By: Paul Osborne
The Guelph Storm won three straight games this weekend but the big news was the surprising trade of former first overall pick Ryan Merkley to the Peterborough Petes for 18-year-old forward Pavel Gogolev, two second round picks, two third round picks and a four round selection. For a team most expected to add talent as the trade deadline approached, it was shocking to see them trade the leading point scoring defenceman in the league.
“I guess on the surface it looks a little bit confusing,” admitted Guelph coach and general manager George Burnett, “I wouldn’t say it is a shake-up. This is something we’ve talked about for three or four weeks, it isn’t just something that was pulled together in a day or a night, but a fresh start is the best way to put it. We thank Ryan for all his work and what he has done for the organization and wish him well.”
Merkley did not respond to requests for an interview.
For the remaining Storm players it came as a big surprise.
“It’s tough obviously,” said veteran Nate Schnarr. “I’d say sadness is the first emotion (you feel). He called me and it was definitely an emotional call between the two of us. We had great chemistry on the ice and he was a great guy off the ice as well.
“The trade is a wake-up call and management made it clear we can still be one of the top teams in the league. I want us to have a competitive team so we have to make it obvious to management that we believe we have a group in there that will compete every game”.
So that is the position Burnett now finds himself in. Is this team a legitimate contender or are they what their record says they are, pretty a .500 team with 17 wins and 16 losses (with 7 of those defeats coming in OT or a shootout)?
“I believe we are a good team,” said the coach. “I still think we lack some playoff experience and players that have been through the two, three, four rounds of playoffs a couple of times, but those players are hard to come by but we’ll keep working at it.”
With the trade of Merkley, Burnett’s first gaping hole to fill is on defence. He says there have been lots of discussions taking place but some of the best available players can’t be traded while they are participating in the World Juniors so that can hold up other deals.
There is no doubt that Merkley has had a lot of people question his attitude. Had Burnett run out of patience with his star defenceman? He wouldn’t admit to that. Had Merkley demanded a trade? Neither side admitted to that either. It is a move that creates more questions than answers and makes you wonder what direction the team will head in before the trade deadline in early January.
From the Land of Oz … The Storm pounded Peterborough 6-1 Friday night with Liam Hawel and Keegan Stevenson scoring two goals each. That same pair would score two more goals each in Sunday’s 8-5 win in Oshawa. Alexey Toropchenko was an impressive +6 in that contest with a goal and three assists. Saturday the Storm downed Mississauga 6-4 behind two goals and an assist from Barret Kirwin … Tag Bertuzzi also left the team Friday night. Burnett was somewhat unclear as to why he left. He talked about a hand injury but also said “something came up and he left with his dad. I don’t want to speculate, it was something personal.”