From the Stands
By Paul Osborne
One of the most requested things I get as a writer is the “Where are they now” piece I’ll research periodically. It allows long time fans to catch up on past players and also reminisce a little about times gone by. The players below are some of the most veteran players still involved with hockey.
Jeff Bes, the original Storm captain, just hung up the skates after last season and he went out on a high, finishing second in team scoring for the Loredo Bucks of the Central Hockey League with yet another 20 goal season for his resume. Bes never played a game in the NHL (drafted in third round by the Minnesota North Stars) but had a successful career in the IHL, AHL, ECHL and Europe before finishing with several strong campaigns in the CHL.
Bes played in the inaugural two seasons with the Storm back in 1991-92 and 92-93. That first year he had 40 goals and 62 assists while ringing up 48 goals and 115 points in his last season. He was the first true star to wear a Storm jersey. He is now plying his trade as a head coach, taking over the Mississippi Surge of the Southern Professional Hockey League where his leading scorer this season is another Storm alumni, Mark Versteeg-Lytwyn.
A little trivia for you . . . who is the only player from the Storm’s 1991-92 roster still playing?
Another oldie but goodie who just retired this year is Jeff Cowan. A tenacious winger was mostly a third line player in the OHL who blossomed in the NHL to play over 400 games with Calgary, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Vancouver. The one Cowan memory that stands out for me isn’t a pretty one. He was crosschecked face first into the dasher along the top of the boards in old Memorial Gardens. He smashed his cheek and orbital bones and his face was a swollen mess. Last season he laced it up for Iserloan Roosters of the German Elite League.
Herbert Vasiljevs, the Latvian who was the Storm’s first star import player, is still going strong. He only played for the Storm for one season but led them in scoring (with 67 points) and eventually played a handful of games in the NHL. The last eight years he has been a mainstay for the Krefeld Penguins of the German Elite League. This current season, at age 36, he is second in team scoring with 27 points in 30 games and I’m sure he’d love to represent his country one more time at the next Olympics.
One of the best pure goal scorers to ever wear a Storm uniform is Brian Willsie. I can still picture this winger pouring in off the right wing and scoring the winning goal that gave Guelph their first OHL championship. This season, he is playing with Turku in Finland and leads the team in scoring and penalty minutes (89 penalty minutes in 31 games) – a good Canadian boy! Willsie played 381 games in the NHL with Colorado, Washington and Los Angeles.
One of the most successful coaches among Storm alumni would have to be Nick Bootland. The tough winger ended his playing career in 2008 after a 46-goal season with Kalamazoo of the International League. He stepped right in as the head coach the following year and has been there ever since leading his team to four straight winning seasons.
It is hard to believe that the original Storm members from 1991 are now getting ready to enter their 40s. That makes some of us feel very old.
From the Land of Oz . . . The answer to the trivia question above is Todd Bertuzzi. Technically he is not playing because of the lockout and you have to wonder if the players don’t return whether he’d come back next fall with Detroit . . . The Storm’s next three Ontario Hockey League games are on the road. Guelph lost 6-2 to Plymouth Wednesday night at home. On New Year’s Day, the Storm beat Oshawa 2-1 on the road. Last Friday, in their first game in almost two weeks, Guelph fell 6-3 to Belleville at home. The Storm are in Plymouth Saturday (7:05 p.m.), Saginaw Sunday (4 p.m.) and Kitchener Tuesday (7 p.m.).