Daniel Erlich said it from the moment he arrived in London three years ago.
He’s a playoff performer.
“There’s just something about it — it’s different hockey,” the London Knights forward said after scoring twice in a 6-2 victory to eliminate the Guelph Storm in five games before 8,917 Friday at the John Labatt Centre. “Your adrenaline gets pumping and it’s a great feeling.
“But the biggest thing is you want to keep playing. I don’t want summer to start yet.”
Erlich had five goals and nine points in the series. The smallest and biggest (Leigh Salters) players on the ice are big reasons why London will move on to face either Plymouth or Kitchener, if the Rangers end up defeating the Saginaw Spirit, in the second round.
Salters led the way even though he flubbed his pre-playoff assignment. He was supposed to, teammate Chris DeSousa said, come up with a Knights playoff run slogan for the club’s green t-shirts, “but Salts dropped the ball.”
“I was given that task when I was injured,” the veteran battleship said, “and I tried to come up with a good one but never really followed through in time.
“I was more focused on the injury (a strained leg muscle) and getting back on the ice, I guess.”
It was the right call.
And Nazem Kadri, who racked up 14 points in five games, including four in the close-out contest, overcame the stigma of taking the penalty that led to London’s lone loss in Game 3.
“I thought it was a wake-up call,” the Knights star and Toronto Maple Leaf first rounder said. “We lost that game but I think it worked it out for the best for us because we came out hard the next two and did the things we had to do to win the series and move on.
“Give some credit to Guelph. They have some real star players with (Taylor) Beck, (Peter) Holland and Mike Latta and they got us in Game 3 but that was it.
“Now, we’ll get some crucial rest while we wait to see who we play.”
The Knights hammered Guelph by a combined 14-4 over the final two games.
They scored first in all five outings — the first three by leading goal man Jared Knight and the final two by rookie Seth Griffith, who only played in three games.
“It was almost like you were fighting a losing battle,” Guelph captain Corey Syvret said. “They’d score first and get a 2-0 lead and we’d have to work to come back. It got to be the point where it was just too much a difference to make up.”
Syvret started and ended his OHL career at the JLC. The former Knight defenceman’s final game spelled the conclusion of his family’s nine-year run in the league.
“My brother (Danny, the ex-Knights captain) ended his OHL career a lot more exciting than mine by hoisting the Memorial Cup on this ice (in 2005),” he said. “I had a great year-and-a-half here and learned a lot. It just worked out that my first and last games were in this barn.
“They were a great team. You can’t take anything away from them. I thought we deserved to win the first one here and if not for that goal (Kadri’s OT winner), it might’ve been different. But instead, I guess that’s why they’re moving on and we’re packing up our bags.”
The Storm’s top three forwards scored a handful of gorgeous goals. But their star power wasn’t enough to counter London’s balance.
The Knights frustrated the Storm to the point where top defender Adam Comrie, after Erlich buried the third-period clincher, busted his stick in three pieces against the glass and earned a game misconduct and early exit.
The Storm couldn’t get out in front and hold any kind of lead. The Knights wouldn’t let them.
“It shows we have solid defensive systems,” Kadri said. “From Hutch (goalie Michael Hutchinson) to the defence corps, they did a great job, and the forwards did their part, too.
“You need everyone contributing in their way to move on. It was an emotional series. Guelph came at us but we held on.”
It’s a strong start.
But the character test gets bigger the further the Knights go.
Does that fit on a t-shirt?
Knights 6, Storm 2
(London wins best-of-seven series 4-1)
London goals: Daniel Erlich (2), Seth Griffith, Nazem Kadri, Jared Knight, Colin Martin
Guelph goals: Michael Latta, Peter Holland
Next: The Knights head to the second round of the OHL playoffs. They’ll face Plymouth if Saginaw knocks off Kitchener or the Rangers if they beat the Spirit.