The Guelph Storm hung on to beat the London Knights 3-2 at Budweiser Gardens on Sunday afternoon.
The game had the look of something that took place at the 2016 NHL All-Star weekend in Nashville, Tenn.
That was the year that Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings broke the NHL record in the fastest skater competition, but Larkin got a head start, taking his first strides from the blue line.
The Storm came into Sunday looking as though they had a head start on the Knights. Guelph had been in Owen Sound the night before, while London had the day off and the Storm seemed to use that to get an early jump that kept them a step, and a goal, in front of the Knights the rest of the way.
“When we came out for the start, we were just a little slow,” said London assistant coach, Rick Steadman. “They were coming fast. For playing their third game in three days, they were flying out there and they were pushing us back and we got on our heels.”
Still, Steadman was pleased with the pushback the Knights exhibited and so was defenceman Jacob Golden.
“I was proud with how the team battled back and (Jordan) Kooy really stood on his head, so it was tough. We were looking for that last goal, but unfortunately we couldn’t get it today.
That quest for that goal went right to the end as London brought Jordan Kooy to the bench for an extra attacker, but could not get the puck through the defensive wall that the Storm put in front of them.
Kooy stretched out to make an incredible stop on former Jr. Knight, Isaac Ratcliffe, in the third period that kept things within a goal. But despite two faceoffs in the Guelph end inside the final 60 seconds, they could not generate any clear-cut chances to try to tie things up.
The game featured the top two scoring defencemen in the Ontario Hockey League, in Evan Bouchard of the Knights, who leads all defenceman with 60 points, and Guelph’s Ryan Merkley, who has 57 points. Neither one disappointed. They combined to score or assist on every goal in the game. Merkley ended the day with a goal and two assists and Bouchard had a goal and an assist to stretch his point streak to four games.
Kooy made 29 saves for London. Anthony Popovich stopped 25 shots for Guelph.
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How the goals were scored
Liam Hawel scored the first goal of the game, 3:48 after the opening faceoff. He cut to the front, got to the edge of the Knights’ crease and banged a shot behind London goalie, Jordan Kooy.
Londoner Isaac Ratcliffe put the Storm ahead 2-0 on a power play just past the halfway mark of the first period as he used his big frame to set up off to the right of the London net and banged in a Ryan Merkley rebound.
The Knights’ first two draft picks from the 2016 OHL Priority Selection combined on a give-and-go to score London’s first goal of the game. Billy Moskal carried the puck across the Guelph blue line and dropped a pass to Liam Foudy. Moskal then went right to the net and Foudy fed him a pass that Moskal fired past Anthony Popovich in the Storm net to cut Guelph’s lead to 2-1.
A delayed penalty call early in the second period restored the Storm’s two-goal lead. With the extra attacker on the ice, Hawel found Merkley in the slot and he wristed a high shot into the London net for his 12th goal of the season.
Bouchard brought the Knights back to within a goal on a London power play with a slap shot that gave Bouchard his 60th point of the season and saw the teams head to the dressing room with Guelph leading 3-2 after 40 minutes, and that ended up being the final goal of the afternoon.
Ryan Merkley of Guelph zipped a pass in front to the left of the Knight net and it hit the skate of Zach Poirier and the puck kicked right to Ratcliffe, who snapped a shot at what looked like a wide open side. The puck was flying toward the goal line when Kooy stretched out in a spread eagle and got his arm on the shot.
Evan Bouchard has now put together four consecutive multi-point games for the Knights that have seen him score once and add in nine assists. Bouchard also played for Team Cherry in the Top Prospects game in Guelph on Jan. 25 and had four assists there, so he has a goal and 13 helpers in his last five times on the ice.
Knights in the NHL All-Star game
Patrick Kane and John Tavares both took part in the All-Star festivities over the weekend in Tampa Bay. Kane spent the 2006-07 season with the Knights before being selected first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL Entry Draft. Tavares was acquired by London from the Oshawa Generals in January 2009 and helped them get to the Western Conference final that year against the eventual Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires.
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The Knights finish their five-game homestand on Friday night against the Barrie Colts. The teams met just before the trade deadline in Barrie. London got 40 saves that night from Jordan Kooy and earned a 5-3 victory in what was Nathan Dunkley’s first game in a London uniform.
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on 980 CFPL, at www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.