FIVE-GAME SERIES WIN MISREPRESENTATIVE OF CLOSE MATCHUP

The Guelph Storm (4-1) defeated the Owen Sound Attack on Saturday in the final game of the first round playoff series between the two teams. The defending OHL-champion Storm edged out the Attack in the final four games of the series, after suffering badly at the hands of the Owen Sound-ians in the series opener.

Now, I’ll be the first to point out the fact this year’s Storm team isn’t as capable as the team who won the OHL championship last year, and while it’s not important, necessary or even remotely fair to continue comparing the two squads it’s hard to ignore some of the similarities between this series and the four from the magical playoff stretch from a year ago.

At the forefront of that conversation is the obvious similarity between the length of the series. Saturday’s series-clinching win against Owen Sound came in Game 5 of the first round matchup. Coincidentally, all four of the OHL playoff series wins the Storm mantled last year were of the 5-game length. Plymouth, London, Erie and North Bay – all in 5 games.

The only loss in the Owen Sound series came in the opener. Much like the regular season home opener, a 6-0 fizzler of a loss dished up by the Belleville Bulls, Guelph was simply dominated in Game 1 of this year’s playoffs. Sure they played fourty so-so minutes in that game, but the lasting impression was that of embarrassment. Guelph rebounded in the next four games to take the series, but let us not forget the game Guelph practically mailed in early. Echoing that theme, let me rehash Game 2 of the 2014 Western Conference Semi-Final against London. Hiding within the convincing 4-1 series win over the Knights last year is the white towel-waving 7-2 pounding of a loss.

Another throwback to Guelph’s 2014 playoff run we saw here in this Owen Sound series was the stellar play of Justin Nichols. Nichols backstopped the Storm to the tune of a 16-4 record a year ago and, aside from the opener, has picked up right where he left off. His 2.41 GAA and .932 SV% are even better than the 2.63/.919 marks he dished out last season. Nichols stood especially tall in the game last night. He stopped 28 of 29 shots, highlighted by both a breakaway stacked-pads effort on a Guelph powerplay as well as an impressively flashy cross-crease glover to single-handedly save the game for Guelph in the dying seconds. He also saved several tricky screened and tipped shots that were equally as crucial, if not as memorable. Aside from Game 3, Guelph’s most dominant game of the series, Nichols was tested well in each and every other one of the games. Suffice to say, the whole series might have gone differently without his tremendous play.

The play of Guelph’s other ‘difference-makers’ was also a nice throwback to 2014. Taking into account the overall relative offensive firepower between last year’s team, and this year’s, Guelph had similar contributions from their big boys. Robby Fabbri, Jason Dickinson, Luke Cairns, Phil Baltisberger and Tyler Bertuzzi all had 4+ points in the relatively low-scoring series. Pius Suter even managed to get it going towards the end of the series – he was the best player on the ice in Game 5, no doubt. While Guelph did manage to score a ton more goals in the first round of last year’s playoffs (24 compared to 13 this year), it was clear this year’s team got contributions from all the players that they rely on most, for the most part.

All of this is great to hear. A series win is terrific for the organization and it’s nice to look at the series superficially and see so many similarities between this year and last. But the reality is that for as many similarities as we see, the differences loom large.

Boldly put, the Guelph Storm did not deserve a 5-game series win. It is not an accurate representation of the discrepancy of play between them and the Owen Sound Attack. Now, be careful. I’m not saying they didn’t deserve to win this series. But to say they steamrolled the opposition in the same manner they did in all the 5-game series a year ago would be done so blindly.

Just break it down game-by-game.

Owen Sound won Game 1, deservingly so. I don’t even want to touch this game. It was a total wash.

Game 2, a Guelph 5-4 overtime win, could have gone either way. Owen Sound outplayed Guelph over long stretches and the Storm were lucky to come out with a win.

Game 3 was all Guelph. They controlled a ballparked 70% of the possession stats and played perhaps their best defensive game of the season. A very convincing and deserved 2-1 win.

Guelph’s 3-2 overtime win in Game 4 was also done so flukily. Guelph was outplayed badly all game, and if not for the late-game heroics of sophomore defenseman Garrett McFadden, the series would have been tied 2-2 with the momentum purely in Owen Sound’s hands.

That brings us to Game 5. Another tight 2-1 game, won less convincingly than the 2-1 win of Game 3.

I’d find a really hard time letting myself be convinced by anyone that this series was anything more than an evenly split matchup. For all intents and purposes, the series felt like it was 7 games long.

Look, the Guelph Storm won this series. And a lot of things went right. They played like the defending champions, in that they played big when it mattered most. The two overtimes, and the third periods when they needed to close games out. The coaching staff should be extremely proud of this bunch, and I’m not trying to take anything away from them. It just all needs to be put in perspective.

And I can guarantee you the resounding message in the dressing room following the passionate Game 5 victory is one similar to the feelings I’m trying to echo in this article;

“Way to get it done when it mattered boys, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Depending on how the London/Kitchener series ends, the Storm will get either the McDavid-led Erie Otters, or the Western Conference champion Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Either way, Guelph will be the underdogs, and it’s going to be an uphill fight.

But given the way the team played in the moments that mattered most in the Owen Sound series, and the reality Guelph’s ceiling is much, much higher than what we saw from that series, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Guelph give either of those two teams a run for their money in the Western Conference Semi-Finals.

Joe Krizman

In 2013, Joe graduated from Queen’s University with a degree in Physical and Health Education. During his years in school, he spent his summers off working with kids at a summer camp; an experience he credits as being highly influential in shaping who he is today.

Joe followed up his university degree by moving out to Calgary for the 2013/14 hockey season, where he served as the Coordinator of Player Development & Recruitment for the Western Hockey League (WHL) in their head office. Having developed a love for major junior hockey with the WHL, he is excited to be getting involved with it again this season back in his hometown of Guelph.

A self-proclaimed “sports enthusiast”, Joe is thrilled about getting the opportunity to share his thoughts and sports insights in a new way.