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From the Stands: Storm in fine form with Erie up next

From the Stands
By Paul Osborne 

The Guelph Storm used a combination of relentless offensive pressure and smothering defence to defeat the two-time defending OHL champion London Knights squad four games to one to earn their way to the Western Conference final against the Erie Otters.

The Storm clinched the series win with a thrilling 5-4 victory at the Sleeman Centre last Friday night. Overage forward Zack Mitchell and Dallas Stars first round pick Jason Dickinson led the way with a goal and an assist each.

The Knights, who receive automatic entry into the Memorial Cup in five weeks, were no match for the Storm.

They were missing two of their top defencemen and their starting goaltender, but even if they were all in the line-up I would have still liked Guelph’s chances. The Knights may have won one more game, but that’s it.

The Knights big mistake was made at the trade deadline when they didn’t pick up at least one depth defenceman. It was clear then they were susceptible to injury on the backend but they couldn’t pull the trigger on a deal that would have really helped in this series.

The most encouraging aspect for the Storm looking forward may well have been the third period in that final game when they played an oppressive defensive style that never gave the Knights much of a chance.

They constantly had sticks and bodies in the way of passes and shots and frustrated the visitors at every turn.

“We all stuck together and were talking and in the defensive zone,” said veteran forward Ryan Horvat.

“We were collapsing in the middle, making sure we had the guys we needed to have and we came together as a team and did what we had to do.”

Being able to play defense in the playoffs is crucial. Despite the fact the Storm led the league in goal scoring this season, it was a 1-0 win in January in Erie that made me think they could really take a run at the Memorial Cup.

The Otters are loaded with offensive talent.  They had three of the top four scorers during the regular season with Connor Brown (128 points), Dane Fox (107) and the phenom Connor McDavid (99). Andre Burakovsky was 15th overall with 87 points. Their power play is lethal and if you want to beat them you have to stay out of the box. London scored eight power play goals against the Storm in their five game series and that simply isn’t good enough. But the Storm can really play defence if they have to.

And the Storm can score too with five scorers in the top 20 during the regular season in Scott Kosmachuk (101), Kerby Rychel (90), Robby Fabbri (87), Brock McGinn (85) and Zack Mitchell (83). I also like Guelph’s third line better than that of the Otters.

Devin Williams has been lights out in the Otters goal with a 1.88 goals against average and a .934 save percentage. Justin Nichols was pulled in one game against London but has been solid too.

As in the London series, where the Storm is clearly better is on defence.

They have six quality defenceman that can play in any situation and they add an offensive dimension that Erie simply can’t replicate.

Matt Finn, Nick Ebert, Zac Leslie and Steven Trojanovic are all dangerous with the puck and that’s what gives Guelph the edge.

Guelph hosts Game 1 on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Sleeman Centre, and Game 2 on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Prediction: Storm in six.

From the Land of Oz . . . Storm forward Brock McGinn will serve the final game of his eight-game suspension in game one of the Guelph-Erie series. Tyler Bertuzzi, who has taking McGinn’s spot, has been outstanding so far so it will be interesting to see how coach Scott Walker makes up the line combinations. McGinn had been playing with Jason Dickinson and Scott Kosmachuk.

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