LONDON, Ont. – The London Knights need a win against the team that ended their season six weeks ago to remain alive in the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
The Guelph Storm knocked the Knights out of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs on April 11 in a five-game second round series. The Storm already advanced to Sunday’s championship final after winning both of their round robin games while the Knights are up against the wall after losing both of theirs. A London loss would make the Knights the first MasterCard Memorial Cup host team to lose all three tournament games since the 2003 Quebec Remparts.
“Everybody remembers what it was like to lose in Game 5,” Knights defenceman Zach Bell said. “Nobody wants to feel that again. Coming into this game here, we know it’s do or die.”
Will the Storm play like it matters?
There are two trains of thought for the Storm: One, since this game is meaningless to their route, they can afford to play without a full effort and try to escape the game without injury and two, they will play like it matters — with the urgency to knock the Knights out. I firmly believe the latter will be the case for several reasons.
The 2009 Windsor Spitfires proved how dangerous this tournament can be when given the faintest bit of life in these same circumstances. The Knights could gain momentum with a win and rally behind a home crowd to see the Storm again on Sunday.
“We know our work’s not done yet and we don’t want to let any other teams back in it because it can come back to haunt you in the end,” Guelph captain Matt Finn said.
The majority of the Storm players grew up together in Guelph’s system. Over that time, the Knights cast a giant shadow over them in the Midwest Division. There were plenty of one-sided affairs along the way, and now the Storm have the opportunity to deliver a crushing blow to a team that’s done it to them before.
“In my first year, we always took a beating against London,” forward Jason Dickinson said. “It was always the worst coming into this building and to finally say we can knock these guys off in their own barn is unbelievable. Coming from my first year, it was almost impossible to think of back then so it’s great now.”
Will London’s offence awake?
For all the firepower the Knights had on their lone national championship team in 2005, this year’s version set the franchise record for most goals in a season with 316 — an average of 4.64 goals a game. And yet, they have just two to show for two games in this tournament so far.
“Everybody’s expecting us to score and I think we’re going to do it,” Knights forward Josh Anderson said.
Their timing appeared off in both games. Passes were hitting skates and going a foot behind the intended target while a lot of shots were finding the glass or the boards behind the net.
“When you’re not getting the bounces you have to work 10 times harder,” Bell said. “I’m just going to work harder and keep my game more simple. Hopefully get the pucks on net and hopefully we’ll get a bounce.”
How crucial are the first 10 minutes?
A quick goal or two by Guelph could sink a Knights team that already doubts itself. Falling behind when the offence is firing so many blanks could be a devastating blow. There’s no doubt the Knights have the offensive firepower to score in bunches, but when it hasn’t happened and the team is getting desperate, an early deficit will look even more insurmountable.
“Definitely an early start in this tournament is huge,” Finn said. “We came out with a good start with Val-d’Or (on Monday) and sank them pretty good in that first six minutes. We’re looking to do that again come Wednesday. That’s what we want to do – we want to put teams behind the eight ball and get them chasing us and open them up.”
Can the Knights match the Storm’s pace?
Each team won their three home games in the regular season series but the playoffs were a different story. London was without Bell, Anthony Stolarz and Brady Austin while Brock McGinn sat for the Storm. The series was close in the early going but Guelph took over in Game 3 and never looked back.
It shows that these two teams do match up well. The question is whether a struggling Knights team can skate with a confident Storm group that’s running roughshod over everyone it meets lately.
“I got to practice every day against some of the fastest guys in the league,” Bell said. “Yes, (Guelph’s) speed isn’t easy to contain but it’s not something that we’re really scared of.”