Storm trouble for Knights

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

Just the facts, please.

OK, here's the big one. The London Knights and Guelph Storm square off in their best-of-seven Ontario Hockey League Western Conference quarter-final series beginning Thursday at the John Labatt Centre.

The Knights finished 63 points ahead of the Storm. That is more than the number of points the Storm earned during the entire season.

It doesn't look like much of a series.

Just the facts, please.

In six games between the teams, the Knights won four, lost one and tied one. For a team that only lost seven games and tied two all year, losing and tying to the same team, especially one that finished so far behind them, is an interesting statistic.

Maybe. Good goaltending might be able to steal a game or so. In the long run, taking nine of 12 points is a dominant statistic.

Just the facts, please.

The Knights defeated the Storm 3-2, 4-3, 4-2 and 4-1, while losing 2-1 and tying 0-0, outscoring them 16-9. Those aren't dominant numbers.

But in the long run, numbers only tell you so much. When two teams of this type come together, there's no way someone with so many fewer points can win.

Just the facts, please.

"You've got to go back to what the history is," Knights coach Dale Hunter said. "We beat Plymouth (in 1999). They were No. 1. If you're not prepared and ready to play mentally, you won't win."

The Whalers finished 34 points ahead of the Knights in 1999 before giving it up in a seven-game series.

We move from fact to analysis. One would think playing a No. 8 team in the standings is reason enough to smile. That would probably happen if it was anyone but Guelph.

If there is one team in the OHL that has given the Knights trouble over the last two years, it's Guelph. The Storm eliminated London in a seven-game Western Conference final last year and went on to the Memorial Cup.

Guelph has given the Knights a lot of trouble this year as well.

Hunter will tell you the Storm are well-coached by Dave Barr, they play a strong defensive game while waiting for offensive opportunities and they have good penalty-killing.

But it isn't anything four or five other teams don't have.

Knights forward Rob Schremp admits they are one of the tougher teams to beat.

"It's funny because they don't have half the skill we have on paper but they play really well against us," he said. "They just seem to have our number. It's going to be a tight-checking series.

"They shut down the offensive zone against us. You never get many chances when you play Guelph. You have to be patient. It gets tougher when you press for goals. When we relax and just let it come it's easier."

Cross-pollination through trades has provided additional impetus. Former Storm Adam Dennis and Daniel Girardi would like a second straight OHL title. Former Knights Rick Steadman, Ryan Pottruff and especially goalie Ryan MacDonald would love to stick it to London.

OK, the analysis is over. There's really no way the Knights should lose this series.

Statistics can only tell you so much. For the past month, the Knights have been playing as if they've been looking toward the playoffs. Even though many of them arrived back from Sault Ste. Marie at 4:30 a.m. yesterday, most were at the rink. Those who didn't make the trip were practising.

They are ready to play.

"We've been talking about having the (Memorial Cup) here all year. We've known for a while we were going to finish first," Schremp said. "We want to see whether we can go to the Cup through the front doorway or back doorway."

As the Knights are guaranteed a berth in the Memorial Cup, any early playoff exit means a long wait. Should the Storm manage a shocking win in seven games, for example, the Knights would have 46 days before their next game.

As owners, Mark and Dale Hunter would take a big financial hit as well. The Knights could play as few as two or as many as 16 home playoff games. With 9,090 filling the building for every home game, that's a lot of cash.


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