Captained by Flyers left wing prospect Isaac Ratcliffe, the Guelph Storm have completed one of the most remarkable playoff runs in the annals of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
On Sunday in Guelph, the Storm defeated the Ottawa 67's, 8-3, to win the OHL championship in six games.
"Every memory the past four years all the way from my first thing in Guelph is really hitting me right now," said Ratcliffe on the OHL's website after receiving the J. Ross Robertson Cup.
"All the work we've put in, everything we've done this year. The resiliency from this team is unbelievable, none like I've ever seen before. I've never played on a team with this much skill, this much class and this much character. I'm so happy right now and we're not done."
After winning their opening round series with ease in a four-game sweep of Kitchener, Guelph had to overcome series deficits of 3-0 (vs. London Knights), 3-1 (Saginaw Spirit) and 2-0 (Ottawa) to win the championship. In the title-winning game on Sunday, the Storm trailed 2-0 at the first intermission before scoring five straight goals in the second period to seize control.
Ottawa, the league's top team in the regular season, swept each of their first three rounds of the playoffs before winning Games 1 and 2 at home against Guelph to start the postseason with a perfect 14-0 record. Undaunted, the Storm proceeded to win the next four games in a row.
Ratcliffe played a pivotal role in his team's drive to the championship including first-star honors in Game 5 (one goal, nine shots on goal) and second-star in Game 6 (two goals, two assists, +4, four shots on goal). In Sunday's championship winning game, back-to-back goals by Ratcliffe at even strength and then on the power play tied the game and then put the Storm ahead, 3-2.
Two of Ratcliffe's four points in Sunday's game came on highlight reel plays. One of his goals came on a slick dangle as he moved in from the half boards to near the hash marks as then snapped home a shot past 67's goaltender Cedrick Andree. Ratcliffe also had a nifty between-the-legs assist on tally by Nick Suzuki.
Ratcliffe concluded the OHL playoffs with 30 points (15g-15a) in 24 games. He ranked third in goals and points during the postseason.
A streak scorer, Ratcliffe opened the playoffs with a five-game point streak (2g-5a). After going pointless from Games 2-4 of the second round series against London, Ratcliffe went on a six-game point streak (6g-4a) that included five straight games with at least one goal between Game 7 of the London series and Game 3 of the Western Conference final against Saginaw. He had two points apiece in Games 5 and 6 of the Spirit Series.
In the Ottawa series, Ratcliffe scored in a losing cause in the opener. After a quiet Game 2, the Guelph captain exploded for two goals and a half-dozen shots on goal to take second-star honors in Game 3.
Ratcliffe chipped in an assist in Game 4 but was held without a shot on goal as the Storm equaled the series at two games apiece. Ratcliffe then played like a man possessed in the final two games of the series. Although Suzuki deservedly won The Wayne Gretzky 99 Award (playoff MVP), linemate Ratcliffe was also stellar when all the chips were down.
Combining the regular season and the OHL playoffs, Ratcliffe scored 65 goals and 112 points in 89 games. The numbers have to placed in context.
Ratcliffe is a draft-plus-two player in his fourth OHL season, he is much bigger (6-foot-6, 204 pounds) than most of his opponents and, last but certainly not least, benefited greatly from a midseason trade that brought top Montreal Canadiens prospect Suzuki to Guelph to play on his line. Nevertheless, Ratcliffe's big final season of junior was right in line with the Flyers were hoping to see this season from him.
Now, it's on to the Memorial Cup for Ratcliffe and the Storm. Their opposition will be the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL champions), Halifax Mooseheads (tournament host team), and the winner of the WHL Final.
Currently, the Prince Albert Raiders and Vancouver Giants are tied at 3-3 in their Western League Final series after Vancouver won, 4-2, on Sunday to force a 7th and deciding game in Price Albert in Monday. The Memorial Cup round-robin gets underway on Friday.