From the Stands
By Paul Osborne
It was quite a debut for new Guelph Storm goaltender Justin Nichols. He barely had time to introduce himself to all his teammates when he pulled on a Storm jersey for the first time and led his team to victory in the season opener Friday night against Erie.
Nichols was obtained from Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds for a third-round draft pick, and it’s hoped he can take the reigns as the team’s number one netminder while being spelled off by rookie Matt Mancina. With the acquisition of Nichols, goaltender Jason DaSilva was traded to Belleville for an eighth-round selection.
“I’ve never seen him give up on a puck,” said Guelph Storm GM Mike Kelly. “He’s one of those goaltenders that feels he can stop every shot, that’s just his attitude. He’s athletic, technically sound as he stays square to the puck, and is one of the best puck handlers I’ve every seen here.”
The concern, whether well founded or not, is his stature. He’s 5-foot-10 in an era where teams love their keepers to be 6-foot-2 or better, for net coverage.
“Sometimes we have to get our heads out of the clouds when looking at criteria for a goaltender,” said Kelly. “You can’t get caught up in one aspect only. If they stop the puck, they stop the puck. I just think we have been able to obtain an above average goaltender because Sault Ste. Marie found themselves with three good ones, and that made (Nichols) available.”
The Soo had 19-year-old Matt Murray who won 26 games for them last season and 17-year-old American rookie goaltender Brandon Halverson in camp this year. Nichols, was 10-7-1-1 last season, with one shutout and actually owned a better goals against average than Murray, at 3.52.
Nichols brought the crowd to its feet several times on opening night with some spectacular and timely saves. The one thing about a smaller goaltender is they tend to be very athletic and acrobatic. Afterwards, he was asked if he felt the same kind of nerves before his Storm debut like before his first OHL start last season.
“It was a different type of nerves,” he said. “My first start (as a rookie), I wanted to prove to myself that I belonged in the league. Tonight I was trying to get the confidence of my teammates and the fans.”
And he certainly did that!
Nichols is a smart, well-spoken young man and the fact that Guelph had a university worked in the team’s favour.
“I’m guessing there were four or five teams that really liked him,” said Kelly. “But he wants to go to university and be on a competitive team. He didn’t have a no-trade clause, but he made such an impression (on the Sault Ste. Marie brass) that they wanted to put him in the best position possible.”
It is only one game in a long season, but they say a good first impression is hard to erase, and that is exactly what Storm fans are hoping for.
From the Land of Oz . . . Defenceman Zac Leslie had a great opening night for the Storm accruing two assists before neatly scoring the game winner in OT, giving the Storm a 4-3 come-from-behind win . . . Guelph plays at home twice this weekend, against Oshawa Friday and then versus top-ranked London on Sunday.