Ken Appleby was nervous.
Who could blame him. The Oshawa Generals goalie, who wasn’t even assured of a starting job when the Ontario Hockey League season opened, stared down Connor McDavid on a breakaway Friday night.
Grant it, there were about five minutes left and his Generals were well on their way to a championship clinching 6-2 win — but it was McDavid and one last exclamation mark to what was a glorious campaign for the defensive-minded Generals.
“I was nervous,” Appleby said after making the stop and cementing a dominating performance by the Generals, who downed the favored Erie Otters in five games to take the title.
“I guess I’m fortunate to make the stop.”
Appleby wound up with the championship MVP trophy; McDavid the Gretzky Trophy as the OHL playoff MVP. But in this encounter, the fact that Appleby stopped the world’s greatest teenaged hockey player underlined what Oshawa did all series — and all season — long.
The Generals blanked McDavid for a second time in the championship series. That left the 18-year-old from Newmarket two points shy of the OHL playoff record for points, and without a game in his near future.
“I’ll take a couple of days off now, the combine (NHL combine) is coming up so you have to get ready for that,” said McDavid, who gave his father Brian, a warm, heartfelt hug in the dressing room hallway afterwards.
“I don’t know if I’m coming back (to junior hockey) next year or not, that’s up to me (if he can earn a job in the NHL next season). We’ll see how it goes, but right now, going to class is part of it too.”
McDavid finished with 21 goals and 49 points in the Otter’s playoff run, which was expected to end at next week’s Memorial Cup in Quebec. The Generals will be making that trip instead.
Oshawa delivered its first OHL title since 1997 to a packed house at the GM Centre, and did so with a well-conceived team approach from coach D.J. Smith and his staff. Matt Mistele, with 13 goals in the playoffs, including one Friday night, led the Generals offensively. But the key for the Generals — in addition to doing wonderful work in stopping McDavid — was attention to details in their own zone.
“So many people counted us out because other teams scored more goals than we did,” said Smith, who also constructed a winner in Windsor, which won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
“But everyone on our team bought into defence. We knew how good we could be and I’m so proud of our team.”
Erie essentially met their fate when they allowed three unanswered goals in the first 4:52 of the second period. The Otters made it interesting, scoring a pair of goals near the end of the second, but one of the goals — a marker from Alex Debrincat — was called back when the review concluded the puck was directed in by a hand.
“I think it definitely went in off my chest,” Debrincat said. “But they (officials) saw something else. If we got that goal, it’s only 4-3 going into the third, and we get the tying goal and who knows.”
McDavid almost certainly played his last game as a junior — barring the unexpected, he’ll be drafted first overall by Edmonton in June’s NHL draft — and he went out very proud of his team.
“I’m so, so very proud of these guys, of our team,” McDavid said. “You don’t ever say goodbye, these are lifelong friends and I’ll never forget them.”