Guelph Storm heading to Memorial Cup as OHL champs
Kerby Rychel scores game winner
The Guelph Storm are Ontario Hockey League champions after a pair of late goals Kerby Rychel will remember the rest of his life.
Rychel's second goal of the game with 26.3 seconds remaining gave the Storm a 4-3 come-from-behind win against the North Bay Battalion in Game 5 on Friday and their first OHL title since 2004.
Before Rychel could play hero late in the game, he was already the Storm's saviour when he scored his first of the night with just under five minutes remaining in the third period to tie the score, easily depositing a second rebound behind hard luck North Bay goalie Jake Smith.
That set up Rychel's dramatic goal in the final seconds, as he went hard to the net and snapped a rebound past Smith's blocker.
"I blacked out. It's the biggest goal of my life honestly. Words can't really describe it," Rychel said.
"I still can't believe it. I kind of feel like I'm in a dream right now."
It has been a dream series for the Storm, who came back to win Game 1 in overtime, Game 3 in the final 30 seconds with two quick goals and then the capper in Game 5.
"That's the way it goes. You have to play right to the buzzer," said Storm head coach Scott Walker, enjoying his fourth year behind the Guelph bench.
"I have a great group of guys, they never stopped believing. They love each other, they play hard for each other, so it was great."
Walker pointed to the dramatic Game 3 comeback as the turning point in the series, when the Storm finally showed the form that won them the Western Conference.
"We played hard and we have a great bunch of guys, and when they're playing they're hard to stop. I don't know what will happen (in London), but that's the way you play."
Rychel agreed with his coach's assessment about the team's penchant for coming back.
"We didn't stop believing," Rychel said.
"I really don't think we had our best game tonight, but I thought we could pull it out. Once we had it 3-3 then it was anybody's game."
Up until the tying goal, the Storm had outshot the Battalion, but North Bay looked fully in control of the game. Guelph never led the game until Rychel's second goal.
North Bay opened the scoring at 16:18 of the first on the power play when Nick Paul beat Justin Nichols, who turned aside 23-of-26 shots, with a well-placed snapshot from the left circle just inside the far post.
The lead didn't last long as Brock McGinn blasted a shot from the high slot over Smith's blocker 50 seconds later.
Brett McKenzie's redirection on a Marcus McIvor pass to the slot gave the Battalion the lead once again with a minute left in the period.
Barclay Goodrow put his team up 3-1 in the second period when he stole the puck from Jason Dickinson at centre ice and went in alone on Nichols, moving to his right before sliding the puck in.
Just when it looked as if North Bay would cruise into the intermission with a two-goal cushion, Matt Finn took a pass from Robby Fabbri and walked into the slot before banking a shot off the near post and in with a minute remaining.
Fabbri had three assists on the night for 28 points and was named the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award winner as the OHL playoff Most Valuable Player.
Goodrow's goal looked like it was going to hold up until Rychel went to work.
"I think they deserved better and I think they should be playing on Sunday, but sometimes in hockey games don't go your way. Tonight was one of those things," said North Bay head coach Stan Butler.
"As a coaching staff we believed in this group of guys and the way they played tonight showed the type of character they have. They played hard all the games. I'm so proud of them, the way they played, but I'm disappointed in the result for them."
Smith meanwhile was superb on the night, stopping 34 shots in the loss.
Now Guelph heads to the Memorial Cup in London, Ont., which starts May 16. In their last trip to the Memorial Cup in 2004 the Storm finished last in the four-team tournament.
Rychel is going to soak it all in.
"I was close in my rookie year, three wins away from going to the Memorial Cup. Now, I get my chance to go and it's a great feeling," he said.
"We're going to be ready for sure. We're going to enjoy this for a couple of days, but it's a big event and we'll definitely be ready."