From the Stands
By Paul Osborne
Don’t look now but the Guelph Storm (35-8-2-1) is in first place in the brutally tough Western Conference of the Ontario Hockey League and first overall.
They played close to the perfect road game Saturday night to beat the previously top-ranked Erie Otters 1-0. It was the type of low scoring, tight checking style of game they will have to win in the playoffs. The Storm has shown they can win high scoring affairs as they did 6-1 over Kingston Sunday night, and now they have shown they can play a defensive style of game as well.
“Everybody wants to show that they can win every type of game, and we’ll see more intense games down the stretch and the team’s ability to do that for all 60 minutes (Saturday) night was big,” said goaltender Justin Nichols who earned the shutout and allowed just two goals in three games on the weekend. “Our defensive coverage was good and we kept a lot of their opportunities to the outside, and even the rebounds that were there were cleared and we’re all happy about the game.”
Coach Scott Walker agreed.
“It wasn’t perfect because we would have liked more shots,” he said. “But I thought the guys really played for each other. We have a lot of guys who like to score but they committed themselves to defence and it worked out.”
The Storm is 10-1 in their last 11 games and they won four of the six games head-to-head with the Otters this season. Erie has only lost eight games in regulation all year. The Otters have a game in hand, but if there was any doubt before about Guelph’s willingness to fight them tooth and nail for a chance at a league championship, there isn’t anymore.
Nichols has clearly been a key to the team’s success. He went through an inconsistent stretch but lately has been rock solid. He was asked whether he actually thinks less when he is in a groove like he is now.
“Yes I agree,” he said. “I think when those pucks are coming at you the confidence is there to be more aggressive playing the puck; you’re confident in yourself to be deeper in your net to react better because you know your rebounds are improved.”
Nichols’s statistics have been climbing. He leads the league in wins with 25, has a very respectable goals against average of 2.7 and a save percentage of .924. Nichols is on the smaller side for a goaltender but you have to love the way he fights to make every save. He is more acrobatic than the prototypical 6-foot-2 netminder, which also makes him more fun to watch.
The Storm is a very confident bunch at this point. They can outscore you or grind it out if they need too. Whether at home or on the road they trust each other and work for each other. It is a veteran group that is squarely focused on winning.
From the Land of Oz . . . The London Knights had recent struggles compounded this weekend when they lost starting goaltender Anthony Stolarz for four to six weeks. His leg suffered a nasty 55-stitch cut from an opponent’s skate. The Knights have lost five of their last six games . . . Friday night the Storm downed Kitchener 4-1. Matt Finn, Brock McGinn and Scott Kosmachuk each had a goal and an assist . . . Ryan Horvat had the only goal in the win over Erie and it was a beauty – backhand top shelf . . . Sunday, Nichols was just a few minutes from his second straight shutout before Kingston scored. Jason Dickinson and Kerby Rychel had three helpers each in the game with Zack Mitchell scoring twice . . . Guelph hosts Owen Sound Friday at 7:30 p.m.