From the Stands
By Paul Osborne
The Guelph Storm will be trying for the fifth time to win the elusive Memorial Cup.
Here is how their competition shapes up: Val-d’or Foreurs (French for Drillers) finished third in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League during the regular season with a 46-20-1-1 record scoring 306 goals and allowing 213 (goal differential +93).
They scored the most goals in the “Q” this year and are an offence-first team. They defeated Baie-Comeau in a thrilling seven- game series to get here.
Edmonton meanwhile wins with a more defensive style. The Oil Kings finished atop their conference with 103 points but behind Kelowna and Portland overall. They had a record of 50-19-2-1 with 290 goals for and a measly 179 against (+111). They defeated Portland in seven games to advance to the Cup.
Storm fans know all about London. They are an explosive team (49-14-1-4, +113) that only finished five points behind Guelph in the toughest division in all of Canada, although they lost to the Storm in the second round of the playoffs with their number one goaltender on the sidelines with a suspension. But with that said, they didn’t lose because of poor goaltending.
The Storm, with their 52-12-2-2 record, led the OHL in goals for with 340 and allowed 191 (+149).
It is hard to compare leagues, but if forced to pick a favourite it would be the Storm. They were the only team in the Canadian Hockey League to be ranked in the top 10 every week of the season, and finished second overall to Kelowna who were eliminated in the WHL conference finals by Portland.
This is the best Storm team these eyes have seen since the franchise moved here in 1991. They have 11 signed or drafted NHL players and are deeper than the 1998 and 2004 teams that won the Ontario championship and are more explosive offensively. They have also shown an ability to win in all situations. They beat highly skilled teams in Erie and London and were able to grind out wins over tough defensive teams like Plymouth and North Bay.
They have what it takes to win this tournament for the first time, but they need a final push and a little luck to make it happen.
They would really help their chances by winning the first game at the Memorial Cup. Since 1993, 19 of the 21 eventual champions won their first game of the tournament. An opening victory doesn’t guarantee success, but it does relieve a whole lot of pressure right out of the gate and allows a team to settle down and play its game.
In Guelph’s case they will have the Oil Kings in their first match. The Western representatives always provide a very tough match-up and eight members of the Oil Kings played in the 2012 Memorial Cup, giving them some valuable experience.
Henrik Samuelsson, who led Edmonton in Memorial Cup scoring in 2012, is leading them again this post-season with 23 points in 21 games. Edgar Kulda and World Junior Team Canada member Curtis Lazar are next with 10 goals each and 22 points.
The Storm has five players with more points than Samuelsson (Kerby Rychel, Zack Mitchell, Robby Fabbri, Scott Kosmachuk, Jason Dickinson), so on paper Guelph would appear to have the deeper offensive squad. But so did Portland, the team the Oil Kings eliminated in the WHL final playing a solid two-way game. The series against North Bay should have prepared the Storm well for this opening contest.
From the Land of Oz . . . This will be the third straight Cup appearance for the Knights so if experience in a tournament format counts for a lot, they are in great shape . . . The Cup finals is slated for Sunday, May 25.
Round robin schedule:
Friday, May 16: Val-d’Or vs. London, 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 17: Guelph vs. Edmonton, 4 p.m.
Sunday, May 18: London vs. Edmonton, 7 p.m.
Monday, May 19: Guelph vs. Val-d’Or, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, May 20: Edmonton vs. Val-d’Or, 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 21: London vs. Guelph, 7 p.m.
* Games can be seen live on Sportsnet, channel 22