Out of the four teams…
on their way to Halifax for the 101st Memorial Cup, not many would have predicted the Guelph Storm to be making travel plans to the Maritimes. While this team was all-in to make a deep postseason run, nobody believed they were actually going to make it this far, given their path to the OHL Championship. However, against all odds, the Storm were able to win their fourth J. Ross Robertson Cup to earn a spot in the Memorial Cup for the fifth time in the franchise’s history. The last time they made it to the tournament was back in 2014, where they lost in the finals to the Edmonton Oil Kings. Let’s take a deep look at this underdog club.
The Gamble Paid Off
Guelph had a roster filled with a lot of talented players that were of the 1999 birth year at the start of the 2018-19 season. With the players such as Dmitri Samorukov, Isaac Ratcliffe, and Nate Schnarr to name a few, the Storm looked like a team that could have some success come Spring time. With the team sitting fourth in the Western Conference at the Holiday Break, General Manager George Burnett knew that Guelph needed more depth if they wanted to be a contender against the best in the West. Burnett made big moves acquiring the likes of MacKenzie Entwistle and Nick Suzuki up front, and were able to get Sean Durzi and Markus Phillips to help bolster the back end. It looked risky at the time, as the Storm lost a lot of draft picks and prospects, and still only finished fourth in the West. Yet, they were able to mesh at the right time, and the pickups at the deadline proved to be well worth the risk.
Defencively, Guelph became a lot stronger down the stretch and in these playoffs. Samorukov, who has played all of his three seasons with the Storm, had career-best numbers. He finished the regular season with 45 points, and a plus/minus of +36. In the postseason, the Edmonton prospect put up 28 points, and finished with a +18 rating. The two pickups at the trade deadline, Phillips and Durzi, played key veteran roles for the Storm. Durzi, despite being hurt for the latter of the regular season, played big minutes in the playoffs. He played in all 24 playoff games, and finished tied for the third-best plus/minus in the playoffs with a +16. The Los Angeles prospect also helped set up the offence from the back end. Of the 27 points Durzi produced this postseason, 24 of which were assists, second among all OHLers behind Nick Suzuki. Now that you mention it…
Suzuki’s Swan Song
Nick Suzuki has been arguably the biggest trade deadline acquisition in the entire CHL. A first-round pick that is primed to play for the Montreal Canadiens next season, Suzuki scored 45 points in the first 30 games of the season with Owen Sound. After being traded to the Storm, the London native stayed consistent, scoring 49 points in the final 29 games of the regular season. The playoffs saw the best of Suzuki. In 24 games this postseason, he was only held off the score sheet three times, twice in the Storm’s second round series against his hometown London Knights. That series against the Knights was where Suzuki cemented his junior legacy, scoring 13 points against the number one seed in the Western Conference. While Suzuki was consistent in scratching his name on the score sheet, he was also as consistent in putting up multiple points night-in and night-out, as he amassed 12 multi-point games for Guelph en route to the OHL Championship.
There is no team coming into this Memorial Cup that has been through what the Storm have been through in these playoffs. Sure, they walked passed Kitchener in four games of the first round, but that was as easy it got for Guelph. The second round they met the second best team in the OHL in London. The Storm quickly found themselves down 3-0 to the Knights, and looked to be done like dinner. Yet, the Storm refused to lose, and won four straight to upset the Knights. They then met the Saginaw Spirit in the conference finals, the third-best team in the OHL. Once again, the Storm saw themselves on the brink of elimination, this time down 3-1. The Storm shut down the Spirit’s top guns, Samorukov and Ratcliffe scored some big goals, and they were able to win three straight to make it to the finals where they met the best team in the OHL, the Ottawa 67’s. Despite being down 2-0 to a team that had not lost all postseason, the Storm staked their claim as giant killers, as they handled the 67’s the remainder of the series, and won the J. Ross Robertson Cup in six games (Yes, DiPietro got hurt in game two, but regardless).
This team has gone up against the best in the OHL for the majority of the playoffs, have faced adversity, and thrived on it. They will now go up against the best in the country. The experience this team has, as a whole, will help them going into this tournament. It does not matter how badly they are outmatched, they will not back down from the challenge, which could give them the opportunity to win the Memorial Cup.