From the Stands
By Paul Osborne
It was a heck of a regular season for the Guelph Storm with a team record 52 wins, 108 points and first place in the Ontario Hockey League.
They led the league in goal scoring with 340, playing a wide-open, disciplined style of hockey that was executed at full speed. No doubt fans have loved every minute of the action.
But push that out the window, because now is when performance really counts.
The Storm (52-12-2-2) take on the Plymouth Whalers (28-33-0-7) in the Western Conference quarterfinals with the first two games at home this Friday and Saturday night.
The Storm’s top scorer with 48 goals and 100 points, Scott Kosmachuk, says the team realizes what was accomplished in the regular season means nothing now.
“Everybody is amped up for playoffs, dialing it in and starting to play the way you need to in the (postseason)” he said. “You always want to play your best and be prepared for every game but especially in the playoffs because everyone will be pushing back and it will be that much tighter.”
The Storm will be heavy favourites in the series with their biggest obstacle being Whalers’ netminder Alex Nedeljkovic.
Despite being on a weaker team and facing 40 to 50 shots most nights he sports a .925 save percentage and a 2.88 goals against average.
Many feel he was the best goaltender in the OHL this season and he just turned 18.
“He’s been good,” said Storm veteran Zack Mitchell. “He’s a young kid and this is his draft year now but we’ve played good goalies in the past this year and we just need to get lots of shots and lots of traffic and we’ll be alright.”
Justin Nichols will carry the load of the Storm. He has been solid since being acquired earlier in the season from Sault Ste. Marie. He led the league in wins with 35 and has tidy numbers as well with a .918 save percentage and a 2.85 GAA.
The one knock against the Storm is their lack of playoff experience. For example in Mitchell’s first four years with the club they have never made it out of the first round. But that doesn’t concern Kerby Rychel who was obtained from Windsor and went to the Memorial Cup with Mississauga in 2011.
“Obviously experience is big,” he said, “but our guys have played in international events. We just need to play hard and we’ll be alright.”
The Storm has three lines they can roll consistently. The combinations of Kosmachuk-Jason Dickinson- Brock McGinn and Rychel-Robby Fabbri-Mitchell give the Storm two lightning quick offensive lines and scoring balance.
The much-improved play of Justin Auger gives the Storm a solid defensive third line with linemates Ryan Horvat and Stephen Pierog. (There is a chance that Tyler Bertuzzi may also return from a concussion at some point and he was the club’s most effective forward in the playoffs last season). The real luxury for the Storm is having six defencemen that can play at any time.
Prediction: Storm in five.
From the Land of Oz . . . Guelph hosts the first two games of the series this weekend. The first is Friday at 7:30 p.m. and the second is Saturday at 7 p.m. Game 3 is Tuesday in Plymouth (7 p.m.) and Game 4 is Wednesday in Plymouth (7 p.m.) . . . At the time of printing the Storm were still waiting to hear if Kosmachuk would be suspended for a check from behind in the final game of the season, a 2-1 shootout loss to Owen Sound. If he does receive one, it isn’t expected to be lengthy . . . It was with great sadness I learned of Alex Campagnaro’s passing recently. An honoured member of the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame, “Mr. Camp,” as all knew him, was an anomaly in the world of hockey. At times it is a game filled with rock hard men, where swearing is the language of the business but I never heard Mr. Camp swear or have a bad word for anyone. He had a real gentleness about him and was a gentleman in all aspects of his life, making the game of hockey a better place. He had success as a player, coach and manager and helped mentor so many young people. Whenever I will think of Mr. Camp, I will smile.