They were cheering, on their feet, and created an atmosphere reminiscent of any junior hockey rink in any small town in Canada. For two periods, of all the ones they played this season, the Mississauga-St. Michael’s Majors mattered. They mattered, not just to a small pocket of local fans, but to a metropolitan area. Internet chatter heightened during a frantic third period between the Majors and the Saint John Sea Dogs, who battled from behind, but, with scoring chance after scoring chance, could not beat Jacob DeSerres.
The Majors lost the game, but they mattered. An Ontario junior team mattered in the Greater Toronto Area, a market that has found it so difficult in recent years to support any team with as much vigor as the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you walked outside the Hershey Centre in Mississauga pre-game, you might not be aware there was a tournament going on. There were no bars or restaurants full pre-and-post game because the tournament was unfortunately set in a location not set up for big events. There are no bars or restaurants within walking distance of the rink and it’s a long way from downtown Mississauga.
So there are challenges, but owner Eugene Melnyk (who also owns an NHL team that sets up shop in the middle of nowhere) and CHL President David Branch put on an excellent tournament with what they had, one that paid tribute to the team’s history in the Toronto area and the old St. Michael’s college team. They did their best in linking the history of the old St.-Mike’s team with the current Majors (even going so far as to put the Mississauga logo on the championship banners and retired numbers).
The tournament drew well. Fans came from all over Canada, but, until the final game, the Majors, in their home rink, heard more heckling than cheering from the fans. Saint John, Owen Sound and Cranbrook, cities with an average of 630,000 fewer people than Mississauga, had fans that showed up in large contingents for this tournament. In Game Seven of the OHL Championship series, Owen Sound reportedly had more fans than the Majors did as they cheered their team on to win.
The games were thrilling. Owen Sound and Saint John played a back-and-forth overtime game in the third game of the tournament that drew high praise. Despite minor blemishes including two games by Kootenay and Mississauga that were trap affairs that didn’t stir up much emotion, the games were close, well-goaltended, and the tournament’s star players, Cody Eakin, Casey Cizikas, Jonathan Huberdeau, to name a few, came through.
Whether the tournament creates an atmosphere for next year’s Majors squad is nothing coach Dave Cameron or Melnyk wanted to say. Melnyk called for a “sell tickets two-at-a-time” and “grind it out” approach for the Majors, while Cameron was “wait and see” when asked in the press conference after the finals. The issue is not whether Mississauga has an exciting hockey team at the Hershey Centre, but whether the hundreds of thousands of nearby fans are prepared to support a team in an under-developed area.
But, for a short time, it mattered, and that’s what the MasterCard Memorial Cup was expected to do.