By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
My first encounter with The Oshawa Generals was in a dimly lit arena in Ajax.
The pre-season match up gave me the first glimpse of a team I would become quite familiar with both in writing and from behind the lens of my camera.
The Generals won that game, and it was a sight I would get quite used to over the next nine months as the team went on to break a franchise record, winning 51 games and racking up 108 points in the regular season.
Now, after shutting down the favoured Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League final and hoisting the J. Ross Robertson Cup, the Gens are on their way to the Memorial Cup in Quebec City, and this reporter will be right there with them.
It’s the first time since 1997 the Generals will be vying for the accolade of CHL’s top team, and it could very well be the first time since 1990 the team has hoisted the Memorial Cup.
That year was the fourth time the franchise has won the cup. It ties them with the Regina Pats for the most cup wins among currently active teams.
The record for most wins, with seven, belongs to the Toronto Marlboros, who disbanded in 1989.
This will mark the 12th time the Gens have reached the final, and the Generals will have their work cut out for them with a trio of other top teams to contend with.
The Generals start their run on May 23 with a game against the Rimouski Oceanic, the top team of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
The next day, the Generals face off against the host Quebec Remparts, the least point-getting team of the four clubs vying for the cup with only 83 through the regular season.
However, with a pair of world junior championship gold medal winners on their bench in the form of Anthony Duclair and star-goaltender and Montreal Canadiens draft pick Zach Fucale, they can’t be shrugged off.
Finally, May 26 will see the Gens hit the ice against the elite Kelowna Rockets. The top team in the Western Hockey League amassed a staggering 53 wins and 112 points in the regular season and put together a 16-3 playoff run to win the WHL championship. Keep in mind, the Rockets swept the top-rated Brandon Wheat Kings in the final, a club who also totaled 114 points in the regular season.
But enough about those teams, let’s talk our local Oshawa Generals.
If the Gens are to be successful in Quebec, they will need to keep their defensive play intact and keep their cool.
Definsive pairing Josh Brown and Dakota Mermis, who both were dominant forces in containing Connor McDavid in the OHL final, will need to do the same against the nation’s top teams.
The team’s depth will also continue to carry them, as it has all season. If coach DJ Smith is able to roll his four lines and get secondary scoring from the likes of Aiden Wallace or Bradley Latour complimenting the works of Michael Dal Colle, Matt Mistele or Hunter Smith, the other teams will have their hands full.
The major worry is excitement. The Generals are a physical team, a team that grinds and wears their opponents down. Why do you think the Generals always score so many goals in the second half of the game?
Sometimes, though, this play can get the better of them and land them in penalty trouble.
While the Gens’ penalty kill is at the top in the OHL, they need to stay out of the box if they want to compete with the offensive threats that will surely confront them in Quebec.
Puck drop is 4:30 p.m. on May 23. Be sure to check next week’s edition for photos and coverage from the games. You can also follow online at www.oshawaexpress.ca or following myself on Twitter (@JoeljWittnebel) for live updates from all the games.