By Paul Osborne, Guelph Tribune
It was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise gloomy season for the Guelph Storm. All-time leading scorer Jeff O’Neill had his number honoured and raised to the rafters in a classy ceremony before the team’s 5-1 loss to Kitchener. O’Neill delivered heartfelt remarks towards the city of Guelph and the organization and became very emotional as he thanked his family for their ongoing support. O’Neill and his family still have heavy hearts after losing his brother Donny in a car accident several years ago and I know he felt his presence at that moment.
Several other Storm alumni were also in attendance and they were having a tremendous time catching up with each other before, during and after the game. O’Neill’s teammates goaltender Mark McArthur, Rumun Ndur, Andrew Long, Mike Pittman, Dave Lylyk, Pat Barton, and Joel Cort were swapping stories as they watched the game from a private box.
Ndur still has a place in Storm lore as one of the toughest players to ever pull on a Storm uniform. Wearing his number 77 and nicknamed the Nigerian nightmare because of his birthplace, few players wanted to tangle with him. As he reminisced he said your junior hockey days are so special because of the innocence you still have as a teenager.
“Those three years are full of what ‘could be’ in the future, and you have that moment where you’re living for your dream and you’re going for,” said Ndur. “You’re so innocent chasing something, but then when you become an adult all of a sudden there is pressure with bills and mortgages. But when you’re playing in junior it is just fun. You’re doing it with guys that you go to battle with every day and it’s just an amazing feeling.”
And he admits he wasn’t always a tough guy.
“When I got drafted I don’t think (Storm GM) Mike Kelly said, “this guy might be our answer for supplemental toughness for (first round NHL pick) Alek Stojanov, who I played with in my first year,” said Ndur. “In junior B I only had one or two fights and I remember telling friends of mine, I am going to do whatever it takes to make this team. I am not going to let them cut me. So I came to camp and whatever I had to do, I did.”
Ndur went on to play 69 games in the NHL with Buffalo, Atlanta and the New York Rangers.
“I think about it now and I say to myself, I don’t really think I was good enough to play in the NHL,” he said. “But I loved hockey. Loved playing and watching it and it was all I ever wanted to do.”
When the topic switched to Jeff O’Neill his eyes lit up.
“There is a story about Jeff I tell to my buddies,” he said. “It was our first fitness testing after the draft and I remember I was grouped up with Jeff and I didn’t so well in my testing. Jeff is a 16-year-old and I was 17 and he said to me “you know what buddy, you have to be ready to go when training camp starts in September, you need to work hard this summer,” and I remember that to this day. I went home to St. Thomas and every day that summer I worked out and ran and was in the gym, I was not going to get cut from this team and it was those words from a 16-year-old Jeff O’Neill that sent me on my way, so I owe him a lot.”
Ndur always had a larger than life personality even as a teenager and it was great to see him once again – his love of the game still in tact and his smile as bright and warm as ever.
From the Land of Oz….Other alumni in attendance that I saw included Eric Beaudoin, Ryan Risidore, Kyle Spurr, Adam Dennis, Cody St. Jacques, Brian Willsie, and Duane Harmer. The day was a tremendous success and I hope there are more alumni days ahead as the team celebrates its 25th anniversary…The Storm lost 3-2 to Windsor, 5-2 to Flint and 5-1 to Kitchener over the weekend leaving them with just two wins in their first 22 games.