WINDSOR, Canada – Jeremy Bracco joined some exclusive company on Sunday night by winning the Memorial Cup. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect became the sixth player in the last 10 years to win both World Junior gold and the top prize in Canadian junior hockey in the same season.
Bracco scored once and set up two others, including the game winner, as the Windsor Spitfires edged the Erie Otters 4-3 to capture the 99th Memorial Cup.
A member of Team USA, Bracco scored three goals and two assists in seven games at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto helping the Americans to win gold.
“Anytime you can put yourself in an elite group like that, and guys that can win games like that, it’s pretty special,” Bracco said.
Bracco opened the scoring at 3:53 of the first period putting home the rebound off after Mikhail Sergachyov’s point shot.
52 seconds after Erie took a 2-1 lead in the second period, Bracco fed Logan Stanley, who beat a screened Troy Timpano for his first goal of the tournament.
Then with the game tied 3-3 in the third, Bracco set up Aaron Luchuk , who beat Timpano glove-side, for the eventual game winner 5:57 in to the final period.
“He’s been a pleasure to work with every single day,” said Windsor coach Rocky Thompson. “He’s a great guy in the locker room, he was a champion coming in, at the World Juniors, and now he’s a Memorial Cup champion.”
With the win, Ontario Hockey League franchises have now won three straight Memorial Cups – the longest streak in league history. The victory was the 12th straight for Windsor at a Memorial Cup dating back to 2009 – matching a record set by the Kamloops Blazers from 1992-95.
Windsor, who hosted this year’s tournament, becomes the 10th host team to win a Memorial Cup since the format was introduced in 1983.
Bracco finished the tournament with a team-leading eight points in four games.
“I think it comes down to Mikey (DiPietro) in the net,” Bracco said of the Windsor goaltender, who made 32 saves in the win. “They hit a post, I think Mikey got a piece of it, made some big timely saves – he’s been our rock throughout the tournament and the whole year.
Erie, who also lost to Windsor 4-2 in the round-robin portion of the tournament, got goals from Dylan Strome, T.J. Fergus and Warren Foegele.
Strome, Team Canada’s captain at this year’s IIHF World Junior Championship, led the tournament with seven goals and 11 points in five games. The 20-year-old set a tournament record scoring four goals and three assists during the Otters 12-5 round robin win over the Saint John Sea Dogs on 22 May.
The Arizona Coyotes prospect was awarded the Stafford Smythe Memorial Trophy as the tournament’s MVP.
“Plenty of guys [could’ve gotten it], their goalie [Michael DiPietro] could’ve got it, he’s been unbelievable all tournament,” said Strome, who briefly gave the Otters a 2-1 lead in the second period. “It’s an honour, but no one cares about the MVP trophy. Everyone wants that big cup.”
Bracco, the Leafs second-round pick at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, made a decision last year to leave Boston College and join the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL. Then prior to this year’s trade deadline, he agreed to waive his no-trade clause for a move to the Spitfires – a couple of decisions he’s thankful he made.
“It felt like in the end it was a better fit and it was something that we just pulled the trigger on and happy I did,” Bracco said of leaving school. “I didn’t know it was going to be a good fit for me [at the time of the trade], I knew I’d have a chance to play in this tournament and have a chance to win.”
The Freeport, New York native has one year of junior eligibility left, but he’s hoping to turn pro next season and join the Maple Leafs organization.
“Those guys are where I want to be in the next year or two or however long it takes,” said Bracco. “They had a great season in the NHL, they made a push in the playoffs. [Making the team] is going to be something I push for. I need to have a big off-season and get bigger and stronger and I look forward to the challenge.”
For Erie the loss is tough to stomach considering their path to Windsor, and the Memorial Cup tournament.
The Otters beat the Sting in four straight games to open the OHL playoffs then defeated the defending Memorial Cup champion London Knights in seven games of the second round.
Erie used six games to dispatch Owen Sound in the conference finals before defeating the Mississauga Steelheads in five games of the OHL final.
As the host of the tournament, Windsor was always guaranteed a spot at this year’s Memorial Cup. The Spitfires lost in the first round of the OHL playoffs to the London Knights becoming the first team to win a Memorial Cup despite being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
Windsor had a 44-day break between losing Game 7 to the Knights and their tournament opening game against the Saint John Sea Dogs on 19 May.
“Our team never quit, they never gave up,” Thompson said of the break. “They didn’t quit at the end of the London series, they wanted to be a champion and they were willing to do what it took. They bought in, they believed and they were able to execute and pull it off.”