Knights given very loud wake-up call in loss to Guelph

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:55 AM ET

GUELPH -- There are a number of ways the London Knights could respond to last night's monster reality check at the Guelph Sports and Entertainment Centre.

They could run away and join the Foreign Legion.

They could hide behind false beards and dark glasses.

Or . . .

They could listen to their coaches.

What Dale Hunter will tell his troops behind closed doors after his boys were crushed 7-1 by the Guelph Storm cannot be known precisely. But you may be certain the word "basics" will find its way into the coaching staff's lexicon.

When everything is falling apart, it's never a bad idea to go back to the things that got you here in the first place. The Knights, for two nights running, have got away from them.

On Thursday night, they dodged a bullet with a third-period comeback to win 5-3 at the John Labatt Centre. That was merely a warning.

Last night was a wake-up call of enormous proportions. Wake-up call? It was a cannon going off in everyone's ear as the Storm did the things they've done all season, only better.

Never let it be said coach Dale Hunter is not a compassionate man. His move halfway through the second period pretty well underscored the tone of the game. He removed starting goaltender Adam Dennis after the Storm scored their fourth goal -- the third straight for Guelph's Kelsey Wilson -- and sent in Steve Mason.

It should be noted three of those four goals had come on rebounds after Dennis had made the first stop. Hunter made a point of strolling down the bench to Dennis with the sort of pat of approval a general might give a shell-shocked veteran he's just pulled off the line.

Both Hunter and Guelph coach Dave Barr said the decisive score was no more importance than a 2-1 result.

"It's in the past," the taciturn Hunter said. "The game is over, so it's time to move on. It's simple: Don't give up."

Barr was pleased his guys played their game consistently and said the goal gap wasn't that important. "It doesn't matter. The momentum of a series can sometimes change in five minutes."

At this stage, any resemblance between the regular-season Knights and the Storm might not be entirely coincidental, but the guys currently battling for the OHL Western Conference title certainly have a similar look.

The difference is that Guelph's strength, a strong checking game, is better and most telling has been its pressure forecheck. The beleaguered London defence was barely given a chance to breathe by the swirl of checkers constantly covering them and their breakouts.

As usual, the team under attack begins to overdo it, trying to compensate for a loss of control, and ends up running around, blowing coverages.

You would not be far wrong if you suggested the Knights, having scaled some pretty lofty heights the last two seasons, are victims of their own success. Who wouldn't be a tad overconfident with a passel of records and the Memorial Cup in one's custody?

As mentioned, this was a reality check of major proportions for guys who've had a right to be pleased with themselves.

The upside for Knights fans, including several hundred green-shirted ones here, is the Memorial Cup arrived in London under the auspices of a pretty sharp coaching staff.

Their challenge now is to get everyone to step back, take a calm look at what the Storm have been doing -- and what the Knights themselves haven't been -- and make a response, beginning tomorrow night at the JLC.

The teams are tied at a game apiece. Maybe the scores, as the coaches suggest, are incidental.

How they got that way isn't, though.

STORM 7, KNIGHTS 1

Best-of-seven Western Conference final tied 1-1

Guelph goals: Matt D'Agostini (2), Kyle Wharton, Kelsey Wilson (3), Michael Caruso

London goal: Josh Beaulieu

Next: Game 3 goes tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.


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