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Simpson eyes redemption as Knights take on host Spirit in Memorial Cup final

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SAGINAW, Mich. — Last season's failure fuels Michael Simpson as a shot at redemption approaches.

The London Knights goaltender was previously with the Peterborough Petes, who fell 4-1 to the Seattle Thunderbirds in last year's Memorial Cup semifinal. Simpson earned playoff MVP honours after the Petes defeated the Knights in the Ontario Hockey League championship series.

Simpson was traded to London in September, where he helped the Knights win the OHL title this year. Now he looks ahead to Sunday's Memorial Cup final against the host Saginaw Spirit.

"That first goal that I let in against Seattle in the semifinal kind of haunts me pretty good," he said. "Because of the time of the game and how the game was going, I think when that went in, it definitely changed the tides for them.

"It's something that I've watched a lot and every time I watch it, it makes me hungry to get back here and have a chance to win it. It's something that I guess I've thought about a good amount and hopefully can rewrite the script a bit here on Sunday."

Watch the final LIVE Sunday evening at 7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT on TSN1, TSN3, TSN.ca and the TSN App.

Simpson, who hails from London, Ont., said it was "a little weird" to join the team he had beaten in the OHL final the previous season. But his experience has been an asset to London.

"He beat us out last year and he played really well and he came into the Memorial Cup last year and played really well," Knights head coach Dale Hunter said. "It didn't go his way but he stood out.

"His experience coming back, he can tell the boys what it's like, so it just helps us out that way."

However, Simpson won't be the only former Pete eyeing a chance at redemption on Sunday.

Sprit forward Owen Beck was Simpson's teammate in Peterborough and was traded to Saginaw in January.

"It's gonna be a big game for both our teams collectively," Beck said Friday night. "And then just between Simmer and I, it's gonna be a battle. We were both crushed last year getting knocked out in the semifinals.

"For both of us to get the chance to come back here, it's really, really rare and it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in this game. It's really cool to be in that game with him but we're just trying to win a hockey game, so we're not really focused on who's on the other side."

This is London's sixth appearance at the Memorial Cup with sights set on its third title at the tournament. Meanwhile, Saginaw looks to be the eighth first-time participant to win the title since 1972 and the first since 2011.

American Canadian Hockey League teams have won the Memorial Cup only four times — the Portland Winterhawks (1983, 1988) and the Spokane Chiefs (1991, 2008). The Spirit have a chance to join that company, and be the third host team in the last six tournaments to win it all.

London went 3-0 in round-robin play to advance straight into the final, with its last victory coming Wednesday in a hard-fought 4-2 win over Saginaw. The Spirit, meanwhile, went 2-1 before pummeling Western Hockey League champion Moose Jaw 7-1 in Friday's semifinal to advance.

As Friday's game was coming to a close, the home crowd chanted, "We want London."

The round-robin game was just one of several times the Knights and Spirit have met this year.

London and Saginaw finished first and second in the OHL in the regular season, with the Spirit crossing the 100-point mark for the first time in team history with 102, two behind the Knights.

The two teams split their four regular-season meetings. Then they met in the OHL Western Conference final, with the Knights winning the series in six games.

"We're looking forward to the opportunity, we want to play them again," Spirit head coach Chris Lazary said after Friday's win. "They have our number. It's no secret, we haven't been able to solve that.

"We have a lot of guys in the room that solve Rubik's Cubes but we can't beat the London Knights and we're gonna have to try to figure that one out going into Sunday."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2024.