Sun May 22 11:38pm EDT
MISSISSAUGA — The game was like a conversation with a distant relative that you couldn't excuse yourself from.
The Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors, playing against themselves as much as the Kootenay Ice, who came up with a game effort minus captain Brayden McNabb, pulled out a must-have 2-1 win at the MasterCard Memorial Cup. Spare the euphemisms about lunchpail hockey, please. It was not a great game, but for Mississauga (1-1), it snapped a three-game losing streak and set up a rematch on Wednesday against the Owen Sound Attack, whom they could end up meeting in the elimination rounds. Kootenay (0-2) faces Saint John (1-0 coming into Monday's play) on Tuesday.
The story of the game in quotes:
How to explain Mississauga going 0-for-6 with the extra skater, including their second and third squandered 5-on-3s of the tournament? It was between the ears as much as anything else. With a team which doesn't runneth over with high-end scorers, Mississauga was feeling a little too much imperative to bury their chances with the extra skater.
"Tonight it was that we were really tight," Majors coach-GM Dave Cameron said. "That was obvious in how they didn't perform on the power play. They weren't making any plays. We tried to run certain things on the 5-on-3s and we didn't run one of them. We were making bad decisions. Forcing pucks. I attribute that to feeling the heat."
It's a small sample, but the Majors are 2-for-13 with the extra skater in the tournament after clicking at a 30.1 per cent rate in their league playoffs. Much of that is the opposition, some is personnel and the rest is getting in the dirty areas.
"We just have to get more pucks to the net," captain Casey Cizikas said. "We're not doing a good job of that and when we do get them, they're blocking them. We have to make sure there's a guy in front getting those rebounds."
Kitsyn trying 'to do too much'
How did Cameron's line-juggling pay off? The Majors coach, having already changed one forward (Mika Partanen in, Corey Bureau out) from Friday, further shuffled the deck in the second half of the game. Joseph Cramarossa went from the fourth line to the first, taking Justin Shugg's place. Maxim Kitsyn was spotted.
"It gave us a little kick in the butt," Majors right wing Devante Smith-Pelly said. "We turned it on after that. Every time you see you're getting taken off a line or pushed up, it makes you want to play better."
Still, Kitsyn seemed AWOL latter in the game, even though the Los Angeles Kings prospect had scored.
"I think Max is typical of offensive guys who aren't scoring," Cameron said. "They try to do too much."
Now in an 0-2 hole with only one goal to their name, are the Ice finito? Only the 2009 Windsor Spitfires have come back from losing their first two games to win the tournament. The Ice, with Cody Eakin looking like their entire offence by times, aren't in that team's league in scoring punch. Still, on Tuesday they'll be a no-tomorrow team facing the Saint John Sea Dogs, who might be 2-0.
It could be shades of the Tuesday tilt a year ago in Brandon when everyone expected a Windsor waltz against 0-2 Moncton. The Wildcats ended up extending the Spits to overtime. The Ice haven't played terribly, so they have a puncher's chance.
"We played more the game we wanted to play tonight," said Ice centre Max Reinhart, a Calgary Flames pick. "It wasn't really a 5-0 score on Saturday. We've had two games where he played just not good enough. This time of year you have to be playing your A-game. We got to stick with what we're doing, Some guys are going to have to step up Tuesday and find the back of the net to give us a chance to win."
"We've had adversity throughout these playoffs," said Reinhart, referring to the Ice losing two of their first three post-season games. "It's another roadblock."
What caused the Ice fade in the third period? What happened to Kootenay in the final period was what happened to it in the previous frame. With Brayden McNabb suspended, the Ice's core defencemen were overextended.
"I think we had some guys — James Martin and Joey Leach — that really played a lot, especially in the penalty-kill situations," Ice coach Kris Knoblauch said. "A 5-on-5 shift isn't the same as a penalty-killing shift. It takes so much more out of you. It showed later on in the game."
Why was this game as close as it was? Probably Cody Eakin, who scored the Ice's first goal of the tournament and caused Major pain on the penalty kill. Kootenay gets goose-egged again without him.
"I thought Cody was excellent tonight," Cameron said. "I thought he had a real good game. He was a force. I could tell he was on. What makes him special is the level of his skill and his compete level."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).