Knights face Storm brewing with confidence

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

You never get everything you want.

So when it comes to playoff hockey you take what you get and make the most of it.

When the dust had settled on the Ontario Hockey League regular season, the London Knights avoided the 4 1/2-hour bus trip to Erie to play the Otters and the three-hour bus ride to Saginaw to play the Spirit.

Instead, they get an 80-minute trip to Guelph to play the Storm in a best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal.

"It sure does make a difference," assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "It's nice to get back at midnight instead of three in the morning."

It's the fifth time in the last seven seasons the Knights and Storm have met in the playoffs. The Knights get a team they've handled pretty well, beating the Storm five of six meetings this season. But they trade off the nice travel schedule for the inherent danger Guelph provides. The Storm are one of the hottest teams going into the playoffs, having won nine of 10. While they may not have an overpowering array of talent, they have three players in the top 21 scorers in Michael Latta, Peter Holland and Taylor Beck.

In the playoffs, it's difficult to win without good goaltending -- the Storm are getting that with Brandon Foote. He earned a shutout against Owen Sound to close out the regular season.

The Storm also have one of the best young coaches in the league in Jason Brooks. He has done a terrific job with the talent he has.

The Knights know what they are going to get with the Storm. They'll face a team that likes to keep the game tight, disciplined and hope they generate enough chances to let their top three scorers connect.

That's not all that much different from the Knights.

While Brooks has done a great deal with the talent he has, Knights coach Dale Hunter is often forgotten for the job he's done. Hunter and Beaulieu got this team to win 49 games. That was indeed a feat few would have believed possible, especially after the trade deadline.

They did it by finally selling their players on the theory that defence and discipline wins games.

"We aren't going to change our systems. There are a couple of small things we'll do, but otherwise, we'll play the same way," Beaulieu said. "We're going to be patient. We know they are going to be patient and trap. They have a line that can really score, so we have to be disciplined against them."

In a series where chances will likely be limited for forwards, the players who often make a difference are the grinders who can create chances and pressure, as well as the defencemen who can offer some help offensively.

When the Knights dealt Zac Rinaldo to Barrie and got Chris DeSousa, they obtained the kind of player that can provide a lot of help with the heavy slugging.

"My style of play lives in a playoff atmosphere," DeSousa said. "My style will help the team in a long run in the playoffs. That's why I was traded here because of what I bring in a playoff game. I'm looking forward to it."

DeSousa says the Knights have to "play the right way."

"We have to follow the systems. Battling like we did against Windsor in the last game, a game that meant nothing but felt like a playoff game," he said.

"You have to have a certain amount of composure. Can't be always looking for goals because they aren't going to come sometime. So you have to sit back, and play the right way."

That will prove a delicate balancing act for someone like Steven Tarasuk. The London defenceman had a 19-goal, 67-point season.

Tarasuk is the type of player that can provide the extra offence to break down a team like the Storm, but he has to pick the right spots.

"I'm going to make sure I play the same way. I want to contribute, join in the rush but I have to make sure at the same time that I'm good defensively," he said. "We certainly know they have players who can capitalize and you don't want to give them those chances. You have to focus on defence because ultimately it will come down to mistakes and whatever team makes the most mistakes is the team that's going to come up short."

The word of the day at Knights' practice Monday was "granted." Despite the fact Guelph finished 27 points behind the Knights, "no one is taking them for granted," Tarasuk said.

morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca


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