Knights in driver's seat after Game 3 win

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:42 AM ET

LONDON, ONT. - Call it a bit of foreshadowing, a premonition or perfect preparation.

Hours before Game 3 of the OHL final, a bunch of the London Knights went on the ice for a brief workout.

At one point, Chris Tierney stood in front of an empty net while Olli Maatta, who’s having a junior hockey playoff for the ages, hammered pucks his way to work, of course, on tip-ins.

And with everything hanging in the balance, Tierney calmly deflected a Maatta point blast past Niagara goalie Mark Visentin with 3:28 left in the third period to give London a 3-2 victory and a 2-1 series lead before 8,964 at the John Labatt Centre.

“We worked on it for probably 15 minutes, just me shooting the puck and him tipping them in, so it was pretty fun to see him do it to win the game,” said Maatta, who has 21 playoff points.

Tierney, the Knights’ first-round pick two years ago, is just one more rags to riches story.

He didn’t play much in his rookie campaign.

In this, his sophomore season, he spent the opening months searching for an identity on this first-place team, then latched onto one as the centre of a youthful grind line with Josh Anderson and Bo Horvat.

And now, he’s another London hockey hero.

“I was just focused on winning the faceoff clean,” said the 17-year-old Keswick native and son of a former Canadian university football quarterback.

“Once I did, you know Olli has a hard shot, we just worked at tip-ins for a while in practice and I was trying to get in front and create some traffic.

“It felt like it hit my blade and I think I only had one hand on my stick at the time.

“It’s probably the biggest goal in my career and I didn’t really know how to celebrate.”

Tierney didn’t replicate the Dougie Hamilton somersault from Niagara’s Game 1 win.

He just basked in the glory of stepping up in the clutch after London GM and head coach Mark Hunter picked him to start the game on a line with Max Domi and Greg McKegg.

“I don’t know why they decided to go that way,” Tierney said. “It’s nice to contribute. This is what you want to do. Everybody in our room likes each other and we don’t change our game much. We’re just trying to match or outwork the other team every night, and when we were tied late, I knew if we scored one, our defence is so strong, we would be able to get it to hold up.”

The Hunters, for ages, have a knack of finding extra minutes for players on a roll.

Mark Hunter singled out Tierney.

“He earned it,” Hunter said. “He’s played very well in the second half of the season and he works hard in all three zones.”

Marty Williamson thought he had some help. The Niagara GM and head coach complained of interference on some of the late-game faceoffs inside his blue-line.

He thought the IceDogs weren’t being allowed to get to Maatta. On the previous sequence, Seth Griffith tipped a shot that was sucked up by Visentin.

“I thought I was being interfered with and that’s why I only had one hand on my stick when I tipped it,” Tierney responded. “To me, it was just two teams battling, playing OHL final-style hockey. I don’t think there was interference.”

This is new territory for Niagara.

The powerful, veteran-laden IceDogs haven’t before trailed in a series this spring.

They can’t hold a lead, either.

This is the third straight game they have scored the opening goal and couldn’t protect it.

The Knights keep coming back.

Going back to St. Catharines, the ‘Dogs barrel isn’t at the edge of the nearby historic Niagara Falls just yet, but they’re clearly already up the river, the whitewater is roaring in their ears and they’ll have to paddle like mad to draw even.

“They’re (the Knights) .500 at home now and it’s our turn to try to get back to .500 at home,” Williamson said.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RyanatLFPress


Videos

Photos

Canoe Top Headlines