So what will the second half bring for the Guelph Storm in the second half of the season?
Tied for sixth place in the Western Conference standings and just two points out of fourth place, the team has performed to realistic expectations, battling for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
But that goal is going to be tough to achieve given how things are developing in the West.Parity in the conference has a number of teams who think they have a shot at a conference title and/or find themselves in limbo, figuring they might as well take a shot because most of their best players are older.
There are at least four and as many as six teams in the Western Conference that will be looking to improve their lineup at the trade deadline" Sault Ste. Marie, Kitchener, Sarnia, Owen Sound and perhaps London could all be in ‘buy’ mode.
Any additions the Storm will make before the Jan. 10 deadline should be made to make the team better next season, not necessarily this season. That means stockpiling more draft picks or adding a player or two with the intention they will help the team more next year than the last three months of this one.
So while four or five teams in the West will theoretically be stronger after the trade deadline, the Storm will, theoretically, be weaker if they move one or two older players.
But that’s okay. You have to stick to the plan, even if it means sacrificing in the short term.
On a positive note, it will be a seller’s market and the one or two solid older pieces the Storm has who won’t be back next year could bring a higher return than usual.
What the market might be for a Givani Smith or Garrett McFadden remains to be seen, but both will likely be in demand.
So the Storm focus is more about developing from within. Getting this team ready for the future and figuring out who is part of that future.
Several players have been pleasant surprises, taking that next step in development, most notably Cam Hillis, Barret Kirwin, Cedric Ralph and Dmitri Samorukov.
Everyone who thought Ralph would be leading this team in goals at the Christmas break, put your hands up. Didn’t think so.
Some have been hampered by injury or suspension and still haven’t rounded into form.
Others have shown signs of that next step, but haven’t shown the consistency expected of them. You just have to look at the team statistics to figure out those players.
People expect more out of Tag Bertuzzi, who has been outperformed thus far by fellow rookies Mason Primeau and Mark Woolley. But injuries have interrupted Bertuzzi’s season several times already. He needs playing time and confidence and it’s unfair to be critical of him at this point. It's unfair to be critical of any 16-year-old quite frankly.
Ryan Merkley remains a work in progress and might always remain one, his sheer brilliance with the puck and on-ice vision hampered by some questionable decision making and emotional outbursts that only create more hurdles in his own progress.
Anthony Popovich might be a great goalie who is occasionally good or a good goalie who is occasionally great. Jury is still out on that one.
Overall the team has taken strides and its best days are ahead of it. But how bright that future rests on its ability to stay the course internally and in the continued development of several key players, some of which has stalled so far this season.
The key is getting more development out of the core group of 18-year-olds who, at least statistically, have underperformed. That group will determine next year's success