by Matt Pelkey
It’s easy to see why Justin Nichols ranks first in the Ontario Hockey League this season with 1361 saves.
The Guelph Storm goaltender was busy right from the get-go, stopping a career-high 58 shots, where busy nights are becoming a trend for the 1995-born goalie.
The Storm (30-20-2-2) rode Nichols’ spectacular performance to a thrilling 4-3 shootout win over the Sarnia Sting (24-22-4-3) Friday night at the Sleeman Centre.
Guelph received goals from Tyler Bertuzzi, Pius Suter, and Matthew Hotchkiss in regulation while Chris Marchese and Bertuzzi scored in the shootout. Phil Baltisberger, playing in his 100th game, had two helpers.
Nikita Korostelev, Alexandre Renaud, and Anthony Salinitri tallied for the Sting. Taylor Dupuis turned away 23 shots in the loss.
Well on his way to surpassing the 1443 saves he recorded last year, Nichols was tested early and often in the opening frame.
Despite quality scoring chances at each end, it was the Sting who had the upper hand, outshooting Guelph 10-6 through the first 10 minutes and 20-7 for the period.
The Storm netminder had to be super sharp when the Storm were faced with a five-minute penalty kill after Tyler Hill was ejected for checking to the head. Nichols turned aside a number of opportunities to keep the game scoreless after one.
Guelph killed off a total of nine minutes in penalties in the first period alone and finished the game a perfect eight-for-eight on the penalty kill.
The Sting initiated the scoring just 1:33 into the middle frame. Korostolev, Sarnia’s leading scorer, potted one when he picked up the puck in the slot and scored over the glove of Nichols while falling after his first attempt was blocked.
Bertuzzi would answer for the home team a little over five minutes later.
The Storm’s leading goal scorer netted his 39th of the season when he shot from the right wing and beat Dupuis over the shoulder.
Nichols and the penalty killing unit were called upon yet again when Guelph took back-to-back penalties and found themselves on the wrong side of a two-man advantage.
The Storm, who entered the game with just the league’s 14th-ranked penalty kill at home, would hold Sarnia goalless on the power play for the fifth time in the contest.
Not long after, Sarnia would regain the lead when Renaud sniped one from the left circle where it hit the the far post and went in.
The Sting entered the second intermission with a 2-1 lead while dominating in the shot department, 38-15.
The third period saw three goals in a span of just 1:32 in the opening five minutes.
Beginning the scoring burst was Sarnia’s Salinitri, who one-timed a cross-ice pass over a sprawling Nichols. The goal put the Sting up 3-1.
The next two goals belonged to the Storm.
Suter answered 33 seconds later when he tipped home a Bertuzzi shot to bring Guelph back within one.
Then, just 59 seconds after that, Hotchkiss scored his first goal in 19 games to tie the game. The Storm rookie walked in over the Sting blueline and ripped off a laser of a shot to the top right of the net.
With 1:35 left in regulation, Bertuzzi was awarded a penalty shot, a golden opportunity to take a late lead. Bertuzzi would fail to score as the game was sent to overtime.
In the extra frame and with Givani Smith off for delay of game, the Storm killed off their eighth penalty of the game to keep the game time tied.
Neither team could win it the extra frame, meaning the game would be decided in a shootout.
In the shootout, Marchese tallied for Guelph after Korostelev scored for Sarnia. Bertuzzi would score the shootout winner to secure a thrilling 4-3 shootout win over the Sting.
Nichols is now 3-1-0-0 with a .929 SV% in his career against Sarnia.
Final shots were 61-26 for the Sting.
With the win, the Storm improve to 16-8-2-1 at home, while the Sting drop to 10-15-2-1 on the road.
Guelph is back at it on Monday (Family Day) when the Windsor Spitfires make a visit to the Sleeman Centre. Puck drop is slated for 2:00 PM.
Fans will have a chance to skate with their favourite players after Monday’s game at the team’s Skate with the Storm.
– Tonight’s game was the 2nd of 4 meetings between the teams this season. The season series is now tied 1-1. Guelph is 7-3 in their last 10 regular season meetings with Sarnia.
– The Storm have won 4 straight at home against Sarnia.
– Tyler Bertuzzi extended his point streak to 5 games (5+3=8).
– Pius Suter has 6 goals in 5 games played in February.
– Phil Baltisberger played in his 100th OHL game.
– Captain Jason Dickinson left the game in the 1st period with an injury and did not return.
– Sting assistant captain and former Storm player Stephen Pierog is a Guelph native. Pierog appeared in 68 games with the Storm and won a championship with the team last season.
Sarnia Sting 3 at Guelph Storm 4 (SO) – Status: Final SO
Friday, February 13, 2015 – Sleeman Centre
Sarnia 0 2 1 0 – 3
Guelph 0 1 2 0 – 3
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Leslie Gue (tripping), 0:28; Spinozzi Sar (hooking), 6:37; Bertuzzi Gue (slashing), 9:01; Hill Gue (match-head check, game misc-check to head), 13:44.
2nd Period-1, Sarnia, Korostelev 17 (Renaud), 1:33. 2, Guelph, Bertuzzi 39 (Baltisberger, Garcia), 6:48. 3, Sarnia, Renaud 11 (Core), 13:22. Penalties-Nikandrov Sar (tripping), 2:44; Stevens Gue (cross checking), 8:30; Bertuzzi Gue (slashing), 9:29; Hodgson Sar (holding), 13:06.
3rd Period-4, Sarnia, Salinitri 6 (Kyrou, Lajeunesse), 2:48. 5, Guelph, Suter 28 (Bertuzzi, Baltisberger), 3:21. 6, Guelph, Hotchkiss 6 (Marchese), 4:20. Penalties-Pierog Sar (roughing), 9:03; Smith Gue (roughing), 9:03; served by Korostelev Sar (too many men), 14:51; Smith Gue (hooking), 16:20; Garcia Gue (boarding), 17:56.
OT Period– No Scoring.Penalties-Smith Gue (delay of game), 1:42.
Shootout – Sarnia 1 (Korostelev G, Kyrou NG, Pierog NG), Guelph 2 (Suter NG, Marchese G, Bertuzzi G).
Shots on Goal-Sarnia 20-18-18-5-61. Guelph 8-7-8-3-26.
Power Play Opportunities-Sarnia 0 / 8; Guelph 0 / 4.
Goalies-Sarnia, Dupuis 18-12-3-1 (26 shots-23 saves). Guelph, Nichols 25-14-2-1 (61 shots-58 saves).
Referees-Korey Bannerman (15), Matthew Traub (30).
Linesmen-Jason Finley (37), John Fischer (63).
3) SAR Alexandre Renaud – 1 goal, 1 assist
2) GUE Tyler Bertuzzi – 1 goal, 1 assist
1) GUE Justin Nichols – 58 saves