By Paul Osborne, Guelph Tribune From a fan perspective it doesn’t get much better than London and Guelph in the OHL playoffs. Some might argue that the Kitchener rivalry is slightly better but the Storm and Knights over the years have harboured a bitter rivalry that has grown with time.
London has been solid all season finishing second in the Western Conference, a full 27 points ahead of the Storm but don’t let those numbers fool you. The Storm went 9-1 over their last ten games to move from 9th to 7th and they are on a roll.
“I really like the way we’re playing right now” said coach and GM Jason Brooks. “The players believe in each other right now and I like the fact we have played meaningful games right to the end. We have been fighting for our lives, so how will that be any different in the playoffs?”
Brooks is right of course. Just two weeks ago they were on the outside looking in but a spectacular final run got them to seventh place and a date with the Knights.
London’s offence is led by Toronto Maple Leaf first round draft pick Nazem Kadri. He and the Storm’s Taylor Beck finished the season tied for fourth in league scoring with 93 points. But it’s their team defence that kept them near the top of the standings this season.
“Defensively they are so hard to score on” said Brooks. “London has done a tremendous job in my opinion, and I’m not buttering them up, but I feel that Dale Hunter deserves to be coach of the year. If you start to press they counter attack with four guys in the rush. They are extremely tight defensively.”
On paper, London is ahead in almost every category. They had six players with over 50 points, Guelph just four. Their top scoring defenceman, Steve Tarasuk had 67 points, Guelph’s top blueliner Adam Comrie had 40. On special teams Guelph had the better powerplay, while the Knights had the better penalty kill. In head-to-head match-ups London won 5 out of six with Guelph’s only win coming on goaltender Matt Hoyle’s best game of season when he stopped eight of nine shooters in the shootout preserving a 4-3 win. London outshot the Storm 37-19 in that game. In all six games London outscored Guelph 29-14.
“We weren’t very good in a lot of games in London” admits Brooks, “but that was during our stretch of inconsistency and turmoil and we simply weren’t playing as well then as we are now. They may not be jumping for joy seeing us finish seventh.”
London’s challenge will be shutting down the top line of Peter Holland, Michael Latta and Matt Sisca. All three had over 30 goals and can be dangerous on every shift. In fact, along with Beck, Guelph has four scorers in the top 40 in the OHL, London just two. The unlikely line of Beck, Tyler Carroll and Conor O’Donnell has provided some necessary secondary scoring and the Kid Line of Cody McNaughton, Carter Sandlak and either Zack Mitchell or Francis Menard has also been excellent.
On defence expect Chris VanLaren, Ryan Gottschalk, Adam Comrie and Corey Syvret to get the bulk of the ice time with Brandon Foote carrying the load in goal.
On paper it may look like London is the prohibitive favourite but since January 9th the Knights have gone 21-5-2, the Storm 20-7-1.
So much for a mismatch.
From the Land of Oz….First round tickets for Guelph’s home games against London will be only $10 for regular lower bowl seats.
Game 1 – Friday March 19th @ London 7:30pm
Game 2 – Sunday March 21 @ Guelph 2pm
Game 3 – Tuesday March 23rd @ London 7pm
Game 4 – Thursday March 25th @ Guelph 7pm
Game 5 – Friday March 26th @ London 7:30 pm
Game 6 – Sunday March 28th @ Guelph 2pm
Game 7 – Tuesday March 30th @ London 7pm