STORM WARNING: KNIGHTS BOUNCED FROM MEMORIAL CUP
The 2013-14 season came to end for Buffalo Sabres prospects Nikita Zadorov (2013, first round) and Brady Austin (2012, seventh round) Wednesday as the London Knights were eliminated from the 2014 MasterCard Memorial Cup with a 7-2 loss to the Guelph Storm. Scott Kosmachuk (WPG) notched a hat trick to pace the high-flying Storm. Tyler Bertuzzi (DET) added a pair of markers, while Jason Dickinson (DAL) contributed one goal and two helpers as Guelph eliminated their division rival from postseason play for the second time in as many months.
The victory vaults Guelph, who scored a CHL-best 340 goals in 2013-14, into Sunday’s championship game where they’ll face the winner of Friday’s semifinal tilt between WHL champion Edmonton and QMJHL representative Val-d’Or.
With London head coach Dale Hunter shuffling his line combinations, Zadorov skated against the top Guelph forwards alongside Dakota Mermis, while Austin formed the second defensive unit with fellow overager Zach Bell. The two Sabres prospects had played the previous two games together on the Knights’ top pairing.
Zadorov showcased his physical style for the third consecutive game, but was unable to provide a secondary offensive push that the Knights needed in finishing the night with a minus-two rating. Zadorov, who entered the week with 39 points (15+24) in 45 Ontario Hockey League contests including the playoffs, was kept off the scoresheet as the host Knights exited the tourney without a win.
London joins the 2003 Quebec Remparts in infamy as the only host teams to not post a Memorial Cup win on home ice.
For Austin, the loss was a bitter end to an excellent OHL career, and the continuation of a trying spring that saw him miss the second round of the OHL playoffs with mononucleosis and then deal with the loss of his father a week later. The Bobcaygeon, Ont.-native notched an assist in defeat, ending the tournament with one point and a minus-three rating.
The Storm struck first at 5:56 when Kosmachuk connected from the slot off a Brock McGinn (CAR) feed from behind the net. Zadorov stayed with his man towards the corner and didn’t have a chance to get back to the front of the net in time to prevent the goal.
Kosmachuk scored on the power for his second goal of the night at 12:44 when a shot from the wing ricocheted right to the slot, where the 19-year old drove it past Anthony Stolarz (PHI) for a 2-0 Guelph lead.
London halved the deficit late in the period on the power play as Brett Welychka crept down low and buried a one-time rocket past Justin Nichols. The goal was the first of the tournament from a London forward.
The Knights held a 15-13 shot advantage after the lively opening frame, but found themselves in familiar territory on the wrong side of a 2-1 score at the first intermission.
A lucky bounce put Guelph ahead early into period two as a Bertuzzi shot banked off the end boards back into the crease, where it was kicked into the goal by a scrambling Stolarz at 2:23. Dale Hunter had seen enough at that point, pulling Stolarz for the second straight game in favor of Jake Patterson.
The goaltending change provided a brief spark as the Knights immediately clawed back with a Josh Anderson (CBJ) rebound tally at 5:34. Austin drew a secondary helper on the play for his only point of the tournament.
Midway through the period, Zadorov continued his hard-hitting theme of the week by wiping Bertuzzi out in the neutral zone. The big Russian was given a two minute penalty for tripping, while Bertuzzi, who was helped off the ice, returned for a shift on the ensuing power play.
Bertuzzi later exacted some revenge by scoring his second goal of the night off a two-on-one break with 3:55 remaining in the middle frame to give Guelph a 4-2 lead. Zadorov got caught cheating in from his blueline post on the play, allowing a Storm defender to loft the puck over his head for the zone clear and create the odd-man rush the other way.
The Knights kept battling to the second intermission, but the Storm scored three more goals in the final 20 minutes to complete the rout.
Guelph kept their foot on the gas with another quick strike as Dickinson took a drop pass at the Knights blue line and skated down the center lane to beat Patterson just 1:20 in.
Less than seven minutes later, Kosmachuk completed the hat trick with a nice finish down low to make it a 6-2 game and take any hope away from the London faithful.
Following a late melee that put the Storm on a power play, draft eligible forward Marc Stevens put the cherry on top with a goal from the edge of the crease with 2:46 left in regulation to make it a 7-2 final.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - sabresprospects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @sabresprospects for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.