3 THINGS TO TAKE AWAY FROM THESE “MEANINGLESS” PRE-SEASON GAMES

Many throughout the sports put little-to-no stock in pre-season play. Most of the time, I tend to agree. Take it from a loyal Toronto baseball fan, whose Blue Jays seem to top the standings in Grapefruit League play every March, to let you know that pre-season success is rarely bankable. Why? Well, when it comes to the big-4 professional sports leagues (NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL), there are several contributing reasons; coaches fiddle with lines, rookies get more ice-time, veterans are rested and new tactics are tested. All-in-all, the on-ice product put out there by coaching staff is often vastly different pre-season than it is come opening night. Arguably the biggest difference is the lack of ‘drive’ professional athletes compete with when the stakes are low. Jonathan Toews has nothing to prove in the pre-season and neither do half his teammates, at the very least.

One of the reasons I have grown to love major junior hockey, is there is always something to prove and someone to impress. Most players have something to prove every time they step on the ice, whether it be in a practice, game or workout. That’s why we all love the World Junior Championships and the NCAA March Madness Tournament. The competition is intense and players are fighting for their future as a professional athlete.

All of that said, Guelph has played three games this pre-season. While I’m not advocating putting a great deal of stock in these games, I do think some of what we are seeing is important to consider. Here are the 3 things you need to take notice of at this stage of the long season.

1. Justin Auger is standing out.

The guy is flat out flourishing in a new role that is seeing him become more involved in the offense. He’s been all over the ice, finished on a number of nice plays and spent quality time of the powerplay. He just looks like an improved hockey player. There’s no better way of saying it. Following last season, I have to admit I didn’t know what his role would be this year. He’s a 20-year old and it was unsure which players would claim the three designated 20-year old spots. Based on what we’ve seen early on, he is proving he is well worth locking into one of those spots.

2. Garrett McFadden is going to play a significant role this season.

Last season he played 42 games and, as most would expect out a rookie, played a very insubstantial role. As a 16-year old it’s really tough to make an impression worth warranting top-end minutes. It’s clear the extra year has made a big difference. The 17-year old is bigger, faster and has seemed to gain some confidence over the offseason. In the Storm’s 5-3 win over the Steelheads last Friday, the puck-moving defenceman was all over the ice and set up two nice goals. I expect big things out of this second-year blueliner.

3. The Swiss are key.

Fellow Swiss countrymen Phil Baltisberger and Pius Suter have both made significant contributions to their team in the wake of some crucial departing Storm players. The Storm blueline is losing the likes of Matt Finn and Nick Ebert and not only does that open up playing time, it gives an older player like Baltisberger the opportunity to take on some leadership responsibilities. Baltisberger isn’t a flashy player by any means, but don’t let that fool you. The team is going to rely on him to play some rock-solid minutes against the opponents best players each night.

The most notable Storm loses come up front. No Rychel. No Mitchell. No Kosmachuk. Everyone is looking towards players like Fabbri and Bertuzzi to come up big, but Pius Suter is going to have to play big as well to get all offensive cylinders firing. He’s also super flexible, as he’ll be used on the powerplay, the penalty kill and during 5-on-5 play. This year could very well be a breakout year for Suter, and the Storm are going to need it if they hope to contend for a title.

Having only played three pre-season games, the Storm have given us plenty of reason to get excited about 2014/15. The veterans are all stepping up, the rookies are stepping in, and all signs point to another successful season. I’d obviously like to inject everyone with a healthy dose of cautious optimism before we get ahead of ourselves, being the season hasn’t yet started, but I also think the excitement you have about the three games we’ve seen so far is encouraged. However the rest of the pre-season plays out, I’m optimistic about the things we are seeing and anticipate the Storm will hit the ground running when they take on the Belleville Bulls in their first regular season game.

 

Joe Krizman

In 2013, Joe graduated from Queen’s University with a degree in Physical and Health Education. During his years in school, he spent his summers off working with kids at a summer camp; an experience he credits as being highly influential in shaping who he is today.

Joe followed up his university degree by moving out to Calgary for the 2013/14 hockey season, where he served as the Coordinator of Player Development & Recruitment for the Western Hockey League (WHL) in their head office. Having developed a love for major junior hockey with the WHL, he is excited to be getting involved with it again this season back in his hometown of Guelph.

A self-proclaimed “sports enthusiast”, Joe is thrilled about getting the opportunity to share his thoughts and sports insights in a new way.