Cowan's winner lifts Knights past Spirit to earn Memorial Cup final berth

SAGINAW — Easton Cowan enjoyed a moment he had long dreamed of on Wednesday night.

He scored the go-ahead goal late in the third period and added an empty-netter to help the London Knights book their ticket to Sunday's Memorial Cup final with a 4-2 victory over the Saginaw Spirit.

Cowan took a feed from Sam O'Reilly and beat Spirit goaltender Andrew Oke on the glove side with 1:25 left in regulation time. His insurance goal came with 22 seconds left.

"I'm actually getting chills right now," Cowan said of the moment hitting him. "It's a dream come true ... I think all of us will be ready to go (in the final). A couple days off will be nice. We're just going to have fun with it and treat it like another game."

The go-ahead marker also served as a breakthrough moment for Cowan, who was the Ontario Hockey League's most outstanding player in the regular season and the OHL playoff MVP. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect hadn't scored at the Memorial Cup before Wednesday.

"I thought I was getting my chances throughout the first couple of games, couldn't really find my legs there and felt like in that third period, I really got back to my game, forechecking and stops and starts," Cowan said. "Felt good to get that one in."

"He's got the skill and will," head coach Dale Hunter added of Cowan. "He's a good skater, knows the game and pushes through. It's hard skating out there, both teams went with three lines, so it's a battle, lots of ice time for the guys."

Kasper Halttunen and Denver Barkey each had a goal and an assist for London. Cowan also had an assist and Michael Simpson made 26 saves.

The Spirit will play Western Hockey League champion Moose Jaw in Friday's semifinal. The Warriors topped the Drummondville Voltigeurs 5-3 on Tuesday to eliminate the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League champions.

For Spirit forward Owen Beck, it's a return to the semifinal and a chance for redemption. Beck, who was with the Peterborough Petes last spring, lost to the Seattle Thunderbirds in last year's semifinal.

"It's just, again, two great teams, it's a championship team over there," Beck said. "We've got to come with our game and I believe if we do, it'll go our way.

"There's just not a lot of room for error. We made one mistake tonight and it cost us the game so we've got to make sure we're playing a full 60 (minutes) and getting every little bit of extra effort that we have and make sure we close it out."

Alex Christopoulos and Joey Willis scored for host Saginaw. Oke stopped 31 shots.

Both teams entered the game at 2-0 in round-robin play and met each other for the first time since the OHL's Western Conference final. The Knights won the best-of-seven series in six games before going on to win the league title earlier this month.

"I don't know, it was a big boy game, we played well, we're one shot away from the final," said Spirit coach Chris Lazary. "It's a tough way to lose in the last minute like that but it's hockey."

Christopoulos opened the scoring 8:50 into the first period after tipping a shot from Josh Bloom.

With Zayne Parekh off for high-sticking, Halttunen knotted the contest on the power play 14:23 into the period. He took a drop pass from Cowan, beat a defender with a toe-drag move and fired in a wrist shot.

The Spirit tested Simpson, outshooting the Knights 8-3 through the first 6:40 of the second period.

But it was Barkey who broke the tie at 10:40 of the middle frame. Halttunen made a hard drive with a defender on him and dished a centring pass from a tight angle to Barkey who tapped it in.

Willis, however, tied the game with 5:40 remaining. He whipped a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that beat Simpson on the blocker side.

The Spirit and Knights split their four meetings in the regular season.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2024.

Abdulhamid Ibrahim, The Canadian Press