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Baptism by fire for Guelph Storm rookies (8 photos)

Storm drops season opener 4-3 in a shootout

For Cam Hillis, it was always a matter of when he would play for the Guelph Storm, not if.

The rookie centre was one of six Storm players who played their first game in the OHL Friday night, as the Storm opened the regular season with a 4-3 shootout loss to the Sarnia Sting.

A second-round draft pick in 2016, Hillis didn’t report to the team last season and was committed to an NCAA scholarship at Providence College.

This year he was scheduled to play tier II hockey in British Columbia before he and his family changed their minds and signed with the Storm.

“No disrespect to NCAA hockey, I’m sure it’s a great route for a lot of people, but I felt this was such a good opportunity and I can’t turn it down. I’m ready to play against the top competition now,” Hillis said.

“I kind of knew I was going to end up here all along after Guelph drafted me and I love it here. There couldn’t be a better spot I’d rather be.”

Hillis picked up an assist in his first game. Russian import rookie Alexey Toropchenko had a goal and an assist and first round pick Tag Bertuzzi had an assist.

“I come from St. Andrews, we didn’t get a lot of fans there,” Hillis said of the difference between playing at the Sleeman Centre and the private school he attended last year. “It’s certainly a lot different here. I like it a lot.”

Storm coach George Burnett had praise for all the young players getting their beaks wet Friday night.

“I’m not disappointed with the guys getting their first experience. You expect some nerves, you expect some jitters,” Burnett said.

The young players played in a lot of key situations.

“I think that’s part of development, having confidence from your coach that you can be out there on the ice in a critical situation,” Burnett said.

Ryan Merkley and Liam Hawel had Guelph’s other goals.

Guelph led 2-1 after the first period and 3-2 early in the third on Merkley’s goal at the 8:33 mark.

Connor Schlichting tied it at 12:29 of the third and then the Storm had to kill off a Merkley penalty that bridged the last minute of regulation and the first minute of overtime.

In the shootout, Sarnia scored on a pair of glove-side wrist shots on Anthony Popovich while the Storm’s Isaac Ratcliffe was the only shooter to beat Justin Fazio at the other end.

“It’s a work in progress for sure. I think we learned a lot of things tonight and there’s a lot of areas we need to improve, no doubt about it,” Burnett said.

Guelph outshot Sarnia 35-24 and the Storm power play sputtered, scoring once on nine chances.

Guelph plays in Windsor on Sunday.