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Windsor's Memorial Cup win, a reminder of the one that got away

Posted May 25, 2009

After the Windsor Spitfires jumped out to a 3-0 lead on their first three shots in yesterday's Memorial Cup final, Darrin Shannon was flashing back to May 14, 1988 on the ice at the Colisee de Chicoutime.

Darrin, and his older brother Darryl were key members of that 1988 Windsor Spitfires squad which was making its first ever appearance in a Memorial Cup tournament. It was a team that featured future NHLers like Alliston's Shannon brothers, Adam Graves, Glen Featherstone, and Peter Ing, as well as future coaches Paul Maurice and Peter DeBoer.

The Spits had rolled to a 12-0 playoff record to win the Organization's first-ever OHL title, and went through the Memorial Cup round robin with a 3-0 record, and straight to the final game against the defending champion Medicine Hat Tigers, a team the Spitfires had already defeated in the round robin.

"We actually were on a 21 game win streak going into that game, and had won 39 of our last 40 games so we were used to winning, and totally expected to win," wrote Shannon in an email to Free Press Online. "When we played Medicine Hat in the round robin it was a close 5-2 game. I think there was an empty net goal, so we were in a close game. Then in the finals we got the lead too easily. They were a good team and battled back which we then had to deal with."

That early lead in 1988, was 3-0 before the game was even seven minutes old, just as it was Sunday for the Spitfires.

"That was all that was going through my mind yesterday when the score was 3-0. I was hoping Windsor could make it through the period without giving up a weak goal. We did that and it changed how the second period went."

The difference between then and now is the end result as Medicine Hat overcame the early deficit to win 7-6, whereas the 2009 Spitfires hung on to win the Canadian Hockey League's national championship 4-1 over Kelowna.

The 1988 Memorial Cup was a great tournament individually for both brothers as Darryl and Darrin were named to the all-star team and Darrin entered the 1988 NHL draft as the 4th pick overall. Darryl had been selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1986.

And though he went on to play a decade in the NHL, a career shortened by injuries, that Memorial Cup loss still stings because it tempered the season's accomplishments which included winning 50 regular season games and two ties out of 66 played, and scoring a league high 396 goals. They were ranked number one.

"I truly believe we were one of the best OHL teams ever, but we didn't win so you can't even be put into the comparison, since only the teams that win it all are to be considered," wrote Shannon. "It was definitely tough to get over, although I still think we were the better team. It might have been a little easier for me as I went on to play in the NHL for a time, but some of the guys that finished their OHL career off with that game and never played pro, definitely struggled for a little bit."

He noted the debate about that final game also carried over into the pros. Medicine Hat included Trevor Linden and was coached by Barry Melrose.

"I definitely had a few arguments over the years with guys you either played with or against that played on Medicine Hat and talked about that game and who was the better team, unfortunately they always could go with 'who won', and I didn't have a great comeback to it."

While a victory would have been a lifelong shared experience, so too was the loss, noted Shannon whenever he gets together with his former Spitfires' mates, many of whom he's still in regular contact with.

"It definitely is a conversation when us guys get together, as we were all part of a great thing and although we didn't win, it was a great experience and they were great memories. I know when Pete DeBoer won the Memorial Cup when he was coaching Kitchener, he said he had a call or an email from almost everyone that played on the team in '88, congratulating him and reminding him of our experience."

It's also a lesson learned that carried over when Shannon moved to coaching Jr. C hockey in Alliston, leading that team to its one and only provincial title in 2008.

"(The Memorial Cup loss) has been on my mind alot over the last few years, with me coaching the Hornets," he explained. "It was alot of the motivation for the things I have said to the guys over the years as we were in playoff series'. We all go back to our own experiences when trying to teach, whether it be our own kids, or players you are coaching. I always wanted them to remember these times and cherish them as they are special and not everyone will have these opportunities to go through this with a special group of guys."

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