GUELPH, ON – Shawn Camp had promised that his hockey team would be better. And they were.
One week after a disappointing end to their regular season, the Guelph Gryphons opened the OUA men's hockey playoffs on Thursday night at home with a convincing 5-1 victory over the Brock Badgers.
Guelph leads the best-of-three OUA West quarter-final series 1-0, and can wrap it up on Friday night in St. Catharines.
"We had some time to get ourselves together and regroup," Camp, the Gryphs' head coach, said after Thursday's game. "It was real important that we get off to a good start tonight.
"It's a whole new season when you get to the playoffs. They recognize that what happened in the regular season is now history, and we had to be prepared to move forward as a group."
The team hadn't played since closing out the regular season last week with an 11-4 loss to the Ryerson Rams on Senior Night at the Gryphon Centre.
But the Gryphs are a veteran club who were able to reflect on that defeat and put it in the past, where it belongs.
"We're not looking back at that. We're looking forward from now on," said captain Scott Simmonds, who returned to the lineup on Thursday after missing six games while playing for Canada at the FISU World University Games in Kazakhstan.
"I'm excited to be back. It's nice to be back with these guys. I missed them a lot, and I hope we go for a long run."
"He's our captain, and his leadership is invaluable," Camp said of the third-year centre from Uxbridge, ON.
The coach noted that the Gryphs also welcomed winger Marc Stevens and veteran defenceman Mac Nichol back to the lineup on Thursday, and their additions made a difference.
"It gives us a little more depth, a little more skill, a little more speed, a little more experience," Camp said. "It really helped us tonight."
The final score does not reflect how close the game was through the first two periods, and how it could have gone either way. There were no goals until the 18:04 mark of the second period, when Rob Lepine pounced on a rebound from a shot by Peter Soligo and tucked it behind Badgers starting netminder Clint Windsor.
The Gryphs broke the game open in the final frame on goals by Andres Kopstals, Nick Boyer and Manny Gialedakis. Brock responded by replacing Windsor in net with Alex Brooks-Potts and then pulling him for an extra attacker with six minutes left, and it actually got the Badgers on the scoreboard.
Andrew Radjenovic scored Brock's goal, but the Badgers couldn't repeat the magic and Guelph's Marc Stevens put the contest out of reach by scoring into an empty net with 3:34 left.
It was a rough game, but that was to be expected with two teams that clearly don't like each other. It didn't quite reach the level of animosity that marked Guelph's preseason visit to St. Catharines for Brock's Homecoming back in September, but the intensity was definitely there on Thursday.
"It's such a great rivalry. It's very healthy, it's very respectful, but it's very, very physical, and tonight was no exception," Camp said. "Great to see that our guys handled themselves well with the physical play tonight."
"We've had some good battles this year, even the exhibition game that got pretty wild," Simmons said, adding that the Gryphs are expecting another tough battle on Friday.
"We know that they're going to work, and we've got to work harder than them. That's what we did tonight, and hopefully we can do it again tomorrow."
If necessary, Game 3 will be played on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the Gryphon Centre.
Source: Guelph Gryphons