By Paul Osborne, “From the Stands” – Guelph Tribune – There is no doubt the Guelph Storm have their work cut out for them against the Plymouth Whalers in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
The Whalers finished almost 30 points ahead of the Storm, scored 45 more goals and allowed 33 fewer. The only caveat in this series is that the Storm played pretty well against Plymouth this year.
While they lost 8-4 and 7-5, they also beat the Whalers 4-1 and 9-1 with the last shellacking taking place in Plymouth’s home rink.
In a game where size matters, the Whalers have a huge advantage.
The Storm has just five players listed as being 6-foot-2 or taller – the Whalers have 11. And when it
comes to experience you can put another check mark beside Plymouth. While Guelph has six 17-yearolds in their line-up and three 16-year-olds who play on a regular basis, the Whalers have just two.
Guelph has a lot of things working against them.
“Our game plan is to give them the best Guelph Storm attack we can,” said coach Scott Walker.
“I know people don’t give us much of a chance, and nor should they (with the point differential),
but I’m not saying we’re going to roll over. But I do like our chances a whole lot more today than I did a
month ago when we were sitting in ninth place.”
Just getting into the post-season was a mad dash for this young hockey club. They were life and death, scratching out points whenever possible to stay ahead of the veteran laden Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. To their credit, they hung on and will now benefit from some playoff experience.
“This will be good for our guys,” said Walker. “It is one thing playing back-to-back games against teams like
Kitchener and London during the regular season, but it is quite another playing the same team game after game. I’m excited for the guys because they’ve been playing really well lately and if they continue to play well, I’ll be very happy and excited for them.”
While the Storm has now made the playoffs for 20 straight seasons (Plymouth has the longest active
streak at 21), they haven’t had much playoff success. The last year they got past the first round was 2008. And this year probably won’t be any different with a young, inexperienced roster of players facing off against a team that has multiple players already drafted into the NHL.
Stephen Gaskin (pictured), with 23 games, and Kyle Pereira, with 21, have played the most playoff games on the Storm
“We have a very positive outlook in the dressing room,” said Gaskin. “We played Plymouth hard all year and we have great team speed which we can use to our advantage, and I’m hoping we can wear them down with the cycle down low.”
The Storm finished the regular season with back-to-back wins over the Owen Sound Attack, a club that was still playing for fourth place and home ice advantage in the first round.
The Storm played extremely well, winning 4-0 at home Friday and 3-1 in the Sound on Saturday. Garret Sparks was extremely sharp in both games and that is possibly the best news the team could have received heading to Plymouth for Game 1 Friday night.
From the Land of Oz . . . Game 1 of the series takes place in Plymouth on Friday at 7:05 p.m. . . .
Storm forward Tanner Richard returned to the line-up after a long layoff because of a concussion. He
looked sharp in the three games he played, recording two goals and one assist . . . Cody McNaughton
was banged up in Friday night’s game but will be ready to go for game one . . . In the Western Conference
Coaches Poll released last week, the only two Storm players to appear were McNaughton, who
finished third in the best shot blocker category, and rookie Hunter Garlent who was tied for third as the hardest worker . . . Other first-round playoff matches are: Oshawa versus Niagara, Belleville versus Ottawa, Saginaw versus Sarnia, Sudbury versus Brampton, Owen Sound versus Kitchener, Windsor versus London
and Barrie versus Mississauga.