By: Paul Osborne
The Guelph Storm are not only racking up wins (6-2-1), they also seem to be finally buying into coach George Burnett’s discourse of playing the defensive side of the game with the vigour they show in the offensive zone.
Sunday’s 3-2 over London was perhaps their most complete effort of the season. They dominated the first two periods of the game and only Knights goaltender Joseph Raaymakers kept it close with the Storm holding a slim 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
“We put up almost 50 shots there and Raaymakers had a great game but that’s probably our best 60 minutes we’ve played so far,” said Ryan Merkley who had a hand in every Storm goal counting a goal and two assists. “We created a lot of chances and were solid in the D-zone so it was a big improvement over (our game in Sarnia Saturday (a 6-3 loss).”
“Coming off five straight (wins) where we scored six goals (every game) we were feeling good and I guess we got a little complacent there and took it easy,” admitted Merkley.
But Sunday they came out and took it to Knights right from the outset.
“I liked the pace of the game,” said coach and GM George Burnett. “I thought we were a step behind the first couple of shifts then we got up to pace. We were much more determined today to defend than we have been and it’s going to have to get better if we want to be a team that can be competitive.”
Last season Jack Hanley, traded to Guelph in the summer, was a key member of the Hamilton Bulldogs who won the league championship and he can see a lot of good things on the Storm that they had last year in Hamilton.
“A lot of skill up front, a pretty deep back end, we have some experience in the line-up,” said Hanley. “Actually compared to (our team in Hamilton) we’re a pretty similar team. We’re pretty deep up front which helps and we have a good goalie in the net so it’s all those things that need to come together to make a championship team.”
The other area is team cohesiveness, the ability to bounce back when things don’t go well.
“We just need to stick to our game plan and when adversity hits we need to stick together,” said Hanley. “Sometimes things fall apart and guys get mad at each other, there’s lots of emotion in a game so we need to stick together and keep moving forward.”
The other similarity the former Bulldog sees is a respected veteran presence in the dressing room.
“We’ve got a good leadership group with (Isaac Ratcliffe) as our captain,” said Hanley. “Everyone respects him and listens when he speaks. He’s always saying the right things so we just feed off our leadership group and older guys.”
Hanley is a big part of that leadership faction and likes to keep things light in the dressing room so everyone stays relaxed.
So far so good for the Storm but only hard work at both ends of the ice will turn this quick start into a winning habit.
From the Land of Oz … The Storm defeated Owen Sound 6-3 Friday night. Tag Bertuzzi had a goal and two assists, while Dom Commisso was the game’s first star with three assists … The Storm honoured local first responders Sunday acknowledging all the great work done by Guelph police officers, firefighters and paramedics … The Storm is in Kitchener Friday and Owen Sound Saturday before hosting Kitchener Sunday at 2pm.