This Storm won't ease for Knights

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:31 AM ET

We've seen this before. The Guelph Storm don't seem to care how much better, how much stronger or how highly favoured the London Knights are supposed to be. They always come out and give the Knights all they can handle.

Last night was no different.

While the Knights threw everything they could at their former teammate, goaltender Ryan MacDonald, the Storm threw a scare into the Knights in the first game of their Ontario Hockey League best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final at the John Labatt Centre.

The Knights eventually found a way to beat MacDonald to come away with a 3-2 win but it took 54 shots and a couple of fortuitous bounces to do it.

Even though this version of the Guelph Storm finished 63 points behind the Knights in the regular season, the first game provided what's become typical playoff hockey between the two teams.

Last year when Adam Dennis played goal for the Storm and MacDonald played net for the Knights, the teams were much closer in talent. Dennis's goaltending was the key in the Storm win.

With the two switching roles this year, one could be forgiven for mistaking MacDonald for Dennis. If the Storm had any chance of making a series of this, MacDonald was going to have to stand on his head. Not only did he stand on his head, he made a number of saves while doing it.

And even though the Knights dominated, a message filtered through. The Storm aren't going to go quietly.

Coach Dave Barr, who always has his team prepared, had another message.

Now that ought to make it even more interesting.

"We had good goaltending," said Barr. "The good thing I'm going to get out of this game is I don't think we played as well as we need to. We weren't keeping our game simple. We didn't work hard enough away from the puck. We can play better."

The Knights' Dan Fritsche knows what to expect from the Storm."They are a hard, hard-working team," said Fritsche. "They might not have the most skilled guys, but every time we play them, they know how to play you. They do their homework."

Fritsche was one of the best Knights on the ice, another strong game in a long list of strong games.

As good as MacDonald was, the curse of the soft goal got him again.

With the Storm up 2-1 in the third period, Fritsche shot the puck across the crease from deep in the corner behind the goal-line. It went off MacDonald's stick into the net.

"In the second intermission we decided that on our power play we should throw the puck at the net," said Fritsche. "I saw (Dave Bolland) sneaking in and I thought if it got through to him he could score or it might go off someone."

Fritsche nailed it to perfection.

"My game has picked up," he said. "When I first got here, I was trying to fit in. I was pretty much out of shape. Right now it feels like I've been here all year."

The win was significant because never far from being front and centre is the head thing. The Storm beat the Knights last year when many believed the Knights were the best team in the OHL. This year, despite the Knights' massive season in which they lost only seven games and tied two, the eighth-place Storm beat them and tied them. The other games were close.

"We weren't getting frustrated because we were getting lots of chances," said Fritsche. "You get frustrated when you don't get chances."

The game turned out to be typical playoff hockey. It was as if someone had flipped a switch. The lackadaisical last few weeks of the season disappeared with the drop of the puck. The Knights pounded away at the Storm net and, like a fighter with a lot of heart, the Storm took it and fought back. It was loud, tense and interesting.


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