The London Knights’ road to the Memorial Cup championship took a downward turn Wednesday.
Anthony Stolarz, the team’s No. 1 goalie, was handed an eight-game suspension by the Ontario Hockey League for hitting Windsor Spitfires’ forward Josh Ho-Sang on the back of the head with his goalie stick Tuesday night.
On the play, with one of the two OHL referees only a few feet away, Stolarz was handed a two-minute minor penalty, the same penalty Ho-Sang was given for hitting Stolarz seconds before.
The Knights won the Tuesday game 10-2 Tuesday to take a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference best-of-seven quarterfinal series. Game 4 is Thursday in Windsor.
With a sweep likely after three games in which the Spitfires have not even held a lead and managed to give up three shorthanded goals Tuesday, the Stolarz suspension makes a the Knights’ road ahead full of land mines.
Check the Knights’ goaltending statistics.
Stolarz finished the regular season tied for the league’s second-best goals against average at 2.52. He also led the league with a .926 save percentage in 35 games. Backup goalie Jake Patterson, meanwhile, played in 39 games and had a 3.15 goals-against average and a save percentage of .897.
“Obviously, with Anthony out, it will put Jake Patterson into a starting role, and we still haven’t figured out our backup situation on a go-forward basis for the next eight games, but we feel confident with Jake in net,” Knights assistant general manager Rob Simpson said shortly after the suspension was dealt.
While the Knights should wrap up the Spits series Thursday, the first-place Guelph Storm lead their series with Plymouth Whalers 2-1 and could easily play London in the next round. The Knights would be missing Stolarz for the entire series if it goes the maximum seven games — and that could be really bad news for the Knights chances at winning the OHL title.
If the Knights win Thursday and Guelph happens to eliminate the Knights in the second round in four straight, Stolarz then could miss the first three games of the Memorial Cup tournament, a possibility nobody cares to consider more than a month and a half in advance.
Late Wednesday, the OHL announced that it will review the suspension if the eight games cannot all be served before the first Memorial Cup game May 16 in London.
“It’s a long way away, and we don’t want to look that far ahead now,” Simpson said.