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Knights, Spirit take rivalry to junior hockey's biggest stage


The London Knights and Saginaw Spirit take their rivalry to junior hockey's biggest stage on Sunday when they battle in the Memorial Cup final.

London already got the better of Saginaw on their path to become Ontario Hockey League champions and defeated the host team 4-2 on Wednesday to gain their spot in the final.

"Anytime you play a team in the playoffs, especially the conference final point, I think a rivalry is born," Spirit head coach Chris Lazary told reporters on Wednesday. "There's some good animosity, some good compete, there's some good games like it is hockey. I think rivalries in hockey are what makes it fun."

Watch London take on Saginaw for the Memorial Cup LIVE at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on TSN1/3., and the TSN App,

OHL MVP Easton Cowan was the difference maker on Wednesday, recording two goals with less than two minutes left in the third period to break the 2-2 draw and win the game for the Knights.

The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has been a nightmare for the Spirit to handle in the playoffs after he recorded five goals and 11 points in London's six-game victory over the Spirit in the OHL Western Conference Championship series.

Cowan went on to lead the OHL playoffs with 10 goals and 34 points and was named the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award winner as playoff MVP.

At the Memorial Cup, Cowan is tied for third in scoring with two goals and five points, boosted by his two goals and an assist against the Spirit.

"I thought I was getting my chances through the first couple of games," Cowan said after the win on Wednesday. "But in that third period I really felt like I got back to my game, forechecking in stops and starts, and it felt good to get one.

"We've played Saginaw a lot and we know what they bring."

The Knights are backstopped by Michael Simpson, who is appearing in his second straight Memorial Cup tournament after leading the Peterborough Petes to an OHL Championship last season.

The 6-foot-1 netminder leads the tournament with a .933 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average in his three games.

London is going for their third Memorial Cup championship and their first since the Knights beat the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in overtime in 2016.

"It never gets old," Knights head coach Dale Hunter said on Wednesday. "It's a battle to get here. You're battling real good teams and the top teams from the league so it makes it fun hockey."

After sitting out 18 days from when they were eliminated by the Knights to the start of the Memorial Cup tournament, Saginaw – who earned an automatic berth as tournament host – has answered almost every challenge that has come their way.

The Spirit began the tournament going 2-0 after defeating the Western Hockey League champion Moose Jaw Warriors and Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League champion Drummondville Voltigeurs.

Saginaw was forced to play in the semifinal after falling to the Knights on Wednesday, but rose to the challenge once again by defeating the Warriors for the second time in the tournament Friday by a score of 7-1.

Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Ethan Hay led the offence with two goals and two assists while Anaheim Ducks prospect and standout defenceman Rodwin Dionicio added a goal and three assists.

Dionicio is tied with Cowan and teammates Zayne Parekh and Michael Misa for third in tournament scoring with a goal and four points after his offensive explosion in the semifinal.

Goaltender Andrew Oke has led the Spirit in net at the Memorial Cup after missing the majority of their OHL playoff run due to injury. The 6-foot-2 netminder has a 3-1 record with a .898 save percentage and 2.77 GAA.

Saginaw is looking to become the first host team to hoist the Memorial Cup since the Saint John Sea Dogs beat the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2022. A win on Sunday will not only allow the Spirit to overcome the only challenge they have yet to conquer in beating the Knights, but give them their first Memorial Cup championship in franchise history.

"[The Knights] have our number, it's no secret," Lazary told reporters after the semifinal victory. "We have a lot of guys who can solve the Rubik's Cub, but we can't beat London. We're not playing just for ourselves, we're playing for an army of Saginaw Spirit."