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From the Stands: Big wins bring big expectations

From the Stands
Paul Osborne

It is amazing how your view of a hockey team changes with success.

Last week, the Guelph Storm pounded Kitchener 10-4, embarrassed Mississauga 8-0 and handed Belleville a 7-4 defeat.

The crowd was mumbling afterwards “they should have beaten the Bulls by more,” or “they shouldn’t let up against the weaker teams.”

A year ago fans would have been dancing in the aisles, but now they are quietly criticizing a three-game stretch where their team outscored the opponent 25-8.

Perhaps that is a sign the Guelph Storm is indeed a very good hockey team.

Keeping this finally honed machine rolling is tasked to coach Scott Walker and his assistants.

The team boasts the best record in the Ontario Hockey League and the second best record in all of Canada at 41-9-2-1. In their last 21 games they’ve gone 19-2.

But Erie hasn’t lost much either. They remain just a single point behind in that race for first overall in the Western Conference, which is so critical.

With Sault Ste. Marie well on their way to winning the Western Division, they will automatically finish second in the conference, meaning one of Erie or Guelph will finish third and could conceivably only get home advantage for the first round. Imagine finishing with the third best record in Canada and ending up third in your conference.

That’s how tight it is.

It’s also why it is so important to be ready for every game, no matter who the opponent might be.

“Sometimes you just assume you’re going to go out and score more than the other team and you just can’t play that way,” admitted Walker over the weekend. “You can’t just switch it on and off.”

When asked how he could keep the players focused against lesser teams he was candid.

“I have no idea,” he said with a laugh.  “It’s tough, I want to be as light as I can but I’m disappointed when they make mistakes but you don’t want to be hard on your team when you’re winning 5-0 but it’s a little about respecting the game and also your teammates. You take a bad penalty and now you’re putting your guys out there to block shots and injuries could happen so I’m still learning (as to how tough I should be on the guys).”

Captain Matt Finn, who had heck of a week with 10 points in three games, admits that staying focused against weaker teams can be a challenge.

“It’s tough,” he said. “But you still have to play the game and sometimes you can embarrass a team if you play the game (hard) but you can embarrass them to if you screw around. We’re a hard working team in practice and if it was a 2-0 game against Mississauga and a 2-1 game against Kitchener you’re kind of sitting back and saying we’re just getting by on those teams. I think those bigger games against Erie, London, Sault Ste. Marie and Saginaw you’ve got to flip the switch and know who you’re opponent is and what they’re going to do and you’ve got to up your game.”

It always makes me nervous to have a team that thinks they can “flip a switch” and play better. That is harder to do within a game but this club has showed they can play better when they need to against the top clubs.

They’ll have to prove that again this weekend when they hit the road for games in Sault Ste. Marie and Saginaw Friday and Saturday respectively, before coming home to face Plymouth Monday for a 2 p.m. matinee on Family Day.

From the Land of Oz . . . Storm Captain Matt Finn was the first star in the win over Mississauga and the second star in the victory over Belleville. With 10 points in three games, you have to figure he has a great chance of being named the OHL defenceman of the week. The Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick now has 52 points (13 goals) in 51 games, making him the second highest scoring defenceman in the OHL . . . Rookie Matt Mancina had the shutout for the Storm in the win over Mississauga, giving him three on the season . . . Robby Fabbri had four goals and five assists in three games last week, giving him 34 goals on the season. With 15 games to play, he is well within striking distance of Dustin Brown’s 41 goals that he scored as a 17-year-old . . .  The Storm’s 25 goals in three games last week gave them 260 on the season in 53 games. That’s the most goals in not only the OHL, but the entire Canadian Hockey League. Their goals-per-game average is just a shade under five, as it currently sits at 4.9. The second highest scoring team in the CHL is Portland, with 254 goals in 55 games, for a 4.6 average per game.

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