By Paul Osborne, Guelph Mercury
Overage Guelph Storm forward James McEwan is back in Stormland after an extended stay with the Montreal Canadiens. Invited as a free agent, he spent close to a month with the Habs, first at their rookie camp, followed by a stay at their main camp, and finally to their American Hockey League training camp in Laval. Montreal must have been intrigued by what they saw because that is long stay for a free agent.
“I was definitely surprised they kept me that long,” admitted McEwan. “But I tried to do the right things every day and while they never gave me a lot of feedback, I kept playing so I figured I was doing something right.”
McEwan, a smooth skating forward with a rocket of a wrist shot, played two games in Toronto as part of the rookie tournament and then got into two more AHL exhibition games, scoring a goal and an assist in one of them.
“I really learned how to play like a pro,” he said. “Practices there were so different. They weren’t long but the tempo was high with everyone battling for a spot. The game is so much faster and they can make decisions and play so much quicker. The defencemen are always stepping up, so you have to move the puck fast. Just playing in those two (AHL) games I got to watch some really good players, a lot of them who had played in the NHL.”
Two things really hit home for McEwan, which he knows he’ll have to improve on to one day earn an NHL contract.
“I think compete level is number one,” said the native of Chatham. “Next is decreasing the time it takes to make a play. The one-touch passing up there was incredible. Players would receive a rocket pass and make a hard one-touch cross ice pass right on the tape and boom it would be in the net.”
McEwan is one of four impact forwards who have been out of the Storm line-up most of the season. Nate Schnarr, Givani Smith and Liam Hawel have been hurt, so getting all four back eventually should give the Storm three lines that can score.
The benefit for the Storm is they will be getting back a player with some newfound confidence, a player that now understands what it will take to get to the next level.
“I was happy to leave on a good note and while they didn’t offer me a contract they said they were going to keep on eye on me moving forward,” said McEwan, who was originally a ninth-round draft pick of the Storm. “They thought all aspects of my game were good but it just came down to the fact they didn’t have a spot for me because they had so many forwards already signed.”
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