From the Stands
By Paul Osborne
It was the first real test of a very long season.
The London Knights, everyone’s pre-season favourite to win their third straight OHL championship, were in Guelph to take on Canada’s fifth-ranked team Sunday in the Storm.
On this occasion it was the locals who came away with a solid 6-3 win and an asterisk. The asterisk being that London still had three of their best players at NHL camps (Bo Horvat, Olli Maatta and Nikita Zadorov), and offensive star Max Domi was kicked out of the game late in the first period for a vicious flying elbow on the Storm’s Brock McGinn.
But a win is a win, and the Storm is now the only undefeated team in the OHL.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you we beat the best team the London Knights are going to have this year, but you can only do what you can do,” said head coach Scott Walker, saying he was proud of the way his team battled.
“You have to try and build confidence in different levels to slay that dragon. They are a tough team and we’ve had a lot of trouble with them (in the past).”
“For sure it was a big win for us,” said Storm winger Zack Mitchell. “It helps set the tone for the season. They are supposed to be the best team in the country. We had a little trouble staying out of the (penalty) box – we didn’t want to ease our way into it but we started skating better as the game went on.”
The Storm have a strong team and part of their maturation process will be learning how to win against the best teams. They have had very little playoff success in recent years so knowing how to be victorious in the big games and having the confidence to do so, is a work in progress.
“It was a pretty good game, a hard-fought game that had a playoff atmosphere on the bench,” said Walker. “Our goalie (Justin Nichols) did a heck of a job holding us in when we looked a little bit caught off guard. They’re a speedy team that plays a pro-style game. Once we simplified (our game) and used our skill off the first chip in, it seemed to work out.”
One area where London had a clear advantage was on the power play. They scored three times with the extra man while the Storm managed just one goal. London, despite missing several key players, moved the puck quickly and created several scoring chances. The Storm were sluggish and unable to generate any quality opportunities when they had a long two-man advantage at one point.
“Our power play wasn’t great obviously, but we’re still in the infancy (of the season)” said Walker, acknowledging that is one area that will have to be improved upon. “We’re trying new things and guys are in new positions so (it should come).”
Goaltending has been stellar for the Storm over the first three games. Nichols was a key factor in both his games and was named the first star Sunday after the Knights outshot the Storm 40-35. Rookie Matthew Mancina was also excellent in his OHL debut Friday night, with a 5-1 thrashing of previously unbeaten Oshawa.
The Storm plays the Knights five more times this season and every game will be tougher than the last. The two teams meet again Saturday in London.
From the Land of Oz . . . Veteran Guelph forward Zack Mitchell scored one of his finest goals Sunday against the Knights. He fought off three players in the corner for several seconds before getting the puck out front of the net and picking the top corner with a seeing-eye shot. His aim was excellent but it was all the work he did before he scored that made it special. Hunter Garlent, Jason Dickinson and Scott Kosmachuk had a goal and an assist for the Storm against London. . . Brock McGinn had two goals to the lead the Storm over Oshawa on Friday night . . . Both Justin Auger and Marc Stevens are out of the Storm line-up with mononucleosis.