Guelph Storm is headed to the Memorial Cup playdowns as champions of the Ontario Hockey League.
The Storm put the finishing touches on a steamy playoff run on Friday night with a 4-3 win over North Bay Battalion in front of 5,015 frenzied fans at the Sleeman Centre in Guelph.
Guelph took the best-of-seven series from North Bay 4-1.
In fact, Guelph won each of its playoff rounds four games to one, disposing of Plymouth Whalers, London Knights, Erie Otters and North Bay in successive five-game sets.
Guelph’s 16-4 playoff record follows a regular-season mark of 52-12-4, which was tops in the 20-team OHL.
Backstopping Guelph all the way has been Justin Nichols, a 1995 birth-year goalie who was acquired by the Storm from Soo Greyhounds in a pre-season trade.
Nichols fashioned a regular-season record of 35-7-1 with a 2.85 goals-against-average and .918 save percentage. He then followed up with a playoff record of 16-4 to go with a 2.63 goals-against-average and .919 save percentage.
For Guelph, this will be its third trip to the Memorial Cup since the Storm came into existence in 1991. The Storm previously won OHL championships in 1998 and 2004.
As a franchise, the Storm has come a long way in 23 years.
In its first OHL season — the 1991-1992 campaign — Guelph finished last overall with an astonishingly-awful record of 4-51-11.
Interestingly, the general manager of that lowly 1991-1992 squad was Mike Kelly, now in his second go-round with the Storm and the architect of Guelph’s 2013-2014 OHL championship team.
Guelph now heads to the 2014 Memorial Cup tournament in London with the OHL Knights as host entry.
The four-team MemCup tourney begins on Friday, May 16 and will feature Guelph, London and the champions of the Quebec Major Jr. Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.
Winning the OHL title and playing for the Memorial Cup has been the aim of the Storm since the 2013-2014 season started, said Guelph captain Matt Finn.
“From day one this was our goal to win this and make it to the Memorial Cup and have a chance to play for that,” said Finn, a 1994 birth-year defenceman who was a second-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2012 National Hockey League draft and has since signed a pro contract with them.
“We did this as a team,” said Finn, who had 61 points during the regular season and 14 more in the 20 playoff outings. “There is not one guy more important than the next on this team, from the coaching staff, everybody up through the scouts, owners and GM Mike Kelly, they all had a hand in putting it together for us and we had the horses to get it done.”
Of note, Sault Ste. Marie’s Jimmy Mancuso is part of the Guelph scouting staff. Mancuso oversees the Northern Ontario region for the Storm.
PHOTO: The scene, as seen from the stands, after Guelph upended North Bay to win the OHL championship in front of more than 5,000 frenzied fans at the Sleeman Centre. (Photo by David Cameletti.)