By Paul Osborne, Guelph Mercury
The Guelph Storm kick off their regular season Friday night and coach and GM George Burnett says they are as ready as can be expected after a three week training camp.
“It’s positive and I like lot of things we are doing,” said the new bench boss. “Clearly we have to play with much more structure and discipline. Our discipline is something we need to improve as a team not just one or two guys.”
In the team’s final tune-up Saturday night the Storm won 5-3 over Peterborough but took nine minor penalties, “six or seven were in the offensive zone” according to Burnett and that has to stop.
The Storm averaged 15.2 minutes per game last season, which was the 7th highest mark in the league.
“If we give another team more than three or four powerplay opportunities a game we put the game in the hands of our young goaltending tandem and a few penalty killers,” said Burnett. “If players want to play in the big situations (like powerplays) and big minutes, then they have to played disciplined hockey.”
Burnett was clear in pointing out it was a team problem but sophomore defenceman Ryan Merkley led the team with 12 minutes in penalties in the four preseason games he played. Givani Smith led the OHL in PIMs last season with 139 and there is no doubt the team is better with him on the ice than in the penalty box.
The team currently has 16 forwards and ultimately Burnett would like to get that number down to 13, but first round pick Tag Bertuzzi has been nursing a groin injury and skated for the first time in a week yesterday; Nate Schnarr is still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and likely won’t be ready to play until early next month; and Smith will likely spend an extra week at the Detroit Red Wings training camp, so cuts may not happen until next week.
“There are going to be some tough choices here,” admits Burnett, “and as hard as they are I know the tougher the decision is a reflection of the fact we are getting better as a team.”
There were four forwards on the bubble coming into training camp and they all have shown the coaching staff some positives. Barrett Kirwin tied for the preseason lead in goals scored with five; Cedric Ralph has used his speed and work ethic to put forth a good showing as well.
“Nick Deakin-Poot and Liam Stevens have played well within the opportunity they have been given as well in the preseason,” said the coach so expect Kirwin to be on the roster with the other three fighting for the remaining spot barring an injury.