Kassian hoists Cup as Spits repeat

Zack Kassian scored a goal and an assist Sunday as dynastic Windsor won the 2010 Memorial Cup title with a 9-1 clobbering of Brandon. Windsor is just the eighth franchise in CHL history to hoist the Cup two years in a row, and the first to do it since the 1993-94 Kamloops Blazers.

Kassian, a native of nearby Lasalle, Ontario, was a beast throughout the tournament for Windsor, using his 6'3, 215-pound frame just like the Spits expected when acquiring him from Peterborough back in January. He worked his tail off in the championship game, setting up Greg Nemisz's goal that gave the Spits a 5-1 lead before ripping a feed from the left dot over Jacob De Serres' shoulder to put Windsor up 7-1.

The 2009-10 Windsor Spitfires were an absolute junior hockey juggernaut. By adding Kassian, the Spits iced a lineup including eight NHL draft picks, and another pair, Taylor Hall and Cam Fowler, expected to go in the top five in 2010. In the championship game, 10 different players registered two points or more.

The valuable championship experience puts a positive end to a tumultuous season for Kassian. After a disappointing start with Peterborough, the power forward was traded to Windsor to inject some toughness into the defending champs. Kassian was suspended for 20 games after a high hit in his first game in a Spits uniform, but returned to make an impact with four goals in the team's final five games.

The Sabres first-rounder turned up the heat in the OHL playoffs, scoring seven goals and nine assists as the Spits needed 19 games versus Erie, Plymouth, Kitchener, and Barrie to win their second straight OHL Championship. Kassian completed his turnaround by adding two goals, three assists, and zero penalties in the four Memorial Cup wins.

A added bonus of the trade that brought Kassian to Windsor? Even with a shoulder injury while in Peterborough and the long suspension, the Spits postseason run allowed the developing forward to play a full junior slate. Including the playoffs, the right wing posted a total 2009-10 line of 61GP 21-30-51 +5 119 PIM.

What does the run mean for Kassian's chances to make the professional leap? The Sabres have a well-known need for increased toughness and intimidation in their forward ranks. With other young guys on the rise, the timing may be good for the horse to hitch his cart to the burgeoning youth movement with a solid training camp showing.

However, Kassian is a January birth date. He won't turn 20 until 2011, meaning that much like Tyler Myers this past season, his options next season are limited to the NHL or juniors. For now, expect him to earn a good hard look from the Sabres with the possibility of seeing a game or two before figuring where he lands. At worst, he goes back to Windsor to attempt a three-peat and further his big game experience as member of Team Canada's World Junior entry.

Many factors will play a part in Kassian's chances to make the NHL this fall, but there's no question his presence will add some spice to final roster battles when the 2010-11 edition of the Sabres is being put together.
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