Ryan Horvat, Guelph's glue guy, got the decider after all six current or future NHL first-round picks — Guelph's Jason Dickinson, Robby Fabbri and Kerby Rychel and Erie's André Burakovsky, Brendan Gaunce and Connor McDavid — recorded at least one point in an Erie-Guelph opener that lived up to its billing. Perhaps Horvat seems like an unlikely game-winning goal scorer, but do recall the series winner gets the Wayne Gretzky Trophy and the Simcoe, Ont., native's minor midget team was the Brantford 99ers, so there is that totally cherry-picked coincidence.
Tyler Bertuzzi's second of the night 25 seconds after the Erie Otters took its third lead of the night gave Guelph a much-needed boost. Erie's comeback hope shrank considerably with 2:37 to go when Vancouver Canucks signing Dane Fox got an offensive zone tripping penalty and a misconduct, leaving the Otters to kill off penalty and try to tie the game without the OHL's top goal scorer. On with the post-game questions:
Guelph 5 Erie 4 (Storm lead Western final 1-0 and host Game 2 on Friday) — What impact will Brock McGinn have in Game 2 in his first game back from an eight-game head-checking banishment? The Storm have already been buoyed by Bertuzzi reintegrating into the lineup after a much longer absence, to the tune of seven goals and 11 points across nine playoff games. Now it has the temporary sense of security of having banked a win before its Red Tilson Trophy nominee gets back in the lineup.
"Most times, McGinn's been our most valuable forward," Storm GM Mike Kelly told Rogers TV Guelph. "He's a legitimate 50-goal scorer [43 in 58 regular-season games] who pound for pound, is maybe the most punishing hitter in the OHL. It's going to give our third and fourth line more depth and allow us to rest some people. Our first line of Fabbri, Rychel and [Zack] Mitchell played a lot of hockey tonight. If we can give them four or five fewer minutes a game, we're going to be a more effective team."
The Storm could use an extra hand on deck if it's going limit Erie's zone time.
"They got big D, we just got to make sure we're hitting them every chance we can," Horvat said. "We just got to wear 'em down, wear 'em down. I am sure they're thinking the same thing with our D."
How does an overage 100-point scorer such as Fox compound taking a penalty with 2½ minutes by also getting a misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct? Who knows, but it was hardly a sterling example. It might not have been a 'third period of a third-round game' call when Fox got the gate after stick-checking Guelph D-man Phil Baltisberger, who fell to his knees. Persisting in yelling at the officials until they had no choice but to send him to the dressing room. The penalty left the Otters with barely 30 seconds to go 6-on-4 at the end.
"I can't comment on that," Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said. "I didn't think that was tripping at the end. Fox was trying to lift his stick, and [Baltisberger] falls down. That's all."
"I'm disappointed when anybody on my team loses it like that. Certainly we could have had him for the last shift or one last faceoff. Certainly we have to stay much more composed and focused.
— Victor Fernandes (@GoErieHockey) April 18, 2014
One of the worst games I've seen Fox play all season...#erie
— Victor Fernandes (@GoErieHockey) April 18, 2014
Baltisberger, the Swiss rookie, was integral in the third period. His bullet shot was tipped in by Horvat for the game-winner six minutes into the third.
"I saw Balty shoot and tried to get a stick on it and I did, top corner," Horvat said.
Nine goals in a game between two of the clubs that allowed fewer than 200 against in the regular season: will it be like this every night? Neither of the 18-year-old goalies, Justin Nichols (four goals on 27 shots) or Devin Williams (five on 26), got a lot of help from their defence against a pair of lineups full of potent attackers.
The upshot is even though the shot totals were in the 20s, both teams were on, particularly Burakovsky (1G-1A, +2) and Dickinson (1G-2A, +2)
"It was kind of what we anticipated — it was going to be a battle, go back and forth and quite frankly either team could have come out with a win here this evening," Kelly said. "We're going to have to be better [Friday] and I'm sure Erie is going to be better. I thought their goaltending wasn't quite to the level that it has been in the playoffs and he [Devin Williams] will bounce back tomorrow
"It wouldn't surprise me if we see similar scores. Both teams laid back a little bit. They were trying to take care of the defensive zone, the neutral zone. I suspect that as it gets going it's going to be more full speed ahead with more scoring opportunities. It's going to be the team that doesn't give up the easy goals in front that moves on."
The Otters had the first five shots of the game and got the icebreaker on a perfect top corner, around-a-screening- defender shot by Toronto Maple Leafs signing Connor Brown 11:13 into the contest. That lead lasted all of 91 seconds.
"I think we're going to see a little bit of everything in this series," Knoblauch said. "Keeping them off the scoreboard is a pretty tough task. You can say tonight was wide-open because the goals were 5-4. You could also say it was a tight-checking night because there weren't very many shots [27-26 for Erie]."
Williams' statline will prompt questions about coming back with the older Oscar Dansk, who hasn't started and completed a game in five weeks. Knoblauch didn't comment directly on the goaltending, but one would not expect him to show his hand with Game 2 fewer than 24 hours away.
"I thought it was fine," he said. "We made some mistakes and we're going to try to make adjustments so those don't happen again."
How was this reminiscent of the Storm's series opener 13 days earlier vs. the London Knights? In both cases, Guelph untied a see-saw 4-4 game in the third period. It affirmed that it has the firepower and natural offence to win the day, but it wasn't a vintage effort.
"We were standing around watching and it almost hurt us," Guelph coach Scott Walker said of an arguably lukewarm start. "You just have to talk to them about the moment. They're all good players and they've played a lot of hockey. We did a little bit better in the second, but I still think we can be a lot crisper."
On the Erie side, the Otters had three more days off after sweeping Sault Ste. Marie. The Otters' best stretch probably came in the opening 11-minute stretch that was capped off by Brown's 1-0 goal.
"I thought we had a pretty solid start considering our long layover," Brown said. I thought we had a pretty good game but we have to steal one tomorrow."
Anything else? The Otters earned only two power plays to Guelph's four, as playoff officiating prevailed. Erie's second extra-skater opportunity didn't come until 6:54 remaining, when McDavid came down his off wing and forced defenceman Zac Leslie to put the clamps on him. Horvat, one man of the match among many, had a painful shot block on the ensuing penalty kill.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.