Storm captain Matt Finn (right) clears the crease in front of Justin Nichols (Aaron Bell, OHL Images)
LONDON, Ont. — They talked a big game in a way that almost un-hockey-like, and then backed it up by playing one.
All too often, the truth in sports is surrounded by a forcefield of 'they have a great team too' clichés. The Guelph Storm didn't bother with the latter, running with the storyline about consigning the London Knights to their fate as the most feeble Memorial Cup host team in a decade. (Coach Scott Walker apparently drew the "rivalry is for your media guys" straw.) It might have seemed shocking to someone who had bought the dream of the Guelph gang being humble heroes. Instead, they put themselves out there, knowing how it might look if they let London off the deck.
"Being confident, you have to follow through with it, you can't blow smoke," said right wing Scott Kosmachuk, who had a hat trick, including a first-period pair during the 7-2 Storm rout at Budweiser Gardens. "We're not going to let up on anyone. We're going to keep playing Guelph Storm hockey throughout the tournament.
"We have a great coaching staff, they're always lifting us up and giving us the tools to compete," the Winnipeg Jets signing added. "We had a great compete level throughout the room tonight."
The final against the winner of Friday's Edmonton-Val-d'Or tilt is, of course, the bigger game. The Storm, however, got the symbolism of consigning the former two-time OHL champion Knights to the first 0-3 showing by a host in 11 seasons. It was part bile, part grudging respect.
"They have handed it to us, they have handed it to everybody in the league pretty much," captain Matt Finn said. "I think we had a lot of teams pulling for us tonight to get them out of this tournament.
"We responded when they scored. We kept pushing it."
The Storm scored seven goals despite Walker having to shuffle lines after Zack Mitchell got a kneeing major/game misconduct in the first period. Kosmachuk took Mitchell's spot on Robby Fabbri's line and scored three. Tyler Bertuzzi moved up to the second unit and sandwiched two second-period goals around a presumed acting job being tripped by Nikita Zadorov. (Walker's explanation for why Zadorov got away with a minor penalty was called was, "With Bert it's tough to decipher whether he's grimacing or smiling.")
When Bertuzzi returned after missing a whole 70 seconds of game time, he was booed every time he touched the puck. The Detroit Red Wings pick promptly sped away after taking an off-the-glass pass from Jason Dickinson and beat Jake Patterson for a 4-2 lead.
A classic heel move. Something you might have seen from a London player in another time and place.
"It's been with us all year, that swagger," said Dickinson, who had three points. "To play London again and knock them out again, that's what we wanted. That's what every team wants."
It's the first time since 2008 that a CHL team has eliminated the same club in both the playoffs and the Memorial Cup. The last instance involved the powerhouse Kitchener Rangers, a host team, beating out the small-market Belleville Bulls. The optics were a wee bit different.
"We knew exactly what was the line and we were really excited to knock them out for the second time this year," said Mitchell, who's played the Knights 41 times in his career.
As a franchise, the Storm came one goal short of winning the Memorial Cup in 1998, losing in overtime to the Portland Winterhawks. With London ousted, it's safe for the players who aren't old enough to remember that to acknowledge what a title would mean for Storm supporters.
"We know close Guelph has been in the past and we want to bring a championship back to Guelph," Finn said.
London will probably stay a magnet team for the foreseeable future, able to land prospects who have serious sway over where they take some talents. It's important to keep that in mind even after a round-robin where London's four NHL first-rounders combined for one fewer goal than Guelph fourth-liner Marc Stevens. The Memorial Cup is the biggest stage for the CHL. Being in the final means exposure for the Storm. General manager Mike Kelly has spoken of the need to attract U.S.-born players to compete with London. This helps close the game.
"It’s notoriety, and it helps," said Walker, whose only American contributor, defenceman Nick Ebert, came over in the midseason Kerby Rychel mega-trade with Windsor.
"Sometimes in junior hockey when you’re recruiting and you have to call everybody and explain who you are? Sometimes it’s nicer when it’s them calling you."
The Storm lost two games in a row only twice during its 108-point regular season. It didn't lose more than once during any playoff series. It's also the first team to go 3-0 in the Cup round-robin since the Taylor Hall-powered 2010 Windsor Spitfires.
"There was a little bit of swagger going into this game," Finn added. "Whenever you win a league there's going to be a little bit of swagger. I don't think we were cocky about it. I think we've been a confident group all year. We've been calm, cool and collected in all three areas."
Walker talked up his team as one of the best OHL squads in living memory after it beat North Bay on May 9 to clinch the J. Ross Robertson Cup. Now the Storm have to shift from sending the Twitterverse into euphoria to playing one more big game for the national championship.
"You're only as good as your last game and that will be our last game of this season, so we got to leave it with a bang," Dickinson said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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