There are always lots of questions heading into a new season and it’s always a relief for a team and its fans when one is answered in a positive way.
Goaltending was a big question mark heading into the campaign for the Guelph Storm, but the correct answer turned out to be Anthony Popovich.
Popovich has established himself as the team’s undisputed number one goaltender and erased any notion that the team might have to acquire one.
The play of the 18-year-old Belleville native has been one of the bright spots of the season.
For goaltenders having played at least 10 games, he sits in the top five in goals-against average (5th), save percentage (3rd) and minutes played (4th). His seven wins are tied for sixth best in the league.
He hasn’t been perfect and there have been a couple of rough starts, but overall it has made goaltending the least of this team’s concerns.
George Burnett played his cards right. He threw Popovich in the deep end to let him sink or swim.
Popovich started 13 of the team’s first 15 games, as Burnett used the season’s early going to figure out if he had a number one goaltender in Popovich, or whether he was going to have to go out and trade for one.
Popovich played in 30 games last season on the second-worst team in the league and 10 of those games were partials.
The year before, after being drafted in the seventh round by the Storm, he only played 15 games for a very good tier II Wellington Dukes team, most of those games against the league’s softer underbelly.
Good goalies don’t grow on trees and they usually take time to develop. The best goaltender in the OHL, Michael DiPietro in Windsor, is an anomaly, not the rule, having been one of the best from the start.
The list of goaltenders who struggled the first year or two but then became rock-solid goaltenders is a long one.
It takes not only the right skill set, but also the right disposition to thrive at that position. And when you are thrust into a difficult situation, on a team that is not performing well, it takes that proper disposition to come through it relatively unscathed.
Popovich combines a lot of characteristics that some of the best characteristics of former Storm goaltenders. He plays the position technically like Thomas McCollum, has the introspection of a Brandon Foote, is laid back like Garret Sparks (okay, maybe not quite THAT laid back) and has the intelligence of a Justin Nichols.
That’s a pretty good combination.
Even better for Storm fans, Popovich’s emergence solidifies the goaltending situation for arguably the next two and a half seasons.