From the Stands
By Paul Osborne
There is winning, and then there is winning the right way. The Guelph Storm has been winning, off to a 9-3 start but have struggled to find the consistency they will need when it counts the most – in the playoffs.
You can look at their results game to game, period to period or even within a single period and find the consistency of Jell-o.
In many games this season they have come out flying in the first 10 minutes and then seem to take their foot off the accelerator, allowing the opposition to recover and push back.
They are at their best when they push the puck deep and use their speed to pounce on the opposition before they can gather themselves and move the puck. But after excelling at that, it’s as if they feel a sense of security or even superiority and start with the cross-ice passes and fancy-pants plays. That’s when the tide turns.
Storm coach Scott Walker wondered aloud after Friday’s 5-4 win over Niagara, another game where they dominated at times but couldn’t put them away until the shootout, whether or not his players think at times that hard work isn’t necessary.
“I wonder if the cause is that we have an older team that thinks they can just turn it on (when they want to)?” he said. “It is not a light switch you can turn on and off. We’re not playing the way we need to play to go deep in the playoffs.”
So yes the Storm play an exciting brand of hockey, and yes they are winning lots of games, but the goal isn’t to finish first in the regular season – it is to be ready to win those hard games in the playoffs. Games that demand you are accountable on the ice for 60 minutes, not 30 or 40.
Robby Fabbri, who is always among the Storm’s hardest workers, agrees that they need to establish good work habits now in order to win later and they can’t rely on talent alone.
“We don’t want to play like that,” said the Mississauga native averaging more than a point a game as a 17-year-old. “We have to come out every game with the switch on.”
This is the year the Storm can truly make a run at a Memorial Cup. They have a dynamic roster but they have to blend that enormous skill with hard work and a team commitment to consistency. The skill part is fun and comes easily – the hard work part is, well, hard work. It is not nearly as much fun, but ironically it creates turnovers that allow the skill to emerge.
Coach Walker and his assistants have their work cut out for them. They have to convince a bunch of teenagers those hard minutes will lead to victory in the long run. Flash and dash bestows instant gratification but it won’t be enough to go deep into the playoffs.
From the Land of Oz . . . Everyone from both the Storm and Niagara IceDogs were thrilled to see Jason Brooks at the game last Friday night. He is the former coach and GM of the Storm and most recently an assistant coach with the IceDogs. A month or so ago, he had 11 hours of brain surgery to remove a benign cyst. He was left deaf in one ear and his face sags slightly on one side but he was otherwise the same old intense “Brooksie” everyone has known for years. They could only safely removed 90 per cent of the cyst, so he’ll go back to the doctor in three months to see if the tumour continues to enlarge. If it is growing, he will undergo radiation but everyone certainly hopes that his days in surgery are done . . . Tyler Bertuzzi and Scott Kosmachuk had a goal and an assist each in the Storm’s 5-4 shootout win over Niagara. Brock McGinn and Fabbri scored for Guelph in the shootout . . . Sunday, Scott Kosmachuk exploded for four goals and one assist to lead the Storm over Ottawa 7-3 . . . Guelph visits Kitchener tonight (Tuesday) for a 7 p.m. game before they host North Bay Friday (7:30 p.m.) and London Sunday (2 p.m.).