BRANDON, Man. - After only two games at the MasterCard Memorial Cup, Windsor Spitfires winger Taylor Hall has collected four goals, one assist and a quartet of neatly-tied stitches — with two on his forehead and two in a nostril.
He has been everywhere and has done everything, from blocking shots to scoring goals, and he helped the defending champions earn a direct berth into Sunday's final with another stellar effort Monday, leading the Spitfires to a 6-2 win over the Calgary Hitmen. Hall had two goals and an assist to lead Windsor to its second straight win to start the tournament.
"He'll do anything to score a goal or to make a play," Spitfires coach Bob Boughner said. "He plays the game the right way. He's not a perimeter player like a lot of offensive players can be. He's in the trenches, he gets hit, he delivers hits — and that's what makes him the superstar he is."
Hall's goal early in the third period cemented the outcome against the Hitmen, who fell to 1-1 with the loss. Jimmy Bubnick scored a pair for Calgary, which will close out the round-robin portion of its schedule against the host Brandon Wheat Kings on Wednesday.
The Spitfires, who won the event last year after losing their first two games, will close out round-robin play against the Moncton Wildcats on Tuesday.
"I think everyone gives them a bit more credit than they deserve," Hitmen forward Tyler Shattock said. "I think we had them on the ropes there, and I think they'll be scared to play us if we meet them on Sunday."
Calgary's challenge was evident long before the puck was dropped. Windsor eviscerated the host Brandon Wheat Kings to open the tournament on Friday, rolling to a 9-3 win that flirted with a single-game scoring record that had not been touched in 30 years.
The Spitfires had two players who were among the first 15 selections in last year's NHL Entry Draft — defenceman Ryan Ellis (11th, Nashville) and forward Zack Kassian (13th, Buffalo). They also had two players who finished the season ranked among the top five in NHL Central Scouting's final list heading into next month's draft, with Hall at No. 2 and defenceman Cam Fowler at No. 5.
Hall, who scored twice against Brandon, voiced his desire to usurp the No. 1 spot through his play at the Memorial Cup. The 18-year-old winger sparked the Spitfires after crashing into the end boards against the Wheat Kings, and would spark them again Monday.
"Last year, we came in a little bit wide-eyed," he had said before the game. "And this year, we have a lot of experience, a lot of leadership. And I think we've been showing that, early on."
Windsor scored on two of their first three shots on Calgary goaltender Martin Jones. The Spitfires took a 1-0 lead less than three minutes into the first, after Eric Wellwood burst in on the forecheck to gain control of the puck, sliding a crisp pass toward the middle of the ice, which teammate Dale Mitchell snapped into the net.
Hall struck a minute later on the power-play. The public address announcer was still in the middle of describing the Calgary penalty when Hall unleashed a shot so hard, it was barely visible on the replay.
And he continued to throw himself around the ice, as officials in Edmonton and Boston undoubtedly counted their blessings for holding the first two picks next month. Hall had a spot on the power play, the penalty kill and made an imprint at even strength, blocking at least three shots through the first two periods.
"That's the kind of game I've played my whole life," Hall said after the game. "If I'm not playing that game, if I'm not playing desperate and on the edge, I'm pretty non-existent. It's how I have to play."
The Hitmen were in trouble, but they also have experience with trouble. Calgary trailed Moncton 3-0 in its first game of the tournament, only to rally to a 5-4 win in the final 90 seconds of regulation.
Even with leading scorer Brandon Kozun scratched to rest a sore ankle, the Hitmen were able to stage a rally in the second period. Bubnick scored twice in three minutes, with the second goal coming at the end of an impressive bit of digging along the boards.
Hall struck back, capitalizing on a miscue in the neutral zone to beat Jones on a breakaway 12 seconds into the third period.
"The only shots I get," he said, "are going in."