By Paul Osborne, ‘From the Stands’, The Guelph Tribune – The Guelph Storm have played 68 regular season games and your guess is as good as mine as to how well they will do in the first round of the playoffs against the Saginaw Spirit.
This has been a season of inconsistent performance, often a lack of discipline and personal agendas that at times seem to overshadow those of the team.
You had to look no further than this past week to see the Storm season in a nutshell. Wednesday night against Kitchener, they put forth one of their best efforts of the campaign, getting the puck deep then hustling in to recover it and begin their offense. Friday night against Owen Sound it was back to individual play. On one shift in the second period Taylor Beck, Peter Holland and Michael Latta all tried to stick handle through several people on the same power play, only to turn the puck over, forcing another retreat. Two nights earlier that puck was deep and the Storm was setting up their power play.
So which team will show up for the post-season? “I’m not sure,” admitted head coach Scott Walker, “but I am excited because we’ve been playing a little bit better. The playoffs are a different story and we’ll see if our guys can handle it. To win, we have to be committed to a team game and willing to play on the road.” The Spirit finished 11 points ahead of Guelph and feature three key former Storm players. Josh Shalla was traded before last season for defenceman Adam Comrie and led Saginaw in scoring this season with 47 goals and 72 points.
Overage forward Matt Sisca was traded by the Storm earlier this season, finishing with 12 goals and 42 points. Defenceman Ben Chiarot is one of their horses on defence with 10 goals and 37 points.
When they are following the game plan, the Storm probably has the edge up front with Beck, Latta and Holland scoring 95, 89 and 88 points respectively. Add to that the explosiveness of Richard Panik and heart and soul of Tyler Carroll and Cody McNaughton and they have a chance to go toe to toe with anyone.
The Spirit have the edge on defence with Dalton Prout, Ryan O’Connor and Chiarot taking the majority of the ice time. All three of those players can be game changers and with all due respect, Guelph doesn’t have a go-to stud on the blue line.
“We are going to have to make sure we don’t turn pucks over and get every puck deep and make (their defencemen) work for 60 minutes and make it a long series,” said Walker. We want them to have to move the puck 200 feet every time and make it a hard long game for them.” In goal, statistically it doesn’t look close with the Spirit’s Mavric Parks having a 2.94 goals against average and a .914 save percentage compared to the Storm’s Brandon Foote at 3.60 and .895.
Parks had a good run with Barrie last year and Foote has only ever won one playoff game but numbers can be deceiving and Walker is “extremely happy” with the way Foote has played down the stretch.
The teams split the season series with each club winning on home ice and three of the four games being decided by one goal. (The only blowout was a 7-3 Storm win on New Years Day).
Can the Storm win this series? Yes. Will they? Well, the Storm will go as far as Holland, Beck and Latta will take them. I’m a firm believer that past performance is the best indicator of future performance. So with that being the case I think the Storm will look very good in a couple games and revert back to their “me first” modus operandi in others.
If they totally dedicate themselves to a team game they can pull off the upset but I just can’t see it happening. It hasn’t occurred on a consistent basis all season and I doubt it will start now.
Prediction: Saginaw in six.
Game 1: Guelph at Saginaw: Friday March 25, 7:11 p.m.
Game 2: Saginaw at Guelph: Sunday March 27, 2 p.m.
Game 3: Guelph at Saginaw: Monday March 28, 7:11 p.m.
Game 4: Saginaw at Guelph: Thursday March 31, 7 p.m.
* Game 5: Guelph at Saginaw: Saturday April 2, 7:11 p.m.
* Game 6: Saginaw at Guelph: Sunday April 3, 7 p.m.
* Game 7: Guelph at Saginaw: Tuesday April 5, 7:11 p.m.
* If necessary