Last year was the first year I saw the CHL Memorial Cup on the NHL Network. And now, it's back, with the first game Friday, with action between the host Brandon Wheat Kings and defending champions Windsor Spitfires.
Now, to set the tone for this game, take a look at the video below.
In the first minute of play, Taylor Hall was nailed face-first into the boards by WJC teammate Travis Hamonic. Hall was down on the ice for about a minute, blood coming from his nose. He was able to get up and head to the bench, where they removed his helmet, revealing a bloody gash on his forehead as well.
So what’s a top draft prospect to do after a potentially game-ending injury? Well, if your name is Taylor Hall, you go out on your next shift as usual, play the rest of the game, and score two goals in a 9-3 rout of the host Brandon Wheat Kings.
"It’s scary. I don't know how he got up from that, to be honest with you. He says it's because he's flexible. He's a resilient guy, but that was one of the worst ones I've seen all year. I’m just happy he's okay."
And Hall wasn't even the best on the day (he was named the game's *scoff* measly 3rd star). Kenny Ryan kicked off the Windsor scoring at just 2:01 into the first period. The floodgates opened and Windsor scored three more in the next three minutes, with markers from Timmins, Henrique, and Hall.
Around this point, down 4-0 less than 5 minutes into the first, everyone was expecting the #2 Brandon goalie Andrew Hayes to be pulled in favor of #1 Jacob De Serres. Cameras continued to show De Serres standing expectantly in the bench area, clearly waiting for the signal from Brandon coach Kelly McCrimmon. But the signal didn't come in the first period. Taylor Hall scored again on a power play near the end of the first period to make it 5-0.
Jacob De Serres made his first appearance starting the 2nd period, and gave up 3 goals himself in the first 15 minutes of the period (to Henrique, Timmins, and Mitchell). Brandon finally got on the scoreboard courtesy of Lewadniuk (who said after the game about Windsor, "That team is good.")
The Spits coasted in the third, scoring no goals but allowing two Brandon markers. Though at that point, no one was really concerned about losing. Windsor ended up with a score of 9-3 on the first day of the Memorial Cup tournament.
Brandon was of course coming off a 20-day break, after being kicked out of the playoffs by eventual WHL champions the Calgary Hitmen. Some of the Wheat Kings acknowledged they may have been rusty from the long break. Travis Hamonic said the blame did not lie with the goaltending, but with the whole team,
"I'm not going to point any fingers. I think it was a team effort. There [were] 20 guys on the ice today and I think all 20 guys lost us the game."
As to Taylor Hall, sporting stitches on his forehead and nose, he experienced a little stiffness in his neck Saturday, but is none the worse for wear. Apparently, a chiropractor once told him that he is unusually flexible, which could have prevented him from snapping his neck on the hit. Coach Bob Boughner doesn't have concerns about the health of his star:
"He can take a pounding and he can also deliver one. I'd like to see him in a few years when he's added 10 pounds and is that much stronger."
We'll see what happens once NHL trainers get their hands on him. In the meantime, his resilient play, as well as the power of his team, is sure to cause problems for future tournament opponents. The Spitfires play WHL champions Calgary on Monday. As both teams are 1-0, the winner will have automatic berth to the Championship game on May 23.
1. Adam Henrique (2 goals, 2 assists)
2. Mark Cundari (2 assists and a +4)
3. Taylor Hall (2 goals)
It's unbelievable that he was able to escape that hit without any serious injury and then score two goals to end up a +2 for the night. This kid is really battling back for that #1 draft pick spot.