By Paul Osborne, Guelph Tribune
The Zac Leslie era came to an end and Robby Fabbri made his long awaited return to the line-up on Sunday in a dramatic 3-1 win over rival Kitchener. Fabbri hasn’t played since being injured at the World Junior Hockey Championships in early January, and Leslie will have season ending shoulder surgery in London on Friday. Before the game Leslie was presented with his overage jersey before a standing ovation from a sold-out crowd, and his teammates pushed him into the centre ice circle for a solitary wave to the fans after the game before he was named first star. Even Ranger players Liam Maaskant and Max Iafrate remained on the ice to congratulate Leslie on his stellar OHL career.
“I couldn’t imagine playing junior anywhere else than Guelph; I will never forget anything that took place here,” said the Ottawa native as the reality of the situation began to sink in after the game. “We did some special things, whether or not we won (the Memorial Cup) last year, I still think this has been the best time of my life and (winning the OHL title) was just the icing on the cake.”
Fabbri had lots of jump in his first game back (although it ended early when teammate Noah Carroll accidentally hit him in the ear with the puck).
“Any time (Fabbri) goes over the boards everyone is aware of who is on the rink,” said Storm coach Bill Stewart. “I thought he was a little rusty but I’ll tell you what, he still has the creativity to do the things that he wants to do, but wait until he gets to fine tune his shot. There were a couple of times there when (Kitchener goaltender Jake) Paterson didn’t see the shot and it hit him, but you know what happens in a couple of weeks when he finds his game, those pucks are going in.”
So while Fabbri is a huge addition, the loss of Leslie – especially with C.J. Garcia out for at least another two weeks with a knee injury – sees the burden fall on other defencemen to step up and fill the void.
“I thought Phil Baltisberger (Sunday) was just so solid . . . and you know (Garrett) McFadden is coming along,” said Stewart. “He is playing big minutes now and he is absorbing the brunt of the big minutes in a positive way. (Baltisberger) is the guy we call on to look after the (Connor) McDavid’s of the world and I think it will help Garrett’s game as far as accepting the challenge and knowing that he can’t have a shift off and that’s a good thing. It’s healthy.”
But the day belonged to Leslie. Always a classy individual to deal with from a media perspective, he was asked about his favourite memory off the ice.
“The parade last year,” he said. “I don’t think anyone on the team expected downtown by City Hall to be (as crowded as) it was; I think that was a shock to us all, the day after the we lost the Memorial Cup. I was one of the first cars driving in and to see how many people were there surprised us. It was an incredible feeling to have the support we had there that day.
Leslie’s recovery time is six months and that is why the Los Angeles Kings and he decided to have the surgery now, so he’d be ready to start his professional career in September. He will be sorely missed as the Storm embarks on another playoff run.
From the Land of Oz….The Storm lost 8-4 in Erie last Wednesday and then were tied 2-2 in the third period in London on Friday before collapsing and losing 6-2 to the Knights. Sunday’s win over Kitchener kept the Storm in fourth place, five points ahead of Owen Sound and eight ahead of the Rangers. The Attack have three games in hand and the Rangers two.