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Guelph Storm win OHL Western Conference title; league’s best run since 2010 Spitfires

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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Blue Jackets pick Kerby Rychel took over the OHL playoff lead with 23 points (OHL Images)

Let the legacy talk begin, even with the OHL final still yet to come for the Guelph Storm. Besides, the North Bay Battalion is looking for anything it can weave into the David vs. Goliath motif.

The last appointment-viewing, drop-everything team the OHL boasted was arguably the 2010 Windsor Spitfires of Taylor Hall and Ryan Ellis fame, who had five players compete in the world junior gold medal game on their way to back-to-back league titles and Memorial Cup victories. The personification of the Storm might be less a shooting star such as Hall a more a do-everything elder such as Zack Mitchell, who matured from hot-and-cold-running enigma in his early seasons into a fine free-agent signing for the Minnesota Wild under the watchful eye of coach Scott Walker. Mitchell and Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder Kerby Rychel, whose father Warren built those Spitfres juggernauts, share the playoff scoring lead with 23 points.

It bears saying after Guelph's 5-0 rout of the Erie Otters on Friday that sealed its third consecutive five-game series win and a berth in the OHL final vs. North Bay. This is the most dominant run the league has seen those near-mythical Spits at the dawn of the decade.

Consider the following:

— The Storm's plus-36 goal differential through 15 playoff games is identical to the Spitfires' through 19. Windsor's three playoff losses all came in the semifinal vs. Kitchener. Guelph, of course, dropped only one game apiece to the OHL's second- and third-best teams, Erie and the Memorial Cup host London Knights.

— Guelph outscored foes by 149 goals (338-189) during the regular season. The 2010 Spitfires finished 129 goals in the black.

— The Storm have scored at least five goals in 32 of 43 games at the Sleeman Centre, where the final will begin on Thursday. Its only back-to-back regular season losses were on Oct. 5-6.

— Then there was the way Erie's most reliable scorers were largely contained by Toronto Maple Leafs signing Matt Finn and mates. Erie came in with three of the top four scorers and they combined for 13 points: Connor Brown (4G-1A, -3), Dane Fox (1G-2A, -4), Connor McDavid (5A, -5). One can only wonder how much that will fuel McDavid for 2015.

No wonder Storm captain Matt Finn and his mates were willing to flout a silly tradition and take a photo with the Wayne Gretzky Trophy.

It's entirely possible Guelph will end up without winning a major individual player award, although GM Mike Kelly should be a shoo-in to be named the league's top executive. Since the two-stage transition from former coach-GM Jason Brooks to Kelly and Walker midway through 2010-11, the Storm have steadily cultivated its stable of talent, with homegrown 18- and 19-year-old forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, Jason Dickinson Scott Kosmachuk and Brock McGinn and defencemen Finn, Ben Harpur and Zac Leslie becoming main cogs in the machine. Guelph, through adding Rychel and Los Angeles Kings-drafted defender Nick Ebert from Windsor in January, also managed the neat trick of adding star power at the deadline without stretching the fabric of its team. Eighteen-year-old goalie Justin Nichols also bounced back from being pulled in a Game 4 loss to Erie to log a 40-save shutout on Friday.

All in all, not bad for a group that had never sniffed the second round of the playoffs prior to this spring. As the wise man says, teenagers age; it doesn't hurt to point out the Storm have tromped through the league rather prolifically.

So far. The next series is a blank slate.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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