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Plymouth Whalers’ Mike Vellucci calls refs ‘incompetent’ after London Knights’ late rally: OHL post-game questions

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Vellucci and the Whalers overcame a 3-goal deficit before London replied with 3 unanswered to win (Aaron Bell, …

A seven-goal, two-lead-change third period manages not to be the main post-game story coming out of the London Knights' 6-4 win over the Plymouth Whalers in Game 3 of the Western Conference final. Whalers coach-GM Mike Vellucci fine-worthy fulmination about the officials — "as a league, we deserve to put competent people on the ice" — after his team had two goals waved off and saw centre Mitchell Heard tossed for a check to the head is the topic du jour. Attempt at a rallying cry, or angry rant? On with the post-game questions:

(Update: the Whalers were fined. Also, Heard has been placed on suspension.)

London 6 Plymouth 4, ENG (Knights lead Western final 2-1; Game 4 Wednesday at Plymouth) — So what did Vellucci say exactly? The Whalers were up second for the post-game press conference, so their skipper had an extra five-minute window or so to sort out his thoughts on a frenetic third period.

To set it up — use the washroom and get a glass of water before reading this paragraph — the Whalers scored four consecutive goals in 10½ minutes to wipe out a three-goal lead. They forged ahead 4-3 with 7:59 left when Colorado Avalanche prospect Mitchell Heard carried on after getting denied on a wraparound by the go-go-gadget leg of Anthony Stolarz and banked the puck in off the 6-foot-6 Knights goalie. Then the potential 2-1 series lead disappeared like a strong vibe at speed dating. Whalers defenceman Connor Carrick was sent off for cross-checking after a collision behind the Plymouth goal with Knights centre Chris Tierney, where Carrick was slow to get to his feet. Max Domi (2G) wired in a screen shot nine seconds into the Knights power play.

Plymouth looked gobsmacked. Forty-nine seconds later, Alex Broadhurst and Seth Griffith bisected the Whalers' back line for the game-winner. The checking-to-head major/game misconduct to Heard for knocking down Broadhurst tempered the Whalers' chances to come back. That led to Vellucci being rather intemperate.

"It showed a lot of grit and determination to come back," Vellucci said. "Then we go into the lead and a really soft call after our guy [Carrick] got hit from behind and they make a soft call. I guess you can't blame the officials because they're incompetent. If they're bad, they're bad, but the incompetence is terrible. I'll probably get fined but at this point you can't send two incompetent people to do a big game with two very good hockey teams who are playing great, and have those horrible calls one after another. But I give our guys credit. Ricky [forward Rickard Rakell] scored a big goal, we had the crowd and our side and they [London] get a tying power-play goal."

During the second period, Plymouth also had goals waved off for the second and third time in the series. The first came during a goalmouth scramble, where the puck was lost in thicket of limbs and flailing sticks. Minutes later, Stolarz kicked the net off its mooring when Whalers wing Sebastian Uvira was poised to lift the puck over him for a goal.

No wonder Vellucci ripped into referees Jason Faist and Scott Ferguson.

"We haven't got a call yet from the video replay," said Vellucci, alluding to Game 1, when the Whalers had a goal disallowed while London's game-winner was confirmed by video review. "For the first one [the scramble play] he went for the replay and then he said he was going to blow his whistle. Well, that's not even supposed to go to a replay if that's what he was going to call on the ice. That's not what he called. He changed his mind in the middle of it. That's the incompetency. You got to know the rules and he didn't know the rules. It was us against them from that point on."

Is the Whalers' exacerbated exasperation going to derail their chances of winning the series? There was nothing inauthentic about Vellucci's sincerity, but it might have helped change the channel on the fact Plymouth fell into that 3-0 hole after giving up two first-period short-handed goals to first star Bo Horvat. Or that it could have been more disciplined.

The upshot for Plymouth is it probably outchanced London by a factor of two across the second and third periods ("We had the chances at 13-5 in the second and 14-5 in the third," Vellucci said). After a night where stars Tom Wilson and Vince Trocheck exited early with game misconducts following Domi's empty-netter, it might have all the tension worked out.

"Frustration comes from incompetent bad calls, bad penalties," Vellucci said. "It's my job to keep 'em composed on the bench. I have to keep composed on the bench. It's tough. These are kids. They work hard. They play the game hard. They give everything they got. They make sacrifices every weekend instead of going out. They work. They train. They work so hard, and to be given the card they were dealt tonight was not fair to them. I understand the frustration. They're kids, and they deserve better and we as a league deserve to put competent people on the ice."

"I think we just have to move on and learn from our mistakes and play for a full 60 minutes," Rakell added.

Wednesday will indicate how deep the Whalers' resolve reaches.

Will Heard receive supplemental discipline for the head shot? It will be subject to league review, that much is known. It's far better pot-stirring to just present the coaches' takes without comment.

Vellucci: "The five-minute major to Heard at the end, I watched the video replay, it's embarrassing. The guy [Broadhurst] lays on the ice and the linesman or Jason Faist, the referee who was making all the calls, makes a five-minute major call in a playoff game, it's just embarrassing."

Knights coach Dale Hunter: "Definitely, they were taking bad penalties at the end and going out playing not very good hockey, and then Broadhurst gets hurt from a bad check to the head from Heard. It's not good for hockey and unfortunately it did happen tonight."

What other purpose might Vellucci's tirades accomplish? It might keep the Whalers from dwelling on the fact it was a signature steal-one-on-the-road Knights performance, the exact statement the Hunters ordered. London seized on what Vellucci called a "tentative" opening 20 from the Whalers to go up 3-0. Stolarz was stellar, too. After Plymouth made London take a standing eight-count, the Knights responded with some strong shifts after the 4-3 goal. Bouncing back so quickly evoked many of their wins from that record win streak they had in the middle of the season.

"We all know in our room that they're a good team and can score on us really quickly," said Horvat, who along with his two shorties also had the screen on Plymouth goalie Alex Nedeljkovic on Domi's equalizer. But the boys showed some good character. There's no panic whatsoever when they were starting to come back. We got some rebound goals that helped us bounce back and that carried us for the rest of the game."

Hunter noted he went deep into his bench during the first of back-to-back games, in hope of keeping his top three lines fresh for Wednesday's pivotal contest. The Whalers were champing at the bit to return to action.

Last weekend in the Eastern final, the Barrie Colts took Game 2 from Belleville on the night after they lost on a late goal.

"Everybody on this team is ready to play right now," Rakell said.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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