From the Stands
By Paul Osborne
He looks a little like a massive condor swooping in from the right wing.
A tall, rangy rookie who showed obvious offensive talent and good hands throughout the first half of the season but had no goals to show for it. But then just before the break, Justin Auger tallied three assists against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds before heading home to finally find some goals neatly wrapped under his Christmas tree.
In his first game back, Auger finally scored his first goal of the season against the Niagara IceDogs. With the pressure off, he would score the following day at home against Kitchener, twice in Saginaw and then again the following night in the Soo. The floodgates had opened.
“He has a real good hard shot with a quick release,” said coach Scott Walker. “He does have great hands for a big guy and to be honest once he started to go to the hard areas on the ice – those tough areas in front of the net – he started to score.”
“Scoring that goal, I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy in my whole life,” laughed Auger, from his home in Waterloo. “I was the last forward on the team to score so it was nice to get one.”
While he didn’t score on the weekend, he had a couple of breakaways in the Storm’s 3-0 win in Peterborough on Saturday prompting Walker to ask: “What, you don’t want to score with me here?” He was referring to the fact all of Auger’s goals came when Walker was away at the World Junior Championships.
The 17-year-old stands six foot six and a half, and weighs 215 pounds. For those with long memories, it is not hard to picture Frank Mahovlich when you watch Auger skate. Long strides that make his seem slower than he really is.
“When he gets it going he is as fast as anyone driving wide on defencemen,” says Walker. “A smaller guy like Hunter (Garlent) looks like he is going so much faster but Auger is taking one stride for every 10 that Hunter takes, so it’s deceiving.”
“Growing up I was always a little awkward so I’ve been working on my skating,” said Auger, who was the Storm’s sixth-round pick in 2010. “Since Christmas, I’ve been working with (Storm skating coach and former world figure skating champion) Barb Underhill and already I feel more grounded on my skates – harder to knock off my feet.”
Auger has even been recognized by the NHL scouts, showing up 179th on the latest Central Scouting Bureau’s list of top North American skaters. Certainly no guarantee he’ll be drafted, but you can bet he will move higher if he continues to put the puck in the net.
“The next step for Justin is to continue to play in those dirty areas,” said Walker. “Drive hard to the front of the net, go hard into the corners and come out with the puck. In a way, the fact his hands are so good has allowed him to play on the outside a little more (at the lower levels of hockey). He can become a great power forward in this league.”
“My goal for the rest of the season is to play on one of the top three lines,” said Auger. “For the first half I played mostly on the fourth line so I’m hoping to move up to get a more consistent shift.”
If he keeps scoring goals, that move is all but guaranteed.
From the Land Of Oz . . . Joining Auger on the Central Scouting list were Matt Finn (15th), Scott Kosmachuk (23rd), Tanner Richard (58th), Patrick Watling (121st) and Brock McGinn (135th) . . . The Storm are 5-16 on home ice this year, but 11-8 on the road. It wasn’t surprising then to see them lose at home Friday 5-0 to Windsor and then beat the Petes in Peterborough 3-0. Garret Sparks played in both games with Francis Menard scoring two goals and an assist on Saturday . . . Guelph visits Windsor Thursday at 7:05 p.m.