Dennis at home away from home

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Tom Wolfe was wrong, you can go home again.

In a gritty road performance, the London Knights scored a 2-1 victory over the Guelph Storm, backstopped by the superlative work of goaltender Adam Dennis to take a lead of 3-1 in their best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final.

If Ryan Martinelli was the man of the moment with his tie-busting score two seconds from the end, Dennis was the man of the preceding 60 minutes of play.

And why not?

Dennis feels comfortable at this home away from home. From the moment he walks into the Guelph Sports and Entertainment Centre, he is greeted by arena staff, fans and everyone else he got to know while playing 2 1/2 seasons with the Storm.

It wasn't very friendly last Friday, though, when he was pulled during the Knights' 7-1 hammering by the Storm.

Yes, he agreed, this game was a statement.

"Not just for me, for the whole team," he said. "We haven't had much success in this arena, so the timing was definitely great."

People drifted by with hellos afterward.

"It was an awesome place to play and I made a lot of friends here," Dennis said.

And maybe, after last night's game at least, a few enemies.

On a night both goaltenders were exceptional, Dennis stood on his head through a wide-open third period and his rival at the other end, Ryan MacDonald, almost matched him save-for-save as the teams, after two gritty periods, let fly in the final 20 minutes.

It was an appropriate duel.

It was this same Storm squad the Knights, with Dennis between the pipes, swept in the playoffs last year en route to their successful run to the Memorial Cup. And it's Dennis, barring something like last Friday here, who'll get the lion's share of the goaltending workload throughout the playoffs.

Not that the pressure has abated any. Along with the normal pressure a goalie faces in the playoffs -- there's always greater focus on the last link of defence when the stakes go up -- there's the well-chronicled duel of the goalies.

Dennis was the prime reason the Knights failed to advance against the Storm in the playoffs a season earlier and London traded MacDonald for him, the same MacDonald manning the 24-square foot cage for Guelph.

There's plenty of reason for him to want to outplay Dennis and even though Dennis helped the Knights win the Memorial Cup, the impetus to continue justifying the trade has to remain somewhere in the back of Dennis's cranium.

The dividends continued last night as Dennis faced 36 shots, MacDonald 37 in what turned out to be a wildly entertaining game.

There are reasons other than familiarity with the locals that help Dennis into a comfort zone, last week's blitz notwithstanding. He likes the seamless glass behind the goals.

"It's like NHL glass," he said. "A lot of other rinks you get weird rebounds but it doesn't happen here."

Seamless is not a word you'd attach to either offence for the first part of the game. Neither team's power play clicked very well, although the work of Dennis kept the Knights within shouting distance for two periods.

He was particularly effective against rugged Kelsey Wilson, stopping him twice on bang-bang rebound attempts before Wilson got to a loose puck in the turmoil around the London crease to finally connect in the middle period.

The battle of the goalies and everyone else continues Friday night at the John Labatt Centre. And it is a battle, a gritty but clean one.

The JLC has been a friendly place for Dennis, too.


Videos

Photos