NORTH BAY, Ont. — The sleeping giant rousted, with the Guelph Storm getting goals from eight players in a 10-1 Game 4 win that opened a 3-1 OHL final lead over the North Bay Battalion.
Pius Suter (2G, +2) got the icebreaker and tallied a short-hander after a ghastly giveaway, which was sandwiched around Winnipeg Jets signing Scott Kosmachuk (1G-3A, +4) breaking a five-game goalless drought. The last 40 minutes were played pretty much for show and sending messages, with Guelph earning a chance to clinch on Friday.
"I think it was about time," Kosmachuk, who led Guelph with 101 points in thev regular season, said. "We were eventually going to break through. We're a great team and they had shut us down. It was a matter of time before we broke loose.
"It felt great to play well in both games here. One more win and we win the OHL championship."
The Battalion crowd of 4,242 gave goalie Jake Smith a standing ovation when he was relieved after the Storm went ahead 7-0 in the second period. There was another ovation after time mercifully expired and the Battalion skated off the Memorial Gardens sheet for perhaps the final time in this storybook season.
"We owe all the fans another game here," Battalion captain Barclay Goodrow said. "They've been great all playoffs and all seaon. When we were losing 9-1, they're still rooting for us and cheering us on. I think we owe it to them to bring it back here for Game 6."
The result attested to the completeness of the Storm, which has now had at least one seven-goal game in all four rounds. On with the post-game questions:
Guelph 10 North Bay 1 (Storm lead 3-1 and host Game 5 on Friday) — Was the outcome a residual effect of the reversal of fortune from Tuesday, when the Storm scored two goals in the final 30 seconds? If it walks like a residual effect and sounds like a residual effect, it probably is. The reality is, though, had North Bay got out with the W on Tuesday, the Storm still could have felt secure in the knowledge that it had produced its best effort of the series.
"I don't know how much to put into [the notion of momentum], but sometimes it's the continuation of playing well," said Storm coach Scott Walker. "Sometimes in junior hockey the score is not indicative of the game. I thought [Tuesday] night we played extremely hard, had to battle for every second of the game to win. Tonight we came out and things just bounced our way. I know that's tough to say, but I don't think there was any difference in our games either night.
Guelph ended up ahead 40-23 on the shot counter, nearly identical to Tuesday's 44-26. It was just relentless, with Kerby Rychel (1G-2A, +3), Robby Fabbri (1G-2A, +2) and Zack Mitchell (3A, +2) also filling up the scoresheet.
The 3-0 goal 14:16 into the first was telling. Mitchell pounced at the Battalion blueline, stepping between Mike Amadio and Barclay Goodrow to steal the puck and break in on goal. Smith batted down the high-glove shot, but lost track of the rebound that the unmarked Suter jammed in.
"In any series there's momentum and it can swing very quickly," Battalion coach Stan Butler said. "There's no doubt that what happened in the last minute of the game yesterday was tough on our team. But today's game was a different game. It started, I believe, 0-0. You got to be ready to go from there. In playoffs you got to have a really short memory. Are we disappointed? Obviously? Are we upset? Extremely? Are we frustrated? No. We realize that we got to play a lot better on Friday night. Guelph's a great team that is playing very well but you get a day now to look at things.
"Sometimes things happen in games that you can't put your finger on," Butler said in response to another question. "Quite frankly if you could you'd correct them. If they don't get corrected during the game that's because whatever buttons you're trying to push as coach, whether it'tactically or technically, or emotionally or physically or psychologically, it's not working. You can't lose sight that you're dealing with teenagers. They're unpredictable in normal circumstances. when they get a lot of stress and things don't go their way, it's even more difficult. Sometimes, if you're honest, you look at it and say you don't why."
How will the Battalion respond on Friday? Post-game, the automatic first point of reference was North Bay's comeback in the first round from a 3-1 series deficit against the Niagara IceDogs. Of course, that was a 57-point team, not a 52-win team.
"We'll just look it as a one-game scenario," Goodrow said. "We just need to look at it, as we need to win one game to keep playing hockey. That's what we need against Niagara and we were able to be successful
"[In this game] they got the start they wanted, the first goal, the second goal and we weren't able to rebound," Goodrow added.
The Storm's three series wins have each been wrapped up during Friday night home games. Each win was by at least three goals, too. Guelph is a daunting opponent once it receives a wake-up call.
"It may be that we weren't emotionally attached to the games early on," Walker said. "We seem to play better when it gets intense. we get some resolve. Players did a heckuva job being disciplined but staying very intense."
How special was the setting in North Bay for these past two games? It stood out that both head coaches went out of their ways to compliment the successive standing-room-only crowds.
"We played hard yesterday and today we followed it up," said Walker, who played his major junior hockey in a small market in the early 1990s with the then-Owen Sound Platers. "It's a tough place to play, great fans and it's nice for us, [Storm assistant coach] Todd Harvey and myself, who played here for a lot of years [as OHL players] to see North Bay back here. It's nice to see the support."
The real question is whether the Gardens will see a Game 6 on Sunday night. One ought not to bet against team's heart, but over the last four periods, the Battalion hasn't exactly indicated that there is potential to rebound.
"They got the jump on us early and we didn't recover from that, and the game just spiraled," Butler said. "The one thing I'm appreciative tonight is our seventh man, our fans. On behalf of the team, I thank them for standing with us right through to the end. That's why they're the best fans in the Ontario Hockey League. It was a tough night for them as well as us but tomorrow's a new day and another hockey game and we've got to get ready for that."
A win Friday would grant the Storm a seven-day break. The OHL champion's first Memorial Cup game is slated for May 17 vs. the Edmonton-Portland victor in the WHL final.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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