Memorial Cup: Knights eyeing long road to final
Hosts must beat Guelph play tiebreaker game
The Guelph Storm want to eliminate the real possibility that the London Knights could come back to haunt them at the Memorial Cup.
The Ontario Hockey League champion Storm insist they're the ones with ample motivation to beat the host Knights on Wednesday, even though Guelph is already assured of a berth in Sunday's final with a 2-0 record.
London's motivation doesn't require explanation. At 0-2, they must win the final game of the preliminary round in order to get into a tiebreaker game Thursday.
If they don't, the hosts will be eliminated by the same team that knocked them out of the OHL playoffs April 11.
A change to the MasterCard Memorial Cup schedule has made the improbable more possible. A day of rest between the semifinal and the final was incorporated into the tournament in 2007.
That's helped teams that have had to take the long way to the title. Twice in the last five years, a team that opened with two losses ran the table to win the Cup: the Windsor Spitfires in 2009 and the Shawinigan Cataractes in 2012.
Both clubs staved off elimination in their final round-robin game, tiebreaker and semifinal en route to claiming the title.
We don't want to let these guys get back in the tournament and see them in the final if they get on a little roll here.- Storm forward Zach Mitchell on the London Knights
"Teams have done it and I think we have a team that's special like that and is able to achieve things like that," Knights captain Chris Tierney said. "Everyone is confident we can pull it off."
Because of that extra day of rest, the bye to the final is not the nearly airtight advantage to winning the Cup it once was. Guelph doesn't want to face London on Sunday in their home rink riding the momentum of three wins in a row, including one against them.
"We don't want to let these guys get back in the tournament and see them in the final if they get on a little roll here," Storm forward Zach Mitchell said. "We're going to try and put them out here. We don't want to let them hang around."
The Storm relish having the upper hand against the Knights. London won the OHL championship in both 2013 and 2012, while Guelph was eliminated in the first round those years.
"Back-to-back champions, you give a lot of beatings," Storm captain Matt Finn said. "The London Knights did that for a couple of years.
"To be able to knock them out in the playoffs was great for us. To have a chance to knock them out of the Memorial Cup while they're hosting is something we want to do because of the history."
As explosive as the Storm are with 11 goals in two games, the Knights are also capable of pouring the puck into the net. London and Guelph both scored over 300 goals in the regular season.
But the Knights have just two goals in two games and both were scored by defencemen. The Knights have been stopped on two penalty shots and are 0-for-8 on their power play.
London has certainly had scoring chances, but hasn't yet recovered its touch around the net.
"We looked at the first two games a little bit and we actually did outchance the teams in both games," forward Max Domi said.
"It comes down to the details in terms of finishing around our own net, sharpening up our passes, making better decisions with the puck in terms of getting it in deep and being more disciplined. All that stuff kind of adds up to winning or losing hockey games."
There's also London's unsettled goaltending situation. Anthony Stolarz was in net for the 1-0 loss to the Val-d'Or Foreurs to open the tournament.
He allowed three goals in two periods against the Edmonton Oil Kings, before he was replaced by Jake Patterson in a 5-2 loss.
Head coach Dale Hunter had yet to inform his goalies Tuesday afternoon which would start in Wednesday's crucial game.
Stolarz, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, opened last year's Memorial Cup in Saskatoon, but Patterson was in net for the semifinal loss to the eventual champion Halifax Mooseheads.
London's lineup features seven forwards from the team that both lost 2-1 in overtime to host Shawinigan in the 2012 final and suffered last year's semifinal loss.
"Nobody wants to feel that again," Knights defenceman Zach Bell said. "Everybody wants to be able to play some more junior hockey. They don't want to end it on a bad note."
The Storm ousted the Knights in the second round of playoffs in five games. Stolarz didn't play in the series because he was serving an eight-game suspension handed down in the first round.
Guelph and London were 3-3 against each other in the regular season. In seven of their 11 meetings so far this season, the winner has scored six or more goals.
The Storm are comfortable in the role of villain at Budweiser Gardens and are ready to embrace that again Wednesday.
"This city doesn't like us too much, especially after knocking them out in the playoffs," Finn said.
"They're going to be looking to get one back on us. We don't want to let them back in. They're a team that can put the puck in the net. We need to limit their chances offensively and frustrate them."