Blay: IceDogs fighting for life in Game 5 of OHL Final

Knights goaltender Michael Houser has been instrumental towards London’s success throughout the playoffs. (Joel Smith Photography)

Jeff Blay, Executive Editor
@JeffBlay

Just three periods away from elimination, the Niagara IceDogs head into Friday’s Game 5 battle with the London Knights, fighting for their postseason lives.

As of Game 1 of the OHL Final, it seemed as if the series could have gone either way – Niagara took a 1-0 series lead after defeating the Knights in a close but triumphant double-overtime thriller. That even keel quickly vanished and the Knights took control of the series 3-1, although, according to the IceDogs, it’s still far from over.

Goaltender Mark Visentin told Yahoo! Sports’ Sunaya Sapurji the team’s goal is still to win the OHL title, despite trailing in the series.

“There’s no reason to give up – I don’t think anybody is – our guys are committed to a full 60 minutes next game to do whatever we can to get back into the series. That’s the way we have to look at it, we don’t have to win three games. We just need to win one game at a time and keep our heads at a level state and not get too high or low.
“It was our goal to win the league this year and it still is.”

On the other side of the spectrum, the Knights head into Game 5 with high morale and a home-ice advantage. Assistant captain Scott Harrington told Metro London’s John Matisz the team doesn’t need to make much adjustment, but rather focus on the things they’ve done well in the series thus far, adding:

“I don’t think we need to change anything though, especially with our preparation.”

One of the things London has done well, as Matisz points out, is shutting down the IceDogs’ top line and specifically, first round NHL draft pick and one of 2010-11’s 100 point scorers, Ryan Strome.

Strome has notched just two assists in the series and both came in Game 2, when he was also a minus-4.

As for the Knights, they seem to be getting the best of their players at the right time, as many of the team’s younger skaters have recently thrived, while goalie Michael Houser has had no trouble dueling with counterpart Mark Visentin. The undrafted recipient of the OHL Goaltender of the Year Award currently boasts a 2.32 goals against average, a 0.926 save percentage and has stopped 151 shots in four games of the series.

The only real negative going against the Knights in Game 5 is the injury to star defenseman and top-ranked NHL draft prospect Olli Maatta, who’s racked up six goals and 23 points in 18 playoff games, including a goal and three assists against the IceDogs.

You can expect Niagara to come out with a bang in Game 5 in hopes of returning home to the Gatorade Garden City Complex for a shot at evening the series. That said, the Knights are certainly on a roll and you can also expect the John Labatt Centre to be packed and roaring, which will only add to their momentum. With a win, the Knights would advance to the Memorial Cup and could potentially add another CHL championship to the organization’s already reputable repertoire.

Keys notes – IceDogs:
• Captain Andrew Agozzino scored four goals in the first two games, but was silenced in Games 3 and 4.
• Dallas Stars draft pick Brett Ritchie has quietly been one of Niagara’s best players in the series, with points in three of the four games.
• Assistant captain Alex Friesen has been held to one assist in the series and will need to step up his play in Game 5.
• The IceDogs have outshot the Knights 160-122 in the series, but have been outscored 14-9.

Key notes – Knights:

• Youngsters Max Domi, Chris Tierney and Ryan Rupert have combined for nine goals in the series.
• NHL Draft prospect Andreas Athanasiou was activated for the first time in the series in Game 4 and notched one assist.

*Catch Game 5 of the OHL Final on Friday Night Hockey on Rogers Sportsnet East, Ontario, West and Pacific starting at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT.

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Comments

  1. CoincidentalMinorsStaff says:

    Update: Olli Maatta was supposed to be out for Game 5 and was listed day-to-day, but it was announced prior to game time he will play despite not being 100 per cent.

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