Goalie Ryan MacDonald has always dreamed of winning an OHL title and a Memorial Cup -- but Adam Dennis keeps getting in the way.
In the 2004 Western Conference final, MacDonald's London Knights lost to Dennis's Storm in Game 7 at the John Labatt Centre, spurring Guelph to a league title and Memorial Cup appearance.
The worst blow occurred last year: MacDonald figured he had a free pass to the Cup with London as host city, but the powerhouse Knights traded the Chesley native to Guelph for Dennis at midseason, then swept the Storm in the first round of the playoffs to kick-start their magical march to the Memorial Cup.
On cue, London and Guelph meet again starting tomorrow in the best-of-seven Western Conference final with Dennis and MacDonald facing each other for the final time in their junior careers.
"It's pretty obvious I want to beat them after they traded me last year," MacDonald said. "It would be nice, but I'm not putting all my eggs in one basket. I'm going to do what I can and focus on stopping the puck.
"I just think it's not very often two teams face each other in the playoffs three years in a row. I'm really looking forward to this series."
Dennis, who calls the 2004 London-Guelph showdown the most memorable series of his OHL career, knows he has to outplay his all-star game teammate to push the Knights back into the league final.
"You always want to be better than the guy at the other end of the ice," Dennis said.
"Macker (MacDonald) had a great season and really led the way for them. It's different for me because most of the guys I played with (at Guelph in 2004) are gone now.
"For us, that (win over London) was the OHL final. We went on to sweep Mississauga and go to the Memorial Cup, but it's the series against London I'll always remember. The way we played each other all season, it was fitting it went to Game 7."
Both goalies backstopped their teams to impressive results this year but the biggest difference was Dennis received recognition for it. The Buffalo Sabres draft pick was declared top goalie in the league, while MacDonald wasn't among six finalists for the award -- a result surprising many, including Dennis.
"I could not believe he wasn't nominated," Guelph head coach Dave Barr said. "I know I haven't seen a better goalie this season. Adam Dennis had a lot of wins and good stats, but Ryan did a great job. Our fans and players know what he means to us."
The beauty of playoffs is personal accomplishments like goals, assists and saves become side-notes to the bottom line -- winning. Dennis and MacDonald know they're both playing to extend their junior careers.
"If you can't get up for this time of the year, you should probably donate 'em," MacDonald said of a goalie's pads and skates. "This is why you play all season -- to get to something like this. At this point, one guy doesn't make that big a difference. They get (David) Bolland back, but our team has played them tough all year and we feel good about that. I don't think we're going to see a lot of high-scoring games."
The OHL has yet to make a decision on whether suspensions will be given to London forward Kris Belan for the charging major penalty that put Owen Sound's Bob Sanguinetti out in Game 6 of the second round and Attack defenceman Andrej Sekera's boarding major on London's Trevor Kell the following period.
"We want to get both of these set aside but the Belan one is the more pressing (because his team is still playing)," OHL referee-in-chief Ted Baker said. "Both plays are automatically reviewable -- and we're having a look to see if further disciplinary action is required."
The Knights claim Belan never left his feet on the play and that Sanguinetti was injured because he hit his head on the ice after falling down in the corner.
KNIGHTS VS. STORM
OHL Western Conference final
Game 1: Thursday, 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre
Game 2: Friday, 7:30 p.m. at Guelph
Game 3: Sunday, 6 p.m. at the JLC
Game 4: April 25, 7:30 p.m. at Guelph
x-Game 5: April 28, 7:30 p.m. at the JLC
x-Game 6: April 30, 3 p.m. at Guelph
x-Game 7: May 1, 7 p.m. at the JLC
Guelph won series 4-2
Sept. 29: Guelph, 4-2 win at Guelph
Nov. 17: Guelph, 3-2 shootout win at the JLC
Dec. 11 : London, 3-2 shootout win at the JLC
Dec. 28 : Guelph, 3-1 win at Guelph
Jan. 22: Guelph, 4-3 win at Guelph
Jan. 29: London, 4-1 win at the JLC
RYAN MacDONALD VS. ADAM DENNIS
- 57 games played - 35 wins-19 losses - .907 save percentage - 2.57 goals-against average - 4 shutouts
- 10 GP - 8-2 - .903 save percentage - 2.20 GAA
- 57 game played - 44 wins-13 losses - .915 save percentage - 2.82 goals-against average - 1 shutout
- 10 GP - 8-2 - .925 save percentage - 3.08 GAA