Preview: London Knights vs. Guelph Storm in Round 2 of the OHL Playoffs
The London Knights and the Guelph Storm get their fill of one another throughout the course of the Ontario Hockey League season. They are division rivals and they see each other six times. Over the past 15 years, London and Guelph have found a way to pack in a few other games as well. They have met in the playoffs six times and even found themselves head-to-head on a Memorial Cup stage.
Five of the six post-season meetings have been less than memorable. One was a sweep and the other four were nice and decisive, with the winner polishing things off in just five games. Overall, the teams have split them right down the middle with three series wins apiece.
The one exception was 2004. The clubs hooked up in the Western Conference final, which acted as a de facto OHL Championship series, and they went all the way to a Game 7 that had enough rises, falls and shifts in momentum to have an experienced naval officer feeling queasy.
In the end, a more experienced Storm team turned a late turnover into the go-ahead and game-winning goal and eventually advanced to the Memorial Cup. Players on that London Knights team still look back at that loss as being a motivator for their run to their own championship and Memorial Cup title the next season.
So, what can we expect in 2019?
The trade deadline that saw Guelph transform its roster from one that sat middle-of-the-pack to one that could skate with any team in the OHL put a clear divide in the season series between the clubs.
The first three games, all played before the deadline, were very close. One went to overtime. One went to a shootout. The other saw the teams explode for seven goals in the third period as the Storm became the first team to beat London when the Knights were leading after 40 minutes.
The last three games were very different. Keep in mind that they were all played during the week, much like the 7-5 win by the Storm that got nutty in the final 20 minutes. Midweek games in a predominantly weekend league can have a strange feel to them, but their trio of meetings in February and March were definitely odd.
The Storm won two of them and the Knights won one and every game was decided by four goals or more. No overtime. No shootouts. Not even close.
This series should be different. It stands to be very close.
The Storm finally have it. Jack Hanley, Pavel Gogolev, Sean Durzi, Keegan Stevenson, Alexey Toropchenko and Cam Hillis have all missed time. Some of them have been out for days, others for weeks. Hillis missed months with upper- and lower-body injuries. A full roster is a very deep roster for Guelph and they showed what it could do against Kitchener in round one. The Rangers had beaten the Storm in three of their final four regular-season meetings. Their playoff series was won decisively by the Storm.
London’s ability to rise to the occasion
There are two games during the season that saw the Knights show off play that seemed to stream out of the pages of a how-to textbook. When London hosted the Ottawa 67’s on January 12, the trade deadline had just passed and the matchup was hyped up as number one in the West against number one in the East. It had a national television audience and London won. Then, on the final night of their regular season, the Knights demonstrated the same kind of play in Saginaw in a game that they knew they needed to win in regulation in order to secure the top seed in the conference.
Take your pick. We will be able to play a game of “Hey, remember when?” in a few years when names like Formenton, Suzuki, Foudy, Ratcliffe and others are racing around National Hockey League ice.
Deep. It describes both teams. These two clubs might be neck-and-neck for the best collection of defencemen on a single team in all of junior hockey. London has four NHL-drafted D-men. Evan Bouchard and Adam Boqvist are first rounders. Will Lochead is one of the most rugged and physical defenders in the OHL and will have a huge role in the series against top players on the Storm side. Guelph has three NHL draft picks, an OHL champion and Owen Lalonde, who was taken second overall in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection.
The Storm are riding Anthony Popovich. He is their number one goalie and posted a .947 save percentage in the first round. London has two capable goalies in Jordan Kooy and Goaltender of the Year nominee Joseph Raaymakers. The Knights went with Kooy against Windsor, but they used both throughout the season.
London has more speed. Guelph has more size. Both have immense skill. Both have outstanding experience. Both teams have players in their lineup who know what it takes to win (Bouchard won the Memorial Cup in 2016 and Hanley won an OHL title last year with Hamilton). Whichever team wins the series may be battle-tested enough to turn the rest of the players on the roster into champions.
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