By: Paul Osborne
It was both a heart wrenching loss and an inspirational defeat on Saturday as the Guelph Storm fell 2-1 to the powerful London Knights on national TV. The Knights, with recent additions of future NHL stars Evan Bouchard (Edmonton) and Alex Formenton (Ottawa), have been tabbed as the team to beat in the Ontario Hockey League, but the Storm showed they aren’t ready to capitulate just yet.
In a tight but exciting game with a playoff type atmosphere, the Storm held a 1-0 lead until the final few minutes of the game when the Knights tied the contest and then went on to win it in a shootout. Guelph Storm coach and GM George Burnett felt it was a bit of a measuring stick type game for his crew.
“In the sense that they had their full complement of players and we were missing a pretty important guy (in Nate Schnarr) who might have been a difference maker on one of those powerplays,” said the coach. “But all in all I thought we competed well and played with the pace necessary to be in a hockey game with a team that moves well.”
“Playing against strong teams a lot of guys are trying to play some big minutes in key situations that maybe they aren’t used to and are being relied on heavily,” said Storm captain Isaac Ratcliffe. “I think (London) is a strong team and we feel that we are even stronger. We are a really deep team, we have a lot of skill here and we showcased that but unfortunately came up short. We are competing with them and will show that in the future as well.”
Overtime and the shootout have been a real bugaboo for the Storm this season. They have lost three games in a shootout and three in overtime basically leaving them with a .500 record with 11 wins and 11 losses. They have picked up six loser points in those contests, but had they won just three of those six games, they’d be no worse than tied for first in their division.
“I would say we don’t (practice 3-on-3 like they play in OT) but we’re going to do a lot more of it moving forward,” said Burnett. “You do shootouts all the time and (as a coach) you play hunches but I just want to encourage the guys the go in there and make a hard play. If they are shooting it, shoot it hard. If they are going to make a deke, do it hard. To get to overtime or a shootout is one thing but those points add up over the course of a season and we have to find a way to get more of our share.”
Guelph opened the weekend with an 8-2 win over the hapless Flint Firebirds Friday night. Guelph led 6-1 seventeen minutes into the game. But Saturday’s effort against London was their best of the season. They played a tight checking, opportunistic game and received great goaltending from Anthony Popovich who has been much better over the past two weeks. It was a sign to fans that the home side can in fact pay well when they want to.
From the Land of Oz … The line of Barret Kirwin, Cedric Ralph and Zach Poirier was the club’s best line all weekend. They combined for 11 points in the two games … Rookie Ben McFarlane played his first OHL game Friday night and looked right at home. He is listed generously at 5’7” but never stops working. Like many smaller players he was always told he was too small to make it to the OHL. “My secret was that I decided on who I wanted to listen to and who I thought would improve my game. (Playing my first OHL game) has been my dream since I was a little kid so it was nice to have it finally come true.” He almost scored his first goal too; ringing a shot off the post … Guelph hosts Sault Ste. Marie Friday night before hitting the road for Barrie Saturday and North Bay Sunday.