By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
It was only four years ago that the Oshawa Generals hoisted the Canadian Hockey Leagues’ greatest honour.
NHL legends like Bobby Orr and Eric Lindros have brought this honour back to Oshawa.
Today, the Gens are looking to add another Memorial Cup to their history, as they are making another run at history.
As the Gens try to repeat this achievement, the mind often wanders back to when they did.
In 2015, Oshawa hoisted the most coveted trophy in junior hockey for the first time in a quarter of a century and The Oshawa Express was there to cover the momentous occasion.
The Generals have a long history with the Memorial Cup, with their first victory dating all the way back to 1939.
During the 2014-15 season, the Gens were considered to be a strong team, but they were an afterthought with teams like the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds, Erie Otters, and the historically strong London Knights being front and centre in the OHL.
In 2017, Roger Hunt, vice president and general manager of the Generals, told The Oshawa Express, “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about that team, that win and those players and the staff. It sounds corny, but it’s true.”
The Generals had one of their strongest regular seasons in the organization’s long history during the 2014-15 season.
In all, the team amassed 108 points, with a record of 51-11-2-4, making them the second best in the OHL.
The team was first in the Eastern Conference, and an East Division where all five teams made the playoffs.
Oshawa started the season strong with a 5-2 victory over the Barrie Colts in which five different players scored.
Despite being limited to only 56 games that season, Michael Dal Colle, now a member of the New York Islanders after being selected fifth overall in the 2014 draft, scored 42 goals with 51 assists for 93 points, far and away the best on the team.
He was followed by Tobias Lindberg who had 32 goals and 46 assists for 78 points that season.
Lindberg is now a member of the Las Vegas Golden Knights after being drafted by Ottawa in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.
Matt Mistele, who was acquired from the Plymouth Whalers, now the Flint Firebirds, also had a strong season.
After being traded, Mistele played in 25 games for Oshawa, where he had 13 goals and nine assists for 22 points. Overall, Mistele had 37 goals, 27 assists and 64 points for the season.
The four top leading scorers that year for Oshawa all played left wing.
Dakota Mermis, the Gens’ strongest defenseman that year, is now with the Phoenix Coyotes organization.
That season, Mermis scored six goals from the blueline to go with 24 assists for 30 points. He was acquired from the London Knights in an attempt to bolster the Oshawa defensive core.
Mermis had 10 more points that season than the next highest scoring defenseman, Sonny Hertzberg, who had 20 points in 32 games.
Ken Appleby and Jeremy Brodeur represented the Gens in net, and both had strong seasons.
Appleby, the starter, played in 50 games that season, amassing a record of 38-7-0-4 with a goals against average of 2.04 and a save percentage of .924.
Brodeur, Appleby’s backup, and the son of legendary NHL goalie Martin Brodeur, put together a strong season, going 13-4-2-0 with a 2.47 GAA and a save percentage of .900. He would eventually go on to become the starter for Oshawa.
The captain during this era was defenseman Josh Brown, who played in 60 games, scoring four goals, and 17 assists for 21 points.
Brown was drafted by the Florida Panthers in the sixth round, 152nd overall of the 2013 NHL player draft, and played 38 games for the Panthers this season.
With a roster filled to the brim with NHL drafted players, and some of the strongest goaltending around, the Gens were set for a lengthy playoff run.
For Hunt, this group of kids was special, as he previously told The Express, “That team grew up together. I don’t think we had the best players…I think we had the best team.”
After breaking a franchise record with 51 wins and 108 points, the Gens began the OHL playoffs and their quest for the organization’s 13th J. Ross Robertson Cup.
The playoffs began with a first round match up against Oshawa’s archrival, the Peterborough Petes.
The Gens swooped in and made quick work of the Petes, much like they did in the first round of this year’s OHL playoffs, winning the series 4-1.
Thus far, the 2019 OHL playoffs have mirrored the 2015 playoffs, as the Gens took on the Niagara IceDogs in the second round, just like their most recent series.
However, last time the Gens won the series, 4-1, and this year they have won 4-2.
After finishing off Niagara, the Gens went on to handily beat the North Bay Battalion in a six games, making it to the OHL final, where they would play the Western Conference champion.
Up until the final round before they competed with the Gens for the J. Ross Robertson Cup, the Erie Otters handled every team in the West as though they were nothing, even beating out the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, the only team with more points than the Generals during the regular season.
Oshawa began the finals against the Otters at home, winning both games by scores of 4-1 and 5-1 respectively, as the Gens handled the opposing offense with ease.
However, as the series moved to the Erie Insurance Arena, things became a little tougher for Oshawa, as the first two road games began with the Otters sneaking by the Gens with a 4-3 loss.
Both games in Erie were close, as the Gens wanted to recover from the loss with a victory before returning home.
Oshawa was met with some resistance however, as Game 4 went to overtime tied 5-5.
The Generals had to force their way through future first overall pick and NHL superstar Connor McDavid before going onto the Memorial Cup and were successful as the defensive pairing of Brown and Mermis were able to shut him down long enough for the Gens to win in overtime.
Game 5 took the teams both back to Oshawa, where Brown and Mermis continued their defensive dominance and shut down McDavid once again.
The team won Game 5 with 6-2 at the General Motors Centre (now the Tribute Communities Centre), solidifying what would be their first trip to the Memorial Cup since the 1996-97 season.
DJ Smith, upon winning the J. Ross Robertson Cup, told The Express, “We were overlooked because a lot of teams scored more goals than us and it’s tough to keep selling. It takes a lot of people to buy in to play defense like that and a lot of unsung heroes.”
Brown said there was no better way he could think of to cap off his junior career.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “In my overage year like that, going out like this in front of this crowd, in front of these fans, I can’t even describe it right now. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
As Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
The Generals still had a fight ahead of them if they hoped to win the most coveted trophy in junior hockey.
“We came to win the Memorial Cup. This is great, and we’ll celebrate this, but tomorrow morning when I get up, we’ve got a harder trophy to win,” said Smith upon winning the OHL playoffs.
The Memorial Cup tournament was hosted by the Quebec Ramparts. The Generals and the Ramparts were joined by the Western Hockey League champion Kelowna Rockets, and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Rimouski Oceanic.
Things began with a round robin tournament, and the Gens first game was on May 23 against the Ocenanic, who had previously won the Memorial Cup in 2000.
The Generals struck first as both Lindberg and Dal Colle scored in the first period. However, the Oceanic responded with two goals of their own.
Heading into the second tied, Stephen Desrocher scored the lone goal of the period for Oshawa, taking back the lead at the end of the period.
Quebec was quick to tie the game up though in the third period, but Oshawa responded when Hunter Smith scored the game winner midway through the period, making it a final score of 4-3 for the Gens
After beating Rimouski, the Gens would go on to face the host Ramparts, winning it 5-4 in overtime, and then the Rockets, winning 2-1.
After winning all three round robin games, the Gens bought their ticket to the finals, where they once again took on the Kelowna Rockets.
It was a tight game, as the Rockets opened the scoring with a goal from Tomas Soustal in the first period, putting the Gens behind early.
Oshawa responded in the second with a goal from Anthony Cirelli, which after a scoreless third period, forced overtime.
Only a minute and half into OT, Cirelli scored once again, earning himself first star of the game honours and handing Oshawa its first Memorial Cup victory in 25 years.
Following the victory, the City of Oshawa honoured the Generals victory with a parade on June 2, 2015.
Then-Mayor John Henry said, “This has been an amazing year for the Generals. The city has really come alive.”
After seeing more than 4,000 fans at nearly every home game, in his Generals jersey, former city councillor Doug Sanders said to council, “I just think that it’s amazing. It would be a great opportunity to come out and support [our] homegrown hockey team.”
After the tournament, Appleby, who led the tournament in both GAA at 2.08, and save percentage at .915, took home the Happ Emms Memorial Trophy, which went to the top goalie.
Today, the Generals are in the midst of a new playoff run which would see them win another Memorial Cup. They have now moved on from their series against the Niagara IceDogs to take on the Ottawa 67’s in the conference final.