GUELPH DEFIES LINEUP MISMATCHES, TAKES DOWN ERIE IN THIRD PERIOD COMEBACK

After a full night of sleep and some time to collect my thoughts, I sit here on Saturday afternoon with a cup of Nabob and a clear head about what went down last night. For many reasons, last night’s win against the Erie Otters was Guelph’s biggest of the season.

If you haven’t yet heard, Guelph rallied in spectacular fashion down 3-1 in the third period to defeat Erie 4-3 in regulation on Friday. Guelph was able to shake off probably their worst half-game of the season, even taking into consideration the strength of their opponent, to score three goals in the third period and steal two points away from the division-leading Otters.

Heading into Friday’s matchup, there was a couple different ways to analyze the matchup.

On one hand, the matchup on paper – the lineup card, specifically – was incredibly tilted in Erie’s favour. To put it in perspective, if we were to put OHL teams in different classes based on the strength of their rosters, the Erie Otters (along with the Greyhounds and Generals) are this year’s version(s) of what the Storm were last year. Those three teams are in a league of their own: there’s no reason to argue otherwise.

Erie bolsters a roster complete with 6 NHL prospects in Baptiste (BUF), Pettit (VAN), MacDermid (LAK), J.Marchment (LAK), Donnay (NYR) and Elie (DAL). Not to mention the draft eligible players whose names will certainly get called this June. McDavid and Strome are top-5 picks while Dermott and Betz are ranked 47th and 129th, respectively, on NHL Central Scouting’s Midterm Draft Rankings. Alex DeBrincat, who leads the OHL’s rookie scoring race by 35 points, is also a prized Erie possession who will be a high selection in the 2016 NHL Draft.

On Friday, like on most other Storm home game nights, I got to the rink early to check out the lineup cards and line combinations. Even though I knew exactly what to expect out of Erie, I still found myself in awe looking over the talent they are privileged to work with. Hell, their third line last night was comprised all of NHL prospects (Pettit, Baptiste, Marchment). That’s their third line. With McDavid’s line, and Strome’s line in the mix, it’s like they have three first lines.

Now, if you return all of Guelph’s players to the lineup in full health (something I’m excited to see for the first time at some point this season), we could have the talk about how at least parts of the Storm lineup matchup alright. Fabbri, Bertuzzi, Dickinson, Marchese, Cairns, Smith, Suter, Leslie, Baltisberger, Garcia – a rather impressive bunch of players capable of handling a lineup of Otters. No, we’re not as good, and that’s just a reality. But I’d have faith in a 7-game series, with all these players, the Storm would be able to at least put up a respectable fight.

That being said, last night the Storm were without Dickinson, Fabbri and Cairns. Top two centres and an impact goal scorer, gone. And without these players the lineup matchup is even less favourable for the Storm, at least on paper.

The other way to look at this matchup – the one that is surely going to linger in the minds of Erie players should these teams meet in the playoffs – is to look at what these teams have done against each other this season. Including last night, the Storm hold a 3-2 edge in the 6-game season series by a combined score of 19-16. Four of the five games were decided by one goal, and the one that wasn’t was surprisingly taken 6-3 by Guelph.

For whatever reason, Guelph finds a way to step it up when they face off against Erie. In 5 games against the Otters, the Storm have had 16 different players (on current roster) register points. It seems everyone has chipped in to help the cause. In addition, the Storm have been able to keep the electric Otters’ offense at bay. The Otters’ “Big-3” of McDavid, Strome and DeBrincat have been limited to a combined 14 points through 5 games, which is by no stretch meagre but is well below their season averages. In fact, the Storm “Big-3” of Dickinson, Bertuzzi and Suter have outscored the Otters’ by 5 points. And that’s without Robby Fabbri, Guelph’s best player, having even laced up for one game against them.

Justin Nichols has also been brilliant against the league’s second-highest scoring offense. He’s faced an average of 37.6 shots/game and owns a save percentage of .915 against the Otters.

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from the 5 games against Erie is the level of effort the Storm give. With exception of the first half of the game yesterday, which was maybe their worst half-game of the year, the Storm have battled for the 300+ minutes of Erie/Guelph hockey this season. Guelph heads into each and every game with resilience and a sense of patience. They know better than anyone they’re up against a “super-lineup”, as they were on the opposite end last season, and that they’ve got to capitalize on their chances when they come up.

Nothing can speak to their level of effort better than the final two minutes of last night’s game. After Tyler Hill broke a 3-3 tie with 3:46 seconds left in the game, the Storm had to fend off a flurry of Erie chances to secure the win. Nichols threw himself in front of every attempt the Otters through his way, Phil Baltisberger and Chris Marchese blocked numerous shots and at the end of the game everyone could tell how bad the Storm wanted it. They were a motivated bunch.

I’ll tell you right now, no one wants to play the Guelph Storm come playoff time. No one. A group of players – many of which who have extensive playoff experience – who play their best hockey against the league’s stiffest competition and who have the ability to comeback in games.

Last night was the biggest example of why this team should be feared and for that, it was their biggest win of the season.

 

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.