Host Windsor Spitfires set to take on Canada's best at 2017 Memorial Cup
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If there was a silver lining for Logan Stanley after an injury cost him half his Ontario Hockey League season, it was knowing his Windsor Spitfires would be hosting the 2017 Memorial Cup.
The hulking six-foot-seven, 230-pound defenceman will play his first hockey in four months when the Spitfires open the 99th edition of the major junior national championship on Friday against the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Stanley returns after suffering a knee injury in January and gives the hosts a much-needed boost against the three league champions that round out the four clubs participating for the Canadian Hockey League's top prize.
"Now that we're healthy and have everyone in our lineup it makes us a better team," said the 18-year-old Stanley. "Those three teams are real good but we know we can compete with them and can win. We're ready to go."
Stanley, who was selected 18th overall in the 2016 NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets, completes a well-rounded defensive core that Windsor will need. Joining the host Spitfires and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Sea Dogs are the OHL champion Erie Otters and Western Hockey League champion Seattle Thunderbirds.
The Waterloo, Ont., native went down in mid-January and didn't begin on-ice sessions until April. Now that Stanley is healthy and "feeling great," Windsor has four top-quality blue liners to toss out against the opposition, including 2016 first-round pick Mikhail Sergechev (No. 9, Montreal) third-round selection Sean Day (No. 81, Rangers), who was acquired in an early-season trade from the Mississauga Steelheads, and Jalen Chatfield, who signed an NHL contract as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks.
"Guys did a good job filling in for (Stanley) but obviously he was a big loss," said Spitfires coach Rocky Thompson. "He's arguably your best defenceman, or No. 2 defenceman.
"I believe him to be one of the hardest defencemen to play against without the puck in the CHL, he's done a great job preparing himself over the four-month stretch. He really grew as an athlete and an individual... Having him back in the lineup is so valuable."
Windsor was eliminated in the first round of the OHL playoffs in seven games by the London Knights and have had six weeks to prepare for the Memorial Cup. Thompson says he had concerns that his team would lack motivation for such a long period of time without game action, but that isn't the case.
"We're healthy, we're energized, best shape of these guys' young lives and they're excited to keep competing," said Thompson.
The Sea Dogs finished the regular season as the top team in the QMJHL and cruised their way to their first league championship since 2011, going 16-2 in the playoffs with a four-game sweep of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the final.
The Otters were the top team in the OHL regular season and had little trouble in the playoffs, going 16-6 and defeating Mississauga in the final en route to winning their first league championship since 2002.
The Thunderbirds wrapped up the regular season with the fourth-highest point total of the 22 teams in the WHL, but still had to take the hard road to their first league championship in franchise history.
Seattle went 16-4 in the post-season despite having to knock off the U.S. Division champion Everett Silvertips and the No. 1 ranked team in the country, the Regina Pats, in the final.
Erie and Seattle begin round-robin play against each other Saturday.