The Ontario Hockey League kicked off the start of its season last night with 4 games. Opening weekend will see Guelph only take the ice once. That game is Friday night against the Erie Otters. Even with the Otters struggles in recent years they have always managed to be a thorn in the Storms side. Last season Guelph compiled a 4-2 record against their Midwest divisional rivals.
The Otters are looking to improve on their 19 wins last season, those low totals seen them finish in the basement of the Western Conference for a 2nd straight year. Erie received big news before the season started when they got confirmation that Andre Burakovsky would report to the team. Burakovsky was drafted by the Otters, 5th overall in this past July's CHL Import Draft. He was also selected in this past June's NHL Entry Draft by the Washington Capitals 23rd overall. The Otters also selected 2nd overall in this past years OHL draft, Dylan Strome (brother of ex Niagara Ice Dogs forward Ryan Strome). Strome will help the Otters climb out of the West's basement this year. Don't forget about phenom Connor McDavid, he is pretty good too. He had 66 points in 63 games in his rookie season in the OHL. As a 15 year old he didn't look out of place in the league and even played for team OHL against the Russians in the Subway Super Series.
The Guelph Storm were dispatched in the 1st round of the playoffs again last season. This time by hated rivals, the Kitchener Rangers. The Rangers defeated them in 5 games. The Storm are expected to do big things this year, including challenging for the OHL's most prized trophy the Robertson Cup. They will ice a team that has many veteran leaders both up front and on the back end.
Their biggest concern was that they had no real experience in between the pipes. Garret Sparks has since graduated to the Toronto Marlies. Matt Mancina (a pick in the 2012 OHL draft) and Jason DaSilva had a combined 17 games under their belt, all games played by DaSilva. Earlier in the preseason Guelph released OA goalie Michael Nishi due to his lackluster play. GM Mike Kelly however shored up some experience on Thursday when he made a deal with the Soo Greyhounds that seen the Storm bring in Justin Nichols. Nichols who has seen action in 24 OHL games, all last season with the Hounds. He will be the team's starting goalie. Nichols, a St. Catharines native had decent numbers as a rookie with the Greyhounds compiling 10 wins including a shutout. Nichols came fairly cheap as well, he only cost the Storm a 3rd round pick in the 2015 draft. The selection originally belonged to the Plymouth Whalers. Later in the same day Kelly moved DaSilva to the Belleville Bulls for a 7th round pick in the 2016 draft.
Guelph will see a forward group with lots of depth. 10 forwards are returning including last year's points leader Scott Kosmachuk (Winnipeg prospect). Look for Robby Fabbri to take a big step forward and contribute more now that he is entering his sophomore season. The Storm like Erie received big news when their 3rd pick Adam Craievich who was thought to go the NCAA route decided to sign with the Storm. Craievich was the OHL Cup's MVP last year and if other teams thought they could of swayed him to play in the O he wouldn't have dropped to the 3rd round. Brock McGinn will continue building on last season. I seen Brock play some of the best hockey he has played with Guelph in the last couple months of last season. I fully expect McGinn to continue in the right direction as well as mixing it up when the time is right.
On the back end Guelph lost big man Andrey Pedan (Graduated to Bridgeport) and Brock Beukeboom (OA). The Storm used their 1st round pick to select d man Garrett McFadden. They also used an import selection on d man Phil Baltisberger a Swiss born player. He sounds like one tough cookie too. He broke his jaw in a team practice and player in some preseason action before it was diagnosed. The biggest audition to the blue line however will be getting their captain Matt Finn back. Finn who missed a big chunk of last season due to mono and a knee injury. Finn will look to build on his early successes last year before the injury trouble. With a healthy Matt Finn the Storm are capable of a great number of things, including a deep run in the playoffs. Ben Harpur looks like the most likely to step up and be the big man to replace Pedan. Harpur was selected in this past years NHL draft by the Senators. Harpur is listed at 6'6'' and 212 pounds. Harpur won't mind being a little physical when he needs to be. When it comes to fighting you can count on Kyle Locke and Chadd Bauman to accept any challenges that may come their way or the teams way as well as forward Tyler Bertuzzi.
When it comes time for the Storm to make a move for depth reasons or because of an injury they will be able to add an overager if they desire too. As it stands, entering the season the Storm are only carrying 2 OA's Zack Mitchell and Ryan Horvat. Mitchell is always up near the top when it comes to offensive numbers and Horvat adds some grit as well as leadership.
All players that left for their respective NHL training camps have since been returned to the Storm. The Storm had 11 players away at camps, 3 of which were free agent invites (Zack Mitchell [CAR], Hunter Garlent [CAR], and Ryan Horvat [ANA]).
You can follow me on Twitter @ChrisMcdonald91. If there are any players you would like to hear from please don't be afraid to ask me on Twitter. I will do my best to get an interview with that player as soon as I can. Thanks for reading!