London Nationals look to 2013 champs for Sutherland Cup inspiration

Six years ago, the London Nationals lost the first two games of the Sutherland Cup final.

They didn’t panic, waxed Cambridge 6-0 in Game 3 and went the distance to win their only Ontario Junior B hockey title to date.


The current Nats know that story.

They are gunning for a re-run against Waterloo starting Wednesday at Western Fair, after a tribute to late 2013 coach Kelly Thomson and in front of a gathering of his former players.

“We’re trying to live up to that 2013 team,” London captain Kyle Dawson said. “They were in the same boat as us, down two games. We’re kind of looking to them for some inspiration and to see if we can bring the Cup back here again.”

Both the Nats and Siskins organizations understand the stakes.

The mighty Caledonia Corvairs, who took a one-year leave of absence from play, will be back this fall with full wallets and, most likely, an inspired roster of jilted OHLers.

The window for winning the Cup hasn’t been open this wide in some time. And don’t forget, this is the hungry Nationals’ third trip to the final in the past four years.

“Everyone sees it as a huge opportunity,” said Dawson, who has scored in each of the first two games. “For a lot of older guys, it could be our last time competing for a trophy of this calibre.

“For the younger guys, it could be the first – and only – time. For both the city and the franchise, it’s a big achievement to win it.”

Waterloo pounded home nine goals in the opener, then rescued another win in overtime after playing catch-up the entire way Sunday.

The Nats didn’t come all this way to be a quick out. But for the first time this season, they absolutely need a win in Game 3.

“I have a lot of faith,” London GM/coach Pat Powers said. “We have a lot of character kids and they want to win for a number of different reasons. I think our bounce-back is going to be great. We have to realize if we continue to improve, Wednesday should be our best effort yet.”

PLAYING SMART: The Siskins’ defensive corps is big and strong and don’t spend a whole lot of time handling the puck.

The Nationals need to be crisp on their line changes and neutral-zone set-up to avoid the long-bomb breakaway passes Waterloo employs.

“Everything they do, their D is back in their zone and waiting for dump-ins,” Powers said. “They go D-to-D, then head-man it right up the boards and try to beat our coverage. We have to remember they’ve lived this style for roughly 70 games now. They caught us a little skinny in the neutral zone or coming out of their defensive zone a couple of times.

“We have to do a little better job of getting back to deny them any chances that way.”

The Nationals have the team speed to intercept the puck and force odd-man rushes the other way.

“The first couple of games, they moved the puck forward before we can set anything up,” Dawson said. “If we can do the opposite on them and have them scrambling, it’ll benefit us.”

MORE FIREPOWER: The Siskins are trying to win the Cup with a 16-year-old starting goaltender.

It would be an incredible achievement for Kingston draftee Matt Onuska, who played 28 regular-season games and now has 22 playoff contests to his credit. Most of the time in this particular series, the ice is populated by 19- and 20-year-olds.

The Nats, though, have their own standout rookie in forward George Diaco, who scored in Game 2. They need to make the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Onuska increasingly uncomfortable in his crease. And more importantly, veteran Zach Springer has to outplay him the rest of the way.

“We’ve scored eight goals in two games and typically, we win those games,” Powers said. “We’re facing a high-octane offence and we have to not focus so much on beating their goaltender as preventing leaky chances (at the London end).”

MORE DISCIPLINE: The Nats had a bench minor in the opener and two Sunday, including a too many men call.

Though their penalty kill has only allowed one goal – in a 6-on-4 situation with 16.2 seconds left in regulation in Game 2 – they need to cut out the unnecessary infractions.

When you allow a good team extra time on the power play, they eventually figure it out and start scoring. Powers said the unsportsmanlike calls from the bench often stem from a lack of communication.

“Part of it is if referees are willing to talk to you about decisions, that frustration subsides,” he said. “We don’t always argue the calls. We just want an explanation. When we don’t get it, we can over-react and ultimately, they get the final say.”

There are still some goofy rules the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, or the Ontario Hockey Association for that matter, need to sort out.

Waterloo coach Todd Hoffman was issued a two-minute minor after Sam Spaedt’s overtime winner Sunday because his players jumped over the boards to join the celebration. That happened to London in the Listowel series, too.

By the letter of the law, players are supposed to wait for a referee signal to flood onto the ice surface. It’s supposed to prevent altercations.

But it robs the spontaneous joy that should always be part of the game. Plus, it’s a meaningless penalty, anyway.


(Waterloo leads best-of-seven championship final 2-0)

Game 3: Wednesday, 7 p.m. at Western Fair.

Game 4: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. at Waterloo Rec Complex.