There is light at the end of that tunnel for Guelph Storm fans. And for the first time in a while, it’s not a freight train.
For the first time since 2013, it’s exciting to be a Storm fan on opening night.
Last season was “yeah it’s a rebuild but shouldn’t we be better?”
Two seasons ago was “we’re supposed to suck but that doesn’t make it easier to watch.”
Three seasons ago it was “hope we don’t hold on to certain players just so we can get a round of playoffs.” (Editor’s note: they did.)
Now it’s a good team that on many nights is going to be a very good team. On almost every night it will be a competitive team.
A team that should be aiming for top four in the conference, be satisfied with fifth and disappointed with anything lower.
And most of the pieces are in place to be a contender for a run at a Western Conference title next year.
The biggest difference this year is simple: depth and talent.
No team in the OHL added more talent to its roster in the off season than the Guelph Storm.
Cam Hillis, Alexey Toropchenko, Owen Lalonde, Tag Bertuzzi, Mark Shoemaker and Zach Poirier change the complexion of a team that for the last couple of years had to rely on one line to score if it was going to win games. Now they will get scoring from three lines.
Several players are on the verge of breakout seasons. Liam Hawel, Isaac Ratcliffe, Nate Schnarr and Dmitri Samorukov should all take their games to the next level.
Depth gives you scoring distribution. Depth makes you less vulnerable to injury. Depth creates internal competition for playing time and power play time. Depth makes making decisions much, much easier.
Are their question marks? Of course, namely goaltending. But that puts the Guelph Storm in the same boat as about five of the other teams in the Western Conference.
Popovich will be given the opportunity to do the job, which is all a player can ask for. If he can’t, it will be addressed.
The team will also have a decision to make on Givani Smith, Matt Hotchkiss and Poirier at some point.
As the team’s three 19-year-olds there is going to be interest in them come the trade deadline. Smith won’t be back next year. Hotchkiss and Poirier are likely overage candidates.
But that’s a decision that comes at the right time and will depend a lot on where the team sits in the standings come the trade deadline.