Alec Regula became the first London Knights defenceman to record a hat trick since March 13, 2009, when Londoner Matt Clarke scored all three goals in a 3-0 win over the Saginaw Spirit.
Cam Hillis of the Guelph Storm spoiled a winning finish on Friday as he one-timed the game-winner through Knights goalie Dylan Myskiw with just 50.3 seconds remaining in regulation.
Eric Uba added an empty-netter to seal a second consecutive Guelph win over London.
It was Uba who scored late in the third period in the last meeting between the teams on Feb. 11 to break a 1-1 tie in the third period.
The Knights have only lost three times in 2020 and two of those defeats have come against the Storm.
Regula’s first goal of the game came at even strength at 3:09 of the second period, as Jason Willms won a faceoff in the Guelph zone and Regula stepped into a high slap shot that went over the shoulder of Nico Daws to break a scoreless tie.
Uba evened the score just over two minutes later as a puck came off the end boards in the London zone and Uba banged it behind Dylan Myskiw.
Regula put the Knights in front again on a power play before the end of the second period as he found some space at the side of the Storm net and connected on his fourth goal in three games and sixth goal in his past five games and London took a 2-1 lead to the third period.
The final 20 minutes saw the teams race up and down the ice and produce five goals in total.
Pavel Gogolev of Guelph tied the game 2-2 at the 5:49 mark as he came out of the penalty box and took a feed from Uba on a 2-on-1 inside the London blue line.
Just 50 seconds later, Matthew Papais of the Storm controlled a puck into the Knights zone, cut into the high slot and scored to give Guelph their first lead.
Regula completed his hat trick on a beautiful feed from former Storm defenceman Ryan Merkley, allowing Regula to cut across the crease and backhand his 24th of the year behind Daws.
That tied the game 3-3 and it stayed that way until the final minute, when Fedor Gordeev fed Keegan Stevenson and he slid a pass to Hillis for the game-winner.
The Knights pressed inside Storm territory but a steal by Uba gave him a chance at the open net with Muyskiw on the London bench and Uba made good for his 25th goal of the season and third point of the game.
Guelph outshot the Knights 36-35.
London’s power play went 1-for-4 and the Knights kept their opponent from scoring on the man advantage for the fourth game in a row.
The Storm honoured London defenceman Markus Phillips before the game for his role in Guelph’s OHL championship victory in 2019. Phillips was presented with his championship ring at centre ice by Cam Hillis after a video tribute at the Sleeman Centre.
The Knights sit one point ahead of Kitchener for first place in the Western Conference with one game in hand.
London will get a four day break from games before hosting the Storm at Budweiser Gardens on Wednesday, February 26 at 7 p.m.
The first year the Hunter-owned Knights made the playoffs
The Knights clinched a 2020 playoff spot on Feb. 20 in Windsor, which ran their current streak to 20 seasons. They have made the playoffs in every year that they have been owned by Mark and Dale Hunter and currently have the longest active streak in the OHL. Their nearest miss came in their first season under Hunter ownership in 2001.
With eight days to go in the regular season, London found themselves trailing the Kitchener Rangers by four points for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Kitchener also had one more win than the Knights and a game in hand. The scenario was pretty clear: The Knights would have to win their final three games and the Rangers would have to lose their final four in order for London to qualify.
Kitchener quickly lost games to two of the top teams in Guelph and Erie and then went to Brampton hoping for a victory over the Battalion but the Rangers were stifled 3-2 by Brampton’s defence. Meanwhile the Knights got four goals in under eight minutes from Aaron Lobb that led them to a 5-2 win over Sarnia. Then they went to Sault Ste. Marie and won a see-saw battle 6-5 over the Greyhounds.
That had the teams tied heading into the final night of the regular season but the Rangers still owned the tiebreaker.
Kitchener went to Guelph and lost 5-2. London zoomed ahead of Owen Sound 3-0 in the first period and held on to win 4-2. That win started a Knights playoff run that has yet to come to an end.
That loss by the Rangers did give them the fourth overall pick in the 2001 OHL Priority Selection, bumping London to fifth.
Kitchener selected Mike Richards. The Knights took Corey Perry.
Down to two
The 2021 Memorial Cup tournament will be hosted in either Oshawa or Sault Ste. Marie. It was announced this week that they are the finalists. Oshawa submitted a bid for the 100th anniversary edition of the event when it was open to any team in the Canadian Hockey League and was eventually awarded to Regina and the Regina Pats.
The feeling is that Oshawa is the favourite this time around. Oshawa has won the Memorial Cup more times than any other active CHL team with five victories. The Toronto Marlboros have won it seven times.
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