GUELPH -- Don't dwell on it, boys.
That's the lone message London head coach Dale Hunter sent to his team after the lost-looking Knights suffered their largest setback of the postseason with a 7-1 blowout defeat to a Guelph Storm scoring factory before 4,889 last night at the Guelph Sports and Entertainment Centre.
Gritty Guelph forward Kelsey Wilson exploded for a natural hat trick in just under four minutes of the second period as the speedy Storm tied the best-of-seven Western Conference final with a major exclamation mark. Guelph heads into tomorrow night's Game 3 at the John Labatt Centre with major momentum while the Knights limp back to London to lick their wounds.
"It's over," Hunter said repeatedly after London's ugly loss. "It doesn't matter (if it's 2-1 or 7-1). It's over. It's just a hockey game."
If the Knights don't have more than they showed last night, there won't be much more hockey left to play and the season will be over -- in a big hurry.
That's exactly the kind of speed the defending Memorial Cup champs displayed in leaving the rink afterward, bolting from the arena with the entire team on the bus within about half an hour after the game ended. No one lingered with parents or joked with a large contingent of loud Knights fans who came to watch.
"We have a young team and as veterans, we have to calm everyone down," London captain Dylan Hunter said.
That won't be easy to achieve. London has experienced a whole range of emotions in their OHL playoff run, but on-ice embarrassment and bewilderment is something new.
"We're happy we won 7-1, but momentum can change in five minutes," Guelph head coach Dave Barr said.
Upset they couldn't add an extra goal to put London away in Game 1, Guelph got plenty of insurance, with most of it coming from Wilson.
The burly 20-year-old's second goal chased London starting goalie Adam Dennis, the OHL's reigning top puckstopper, from the net in his least impressive outing of the postseason. Then, Wilson greeted Dennis's replacement, Steve Mason, with a tally on the first shot the rookie faced.
London had no answer for Guelph's powerful forward trio of Wilson, Matt D'Agostini and Ryan Callahan, who combined for 13 points and were instrumental in the Storm's five-goal second period.
"We were put together in the final five or six games of the season and we really clicked," Wilson said. "The puck seemed to follow us around out there."
Losing in Guelph is not new for London. The Knights didn't win a regular-season game in Guelph this year, falling 4-2 on Sept. 29, 3-1 on Dec. 28 and 4-3 on Jan. 22.
London didn't have Dennis, Dylan Hunter and top scorer Rob Schremp, who went goal-less for the ninth straight game last night, for the first visit and played the game after the Christmas break with Schremp and David Bolland at the world junior championships in Vancouver.
But there was no excuse like that last night. Guelph dominated early play for the second straight game and D'Agostini opened the scoring with a short-handed tap-in after Dennis made an errant pass right onto the stick of Callahan, his former Storm roommate.
With the loss, London realized it will be in for a longer series and keeping its stars fresh has become a major priority.
"The Knights are very good at conserving their energy," said Guelph assistant coach Jason Brooks, a former Knight. "I'm not saying they're not trying out there, but they pick their spots when to go and when to hold back. When you have horses like they do, you want to play those guys as much as you can."
Dylan Hunter said there are different tricks players use to stay energized during a long game. Some guys use the intermissions to lie down in the room and elevate their legs.
"(St. Louis Blues defenceman) Dennis Wideman was the best I ever saw at being able to conserve energy -- on and off the ice," Hunter said.