Leigh Salters doesn’t forget many of the historic OHL playoff series between the London Knights and the Guelph Storm.
This is the fifth time in the past seven years the Midwest Division foes will fight to end each other’s season.
Salters, the big Knights forward in his final junior hockey campaign, suited up for the Storm the last time the two teams met, in 2007-08. He was on the winning side but his memory of which Londoner torched his hometown club are a little hazy.
“I think it was more Salters than (Drew) Doughty in that one,” he joked.
That five-game first-round loss is the only time in seven years the Knights haven’t progressed at least three playoff rounds.
“Before I came in the league, Guelph beat London in that seven-game Western Conference final (in 2003-04),” Salters said, “and I know they played (when London won the Memorial Cup in 2005). It was quite a rivalry and the way it’s worked out, it seems like these teams meet almost every year.”
This is the third time Salters has been involved.
In his rookie season of 2005-06, London beat Guelph in the Western Conference final. That was the series where Rob Schremp responded to Ryan Pottruff’s crack that the Knights were “a junior B team with a great power play” by saying the only thing “junior B” in the series was his ex-teammate.
Two years ago, London fans booed native son Doughty constantly after an uncalled high stick knocked out Akim Aliu’s teeth. The future Los Angeles Kings star, who worshipped the Knights growing up, wasn’t impressed.
This time it’s the OHL’s most surprising team — 49-win division champ and second-seed London — against the league’s hottest team in No. 7 Guelph, who overcame a ton of injuries to finish with six straight wins and engineer one of the great in-season turnarounds in recent history.
And, of course, it’s Salters, who’ll be back for Game 1 Friday after missing the final few weeks with a muscle strain, relishing a chance to finish off the team with which he started.
“I’m excited to get the chance to play them — I met a lot of good friends over the years in Guelph,” Salters said, “but things kind of turned around for me when I was traded to London (last year). I got a chance and it’s gone well here.
“I’m definitely not surprised Guelph turned it around this year. They’re a good team. They play strong defence. Dave Barr was a strict coach, and Brooksie (Listowel native Jason Brooks) took right over from him.”
The Knights, though, dominated the regular-season series, winning five of six head-to-head meetings.
Their only defeat came in a marathon shootout at Guelph on Nov. 1. Salters had a chance to win it in the ninth and final round.
“I think that was my only shootout attempt in my OHL career and it was a bitter feeling to miss,” he said. “Some guys on Guelph were giving me the gears — what’s Salters doing out there? But it felt great to get the tap on the shoulder to go out there and give it a try.”
Nazem Kadri led the Knights with 93 points in 56 games. Guelph’s Taylor Beck had the same in five more outings.
London goalie Michael Hutchinson was one of just four OHL netminders with more than 30 wins. Guelph’s Brandon Foote missed half the season following hip surgery, then finished with a blazing 20-8-1 record down the stretch.
If 57-win Barrie’s Marty Williamson isn’t coach of the year, then it could be Brooks, who ran his club while suffering from terrible back woes. Or London’s Dale Hunter, whose team matched the record of last year’s star-studded Knights roster.
“A lot of credit goes to our coaches because we were very well-coached,” Salters said, “but some of the credit goes to us as players, too, because we were very disciplined this year.”
It’s a trait that will need to continue.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do here,” Salters said. “It’s London-Guelph again. It should be good.”
Isn’t it always?
PLAYOFFS — ROUND ONE
London vs. Guelph
Game 1: Friday, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.
Game 2: Sunday, 2 p.m. at the Sleeman Centre.
Game 3: Tuesday, March 23, 7 p.m. in London.
Game 4: Thursday, March 25, 7 p.m. in Guelph.
(x) Game 5: Friday, March 26, 7:30 p.m. in London.
(x) Game 6: Sunday, March 28, TBD in Guelph.
(x) Game 7: Tuesday, March 30, TBD in London.
(x) — if necessary