Oshawa Generals win Memorial Cup, beating Kelowna Rockets in overtime

Oshawa Generals forward Anthony Cirelli, centre, is joined by teammates Sam Harding, left, and Bradley Latour, right, after he scored his team's first goal against Kelowna Rockets during second period action at the Memorial Cup final in Quebec City on Sunday, May 31, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
Oshawa Generals forward Anthony Cirelli, centre, is joined by teammates Sam Harding, left, and Bradley Latour, right, after he scored his team's first goal against Kelowna Rockets during second period action at the Memorial Cup final in Quebec City on Sunday, May 31, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Ken Appleby stands 6-foot-4, but he will forever be 10 feet tall in Oshawa.

Anthony Cirelli might stand even taller, metaphorically.

Undrafted by the NHL and unknown outside of Oshawa and his native North Bay, Ont., before the season, Appleby stymied early second-period chances from the likes of Leon Draisaitl, Rourke Chartier and Josh Morrissey to keep the Generals in contact with the Kelowna Rockets early in Sunday's Memorial Cup final at the Colisée. Appleby's 37 saves also including thwarting potential NHL first-round choice Nick Merkley on a third-period breakway, buying coach D.J. Smith's Generals time to stay upright and win 2-1 in overtime on a goal by Cirelli, a fresh-faced 17-year-old who made the team as a free agent at training camp.

Cirelli, who also scored the tying goal in the second period, went to the net and jammed in the rebound off a Chris Carlisle shot.

"I can't even think right now, I'm so excited," Cirelli, ranked No. 67 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, told Sportsnet. "This is a great group of guys and it's great to win with them."

All four of the Generals' wins in the tournament were by one goal, including a matching 2-1 regulation-time win against Kelowna in the round-robin. The franchise's last Memorial Cup in 1990 also came on a sudden-death goal.

The game lived up to the hype and furnished a fitting send-off for the Colisée, the 66-year-old hockey palace that will be torn down this fall. The Quebec City crowd of 10,391 was kept rapt by a white-knuckle game that included numerous narrow escapes engineered by both Appleby and goaltending fraternity brother Jackson Whistle.

"The guys have bailed me out a couple times this week so I had to pick them up," Appleby said. "These guys grinded all game. They're unbelievable. This is the closest team I've ever played with."

The Generals did not have a player among the Ontario Hockey League's top 10 scorers or major award winners and were the first Eastern Conference team since 2006 to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup.

Bolstered by their goalie and trio of overage defencemen in Josh Brown, Dakota Mermis and Carlisle, they bottled up top teams all season. They held Kelowna to a single goal in both of their meetings at the tournament, shutting out Edmonton Oilers first-rounder Draisaitl twice. They also held superstar Connor McDavid to seven points during a five-game OHL final win over the Erie Otters.

Draisaitl was selected Memorial Cup MVP,  just as McDavid was named OHL playoff MVP despite being on the runner-up team.

The last member of a losing team to win the award was Danny Groulx with the 2002 Victoriaville Tigres, who lost the final to the Kootenay Ice.

On Sunday, Kelowna opened the scoring at 15:08 of the first with what appeared  to be a set play. Cole Linaker beat Michael McCarron on a faceoff and drew the puck back to Madison Bowey for a point shot. Bowey shot wide, but the puck ricocheted to Tomas Soustal, who backhanded the puck into an open side of the net before Appleby could cover to the post.

Following a string of big Appleby saves in the second, Oshawa began to gain the run of play. The Generals got their first power play at 8:35 when Joe Gatenby slashed Tobias Lindberg's stick out of his hands. Kelowna had only been back to full strength for 36 seconds when Merkley was gated for a high stick on Dakota Mermis.

The strain of successive shorthanded scenarios worked to the Generals' benefit at 13:50. Cirelli got behind Bowey after a lead pass from Mermis. The rookie beat Whistle high glove side.

The Generals are the first OHL team to win the Memorial Cup since the Windsor Spitfires in 2010. They are also the first Eastern team to complete the league title/Memorial Cup double since the OHL adopted a two-conference alignment in 1998-99.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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