MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Devante Smith-Pelly and the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors are off to the final of the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Smith-Pelly scored twice as the Majors dispatched a pesky Kootenay Ice squad 3-1 on Friday night in the tournament semifinal, delighting the enthusiastic Hershey Centre sellout of 5,429 spectators.
But the victory didn't come easily.
Kootenay fell behind 2-0 for the third straight game and did pull to within 2-1 with a dramatic goal at 19:59 of the second period. But after twice rallying for the victory, the Western Hockey League champions couldn't do it again versus a Majors' squad that was a stellar 50-0 during the OHL campaign after leading through two periods.
Chris DeSousa's empty-net goal with 55 seconds remaining cemented the hard-fought victory for Mississauga, whose players gathered at centre ice after the game to salute their fans.
The Majors (3-1) will face off against the QMJHL-champion Saint John Sea Dogs on Sunday for Canadian junior hockey's top prize.
Joe Antilla had the lone goal for Kootenay (2-3)
Saint John handed the Majors their only loss of the round robin, a 4-3 decision. The Sea Dogs clinched a berth in the Memorial Cup final with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Owen Sound Attack on Monday night.
Mississauga's win gives head coach Dave Cameron a third opportunity this year to taste success in the hockey spotlight. Cameron was on the bench for Canada's heart-breaking 5-3 loss to Russia in the gold medal game at this year's world junior event, then watched his Majors squander a 2-0 series lead to Owen Sound en route to a gut-wrenching 3-2 overtime loss in the seventh and deciding contest.
But the Majors still got into the Memorial Cup as the tournament host.
With Kootenay playing for a second straight night, the Majors' gameplan was to take the man and wear their opponents down. The approach paid off as Mississauga had four power-play chances in the first and held Kootenay without a shot for the first 11 minutes but only led 1-0 thanks to Smith Pelly's goal with the man advantage 1:03 into the contest.
Smith-Pelly put Mississauga ahead 2-0 at 17:40 of the second but Antilla countered on the power play at 19:59 to cut the deficit in half and set up an exciting final period.