Sat May 28 01:38am EDT
MISSISSAUGA — It's not an ending but a beginning for star centre Cody Eakin.
The way the Kootenay Ice and Eakin went out at the MasterCard Memorial Cup, quiet and muted with a 3-1 semifinal loss Friday to the Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors, probably provided grace notes to the final four months of the star centre's junior days. This was a far cry from the early exit and flight out to join an AHL team that his world junior teammate Brayden Schenn had with the Saskatoon Blades after the Ice sweep in the second round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Instead, Eakin, who'll become a pro full-time next season in the Washington Capitals organization, went out having become the fulcrum of a team that simply met its match with too little rest for too tough an opponent. On the whole, third-best in the Canadian Hockey League likely surpasses what GM Jeff Chynoweth imagined in January when he sent five players and three draft choices to the Swift Current Broncos in January for the speedy two-way centre.
"That's the best way that we could have gone out," Eakin said after setting up the lone Ice goal against the stingy Majors. "We won a [WHL] championship that 21 other teams never did and we got here and we gave it a good shot. It might not have been our best hockey in the first two games, but we battled, playing through injuries and looking out for each other. There's so much to be proud
"Every guy just worked his tail off tonight. We had opportunities. The guys are upset but they left it all on the ice."
Eakin gave all on Friday. The two early penalties he took, one leading to the first Majors goal 1:03 in, were from playing hard, not lapses in discipline. Space was at a premium against the tight, well-drilled Majors. Still, like the teams' meeting five days earlier in the round-robin, it was a one-goal game in the third period.
The Winnipegger's fellow Capitals prospect, quick-footed Majors defenceman Brett Flemming, was a huge reason for why Eakin was kept in relative check.
"We knew we couldn't let him wheel since he's a pretty strong skater," Flemming said. "We just tried to take away his speed and pin him in the corners and not let him get loose."
At times across the past week, Eakin seemed like all the offence the Ice had. Of course, that's just a few games at the end of a long season. The Ice made it to Mississauga since they were the most thoroughly team of all in the WHL. Eakin coming west was a catalytic event that helped galvanize them.
"He makes our team that much better," centre Max Reinhart said. "We knew all about him from playing against him for the last two or three years. He brings an incredible work ethic. After the first couple games, we thought we had improved our team so much. Couple months later, we're in the Memorial Cup. We really felt like we had a good shot at winning it and we just fell short."
Ultimately, Eakin probably got his just desserts out his junior career, even if that included a world junior silver medal instead of gold in Buffalo in January. Playing out his junior days with the Ice, the small-market team which got on a once-a-decade playoff run, fit him perfectly. It's a fitting accomplishment before moving on bigger and brighter arenas with the Capitals.
"We did an unbelievable thing," Eakin said. "Everyone doubted us, going back to Game 1 of our [first-round] Moose Jaw series. It was tough sledding, but we got there and we can say we're a top four team in Canada. There's 56 other teams that would kill to be here."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: CHL Images).