Scheifele’s Game 4 one for the history books
Barrie Colts forward Mark Scheifele has been a force to be reckoned with for the London Knights, recording back-to-back five-point games in the OHL finals. The Colts can win their second OHL championship in franchise history with a victory Friday night in London. If necessary, Game 6 goes Saturday in Barrie, and game 7 would go Monday in London. MARK WANZEL PHOTO
There’s an old hockey cliche that says your best players have to be your best players.
It’s one former Barrie Colts head coach Bud Stefanski would recite repeatedly, especially come playoff time when discussing what his team needed to do to win hockey games.
Mark Scheifele is Barrie’s best player. And his performance in the Colts’ run to the Ontario Hockey League championship final has been simply remarkable.
Special players raise their game at this time of year and the Winnipeg Jets top prospect has been phenomenal. And he’s doing it when his team needs him most.
The Colts had fought hard to earn a split in the opening two games in London, but a disappointing effort in Game 2 by Barrie left some wondering if the favoured Knights would now roll over the Eastern Conference champs much like they had against Plymouth and Kitchener.
London had yet to lose more than one game in a series these playoffs and, truth be told, most prognosticators thought the Knights would either sweep the OHL final or take out the Colts in five games at most.
Only thing, is someone forgot to tell that to Scheifele and his teammates. They could care less about being an underdog or playing the role of favourites.
Scheifele and the Colts had earned home-ice advantage and returned to the Barrie Molson Centre (BMC), where they posted the OHL’s best home record this season, wanting to take advantage of that.
After being held off the scoreboard for just the third time in 19 playoff games in Game 2, Scheifele responded with stunning back-to-back five-point efforts to help give the Colts a commanding 3-1 series lead and put them on the brink of the franchise’s second OHL championship title.
Scheifele, who has left everyone atop the league playoff scoring race in his dust with 15 goals and 24 assists — he leads London star Max Domi by 12 points — had two goals and three helpers and was a plus-4 in the Colts’ 6-3 Game 3 win.
But it’s his four-goal third-period performance in Wednesday’s 6-4 come-from-behind win at the BMC that is likely to be remembered as the greatest individual playoff effort in Colts history. Especially when you consider how it happened.
The Knights dominated Game 4 after two periods, leading the Colts 3-1 and outshooting them 23-10. The Colts were barely in London’s end, let alone applying any kind of offensive pressure.
It was as though London had thrown a blanket over Barrie they couldn’t get out from under.
Facing the daunting task of a tied series heading back to London, the Colts needed something to snap them out of this funk.
And there was Scheifele, more than happy to oblige. When he lifted a back-hander over the shoulder of Knights goalie Anthony Stolarz 44 seconds into the third to cut the lead to one, it was as though the Colts had ripped off that blanket on top of them and whipped it aside.
Led by Scheifele, the Colts came to life.
Josh MacDonald tied the game just 33 seconds later before Ryan Rupert put London back on top.
Still, Scheifele and his Barrie teammates weren’t to be denied on this night.
Scheifele would score twice to put Barrie back on top and then ice the huge comeback win before a white-towel waving, boisterous BMC crowd with an empty-net goal in the dying seconds to make the final 6-4.
Never in the Colts history has there been a more thrilling playoff comeback, nor has there been a more sensational playoff effort by an individual player than the one Scheifele displayed Wednesday night.
As usual, the Colts star was quick to point to his teammates for his success.
“It was just a full team effort,” Scheifele said in the post-game press conference after Game 4.
“I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,” he said. “I owe it all to my teammates.”
Scheifele has done all this through some trying times this season.
For the second straight year, this time in early February, Winnipeg returned their 2011 seventh-overall pick back to junior hockey and Barrie.
Not an easy thing for a teenager whose heart is set on playing in the NHL.
The fact is, some players have a hard time dealing with it.
Sometimes it will take some time before the player can get over that disappointment.
Sometimes the returning player struggles.
But not Scheifele.
The Kitchener native didn’t miss a beat. He was simply dominant, finishing the regular season with a pretty impressive 39 goals and 40 assists in just 45 games.
That’s character for you.
“He really showed (Wednesday) night that he’s one of the best players in the league,” Colts general manager Jason Ford said. “It shows you kind of player he is.”
Had he played the full season in Barrie, there’s a good chance the Colts star might have wrestled away the Red Tilson Trophy, given to the league’s most outstanding player, won by Plymouth’s Vincent Trocheck on Thursday.
Scheifele and the Colts’ work is far from done. The London Knights are a powerhouse and the Colts will have their hands full trying to wrap up the OHL final on Friday.
That old cliche that Stefanski always brought out rings just as true today.
“Your best players have to be your best players.”
Well, Scheifele has been that these playoffs.
And then some.
Gene Pereira covers the Barrie Colts for the Barrie Examiner.
GETS NO RESPECT: Mathias Niederberger has been outstanding this season and his brilliant playoff run is showing what a farce it was that Kitchener’s John Gibson, who played in just 27 games this season, finished second to Malcolm Subban in goaltending of the year voting.
I can understand Subban, but how the German import didn’t get recognized for this year’s efforts tells me voting was done more for the name than the actual play of the goaltenders this season.
GOALIE CONTROVERSY?: Anthony Stolarz has struggled at times in the London goal during the final and coach Dale Hunter was asked if the Knights would consider turning to backup Jake Patterson in Game 5 tonight. “We always re-evaluate,” Hunter said of making a goaltending change in the post-game press conference on Wednesday.