From the Stands
By Paul Osborne
“It is time we start appreciating and respecting the talent we have in this organization,” said Guelph Storm vice-president and general manager Mike Kelly.
“There seems to be a mental block when it comes to London. Just because they have a Knights crest on their shirts doesn’t automatically make them a superior team.”
That was the pre-season message that Kelly had for his players. London is everyone’s pre-season favourite, and for good reason. They went to the Memorial Cup last season and have most of their key players back this season.
“We have eight NHL drafted players on our roster and four more that could go high in the upcoming draft,” said the GM. “If you take all of our talented returning forwards and they can increase their production by 50-60%, we will be right there. Last year there were teams in the Ontario Hockey League that didn’t score 200 goals, and we have 200 goals returning to our line-up!”
He and coach Scott Walker expect better performances for all their returning players. Robby Fabbri with a year under his belt and Hunter Garlent, who had a somewhat disappointing season a year ago, could jump from 31 points to 70 or 80 points according to Kelly. Justin Auger, Tyler Bertuzzi and Jason Dickinson are also expected to take leaps forward in point production.
Wingers Scott Kosmachuk and overage Zack Mitchell are two other players ripe for improvement. Kosmachuk has established he can skate and score (35 goals last season) but if he wants to sign as a professional, he has to show more maturity and learn to play both ends of the ice. Mitchell improved his defensive play last season but saw his offensive numbers dip from 37 goals to 22. Both will be counted on to be solid two-way players.
“We will use our skill and speed,” again this year said Walker. “And I love how they are stopping in front of the net now. That is how you score in this league.”
Brock McGinn will be a leader on this club because that is exactly how he plays. So in other words, get your nose dirty, don’t cheat on defence and use the skill you have to be the difference in a close game.
But despite all the offensive firepower, defence is the key to going deep into the playoffs. Kelly expects a healthy Matt Finn and Zac Leslie, players he calls elite defencemen in the league, to have great years and the addition of Swiss defenceman Phil Baltisberger will replace the minutes that Andre Pedan ate up last season.
“I think Ben Harpur was our best defenceman in our first exhibition game (a 7-4 over Mississauga) and probably our best defenceman in training camp,” said Kelly. “He has come back this year much stronger and has a chip on his shoulder.” At 6-foot-6, the Ottawa Senators liked him enough to draft him 108th overall.
The big question mark remains in goal with no established number one goaltender. Overage Michael Nishi and second year man Jason DaSilva along with rookie Matt Mancina are fighting for the two jobs available. Kelly I’m sure is working the phones so he understands all the options available to him.
In a perfect world, Garret Sparks would reappear after training camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but Kelly says there is only a “10 or 15% chance of that happening” so they are moving forward with what they have and see how the situation develops.
This will be an exciting Storm team to watch. If London is the early favourite, Guelph should be in a group with Saginaw and Owen Sound fighting for spots two through four. But as Kelly said – shooting for second isn’t good enough. They have to believe that they have to the talent to take on the Knights and battle them for first place.