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Potent Storm take on intrepid Battalion for Ontario Hockey League title

Tuesday, 04.29.2014 / 4:54 PM / News

The Canadian Press

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Potent Storm take on intrepid Battalion for Ontario Hockey League title

The Ontario Hockey League championship series pits the Cinderella-story North Bay Battalion against the explosive Guelph Storm.

The best-of-seven series opens Thursday in Guelph with the winner earning a berth in next month's Memorial Cup in London, Ont.

The Battalion have never won an OHL title while the Storm claimed it in 2004 and 1998.

Major junior hockey returned to North Bay this past season after an 11-year absence. The Battalion relocated to the city of 54,000 after 15 seasons in Brampton, where attendance was lagging.

The Battalion are the "feel-good" story of the OHL's post season. The North Bay Centennials won a league championship in 1994, but moved to Saginaw, Mich., in 2002.

If having a major junior team back in town wasn't excitement enough for North Vay, their no-name, nervy Battalion provided additional thrills in their first season there. The Battalion trailed 3-1 in their opening round against Niagara and were down 1-0 heading into the third period of Game 7 of that series before pulling out a 2-1 win.

The North Bay Nugget reported the lineup for playoff tickets formed at 6 a.m. on Monday and quickly sold out.

"When you think of junior hockey in Canada, it's pretty much everything you can think of," Battalion captain Barclay Goodrow said on a conference call Tuesday.

"It's nice to be recognized in the community and then come game time, the support they give us during a game has been great. The whole atmosphere in the rink and around the town has been awesome."

Containing a Storm offence averaging almost five goals per game in the post-season, with six players averaging over a point per game, will be a test of the Battalion's cohesiveness.

North Bay can't match Guelph's attack. Goodrow is the lone player averaging over a point per game in the playoffs, so North Bay's defence must be mistake-free and their scorers opportunistic to pull off an upset.

"They're a big, physical team," Storm captain Matt Finn said of their opponent. "They work hard. They don't have any superstars, but they've bought into that team-first mentality and in the playoffs, that's what it takes to win.

"We have that as well here in Guelph. We've got a great culture here and so do they."

After playing 13 games in their first two playoff rounds, the Battalion swept the Oshawa Generals in four straight to catch a breather. Guelph's post-season pace has been steadier with 4-1 wins in each of their three rounds.

The Storm scored a league-best 340 goals during the regular season. They emerged from a division that featured the league's three 100-point teams: themselves, the London Knights and the Erie Otters.

Guelph ousted the Knights, the Memorial Cup hosts, in the second round and then eliminated the Otters in five games in the third.

Zach Mitchell, Columbus Blue Jackets first-round draft pick Kerby Rychel and Winnipeg Jets prospect Scott Kosmachuk have scored a combined 27 goals in 15 playoff games.

Stan Butler is the OHL's longest-serving coach. He's stood behind the Battalion bench since their expansion year in 1998. He'll be unapologetic if the Battalion can inject some boredom into their series by taking away the Storm's speed and skill.

"The players understand the style we need to play to have a chance against any team, especially against a team like Guelph," Butler said.

"We try to play hard on the puck, try to compete, try to play 200 feet. I mean, Scott's got a great hockey team there and a lot of talent. We haven't won too many 8-7 hockey games this year."

Storm coach Scott Walker played 829 games in the NHL with Vancouver, Nashville, Carolina and Washington. He took over as Guelph's head coach midway through the 2010-11 season.

After three straight years of first-round eliminations, the Storm are back in the OHL final for the fifth time in their 23-year history.

Intangibles will likely decide this year's victor, according to the Storm's coach.

"Like Stan said, whether systems come into play or not, there isn't any system for people blocking shots or taking a hit to make a play," Walker said. "It's just about hard hockey and both teams are playing extremely hard or they wouldn't be in the final."

After the conference call concluded, the OHL announced that Battalion right-winger Mike Baird was suspended for 20 games for physically abusing an official April 10th in Game 4 of their second-round series versus the Barrie Colts.

Baird had an assist and 27 penalty minutes in 28 games for the Battalion this past season.

The Western Hockey League championship starting Saturday features the Edmonton Oil Kings and Portland Winterhawks for a third straight year.

The third round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs went the distance with both semifinal series requiring a Game 7 on Tuesday.

The finalists came down to the Halifax Mooseheads versus the Val-d'Or Foreurs and the Baie-Comeau Drakkar versus the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

Quote of the Day

They said, 'You're going to love the city. It's smaller than Philadelphia, but you're going to love it. You're going to love the fans. Just watching the playoffs last year, the fans seemed louder there than they did anywhere. I'm really excited about that.

— Forward Scott Hartnell on his upcoming season with the Columbus Blue Jackets