From the Stands
By Paul Osborne
It’s funny how drastically things can change in a year’s time.
Last fall the Storm was very thin up front, especially with three 16-year-olds in the starting 12 forwards.
Hunter Garlent, Jason Dickinson and Tyler Bertuzzi were all unknown commodities. Ryan Horvat and Patrick Watling were unproven 18-year-olds and Justin Auger was trying to make the squad on his second try.
Flash forward 12 months and you have a real logjam of bodies fighting for spots on all four lines. With Spencer Turcotte being cut Sunday, that leaves the Storm with 13 strong forwards and only a dozen spots every game.
“There is no doubt that players we were nurturing until February last year have become front-line players now,” said vice-president and general manager Mike Kelly.
“We do have more depth,” added coach Scott Walker. “But we’re still relatively young – we just won’t be as inexperienced. Touch wood, but an injury here or there this season won’t be quite as stressful as it was last season, when it left us scrambling.”
Being young and deep has to be a pretty good feeling for the organization. The impressive play of first- round pick Robby Fabbri has been another pleasant surprise with Kelly admitting the 16-year-old is “probably three months ahead of where we thought he’d be at this point.”
It certainly puts Walker in a great position. If a player O.K. to take a shift or two off, there is someone ready to push him aside and take his spot.
“If there are some second-year players thinking it’s going to be easy this year, it won’t be,” said Walker. “This is a tough league. If they start thinking they can just walk around or through guys at the blue line, they’ll be in trouble. They have to remember what led to their success and build on that. You have to play the game the right way.”
This inevitably means that there will be veterans on the fourth line – spots usually reserved for rookies. On most teams that would mean little or no ice time, but that won’t be the case in Guelph.
“I’d like to think I play my fourth line as much or more than most coaches in the league, so everyone has a chance to move up,” said Walker.
“I’m quite sure that Horvat will start on the fourth line but I can tell you I’d be very happy to have him play left wing on the first or second line.”
The exciting prospect for Storm fans is that there is only one forward who is not eligible to come back next season (overage winger Cody McNaughton).
Not only do they have depth, they are young and on the rise.
From the Land of Oz . . . In many ways it is sad to see Turcotte no longer with the team. He was never the most talented guy but he worked his butt off and was more than willing to step up for his teammates whenever necessary. “He is a super kid,” said Kelly. “And we will do anything we can to get him to another major junior team, whether that is in Ontario or Quebec . . . Another reason that Turcotte was the odd man out was the play of Guelph native Brody Milne. He has always been highly skilled but the knock against him has been his inconsistent work ethic. So far, Milne has been a pleasant surprise for Walker, working hard in every practice and game . . . Brock McGinn will miss the first weekend of the season but could be back the following week, if his injured wrist is cleared by doctors . . . The Storm wrap up their exhibition schedule this weekend with games on the road in Brampton and Barrie, Thursday and Saturday respectively. Their final home tune-up is Friday against Brampton. The season opener is Sept. 21 at home to Saginaw.