 12 of 14 penalties.

FROM THE HASH MARKS

The reality for the Spitfires and Otters is the knowledge that the final marks the last game they’ll play together. “It’s exciting but it’s also kind of hard to describe what the feeling is,” Alex DeBrincat said. “There is nothing to save (the effort) for. Summer is two days away.” … Several of the Otters, including captain Dylan Strome, were under the weather on Saturday. Knoblauch said that one of the players vomited on the bench during the semifinal on Friday night, but Knoblauch stressed he did not doubt that he would have his full lineup on Sunday … A tip of the hat to Attack goalie Michael McNiven, who endured the loss of his birth mother in November to star for Owen Sound and win the CHL goaltender of the year award. A Montreal Canadiens prospect, McNiven was named the top goalie 10 years after Carey Price had the same honour. “The objective is to be a goaltender like him,” McNiven said. “To see his name on the trophy, I did not realize it was 10 years, but it feels pretty cool. To have this award is amazing after the tough year I had. A great group of guys in Owen Sound helped me get through it.”